Travelling through the Galician countryside you will become aware that this is a land of stone structures. Local granites combine with an ancient Ibero-Celtic culture to produce a mesmerising resemblance to other Celtic regions such as Brittany, Ireland and Great Britain. The many stone cottages, cathedrals, walls and farm outbuildings of Galicia play an important part in this, creating a rustic solidity and historic linkage that helps to define this region of Green Spain.
One of the most extraordinary structures of all is the Hórreo. Also known locally as a paneira, canastro, piorno or a cabazo, it is an ancient stone feature raised slightly above the fields or coastal rocks it is usually set upon. While the more fanciful amongst us might easily take the typically rectangular Hórreo to be some sort of burial crypt it is, in fact, nothing as gruesome as that. Most of these singular structures are adorned with stone crosses and other carvings, yet they are agricultural structures used as granaries by farmers and as storage facilities by fishermen, the latter to keep their fishing gear and nets in.
While some Hórreos are made of wood, the finest examples are most typically of stone. Raised above the ground to deny access to rodents, and containing walls with ventilating slits, these mini-granaries can occasionally also have tiled or thatched roofs, vary in width or in eastern Galicia also be square instead of rectangular. The longest one, situated in A Carnota, in the province of A Coruña, is all of 35 metres long, and while there are still many of these mysterious structures to admire, none remain from before the fifteenth century.
And yet it is virtually certain that these structures have their origins in a very distant past, a time even before the coming of the Romans and other conquerors. References dating back several centuries before Christ have been found to contain descriptions of Hórreos, but it is likely that they even predate the written word itself. Though identified with Galicia and other parts of northern Spain and Portugal, ancient raised sheds resembling the Hórreo have been found in parts of Europe as far apart as England, Norway, Switzerland and the Balkans, indicating that this is not an entirely isolated phenomenon.
If ever you find yourself exploring the beautiful green countryside of Galicia and come across such an oddly-shaped and mysterious building, you will know that it is not the work of leprechauns but the way our ancestors used to store their all-important grain.