The ancient tower that stands so mysteriously atop a promontory hill jutting out boldly into the Atlantic Ocean has protected the people of A Coruña since time immemorial. Indeed, this National Monument of Spain and a Unesco World Heritage Site is officially the oldest lighthouse in operation in the world today and has stood here long before the city as we know it took shape.
The name, Tower of Hercules, hints at Roman origins, and it is indeed known to have been rebuilt by the emperor Trajan almost 2000 years ago, but many believe its actual origins reach even further back, to Phoenician times. That would make this site almost another one thousand years older, so it is fair to say that it has seen some historical goings on in its time.
The region, originally inhabited by Iberians and Celts, was later touched by Phoenician traders before it finally fell within the dominium of Rome. The Moors, so prominently present in other parts of Spain, also had a limited impact on Galicia, so the tower’s main ‘modern’ references come from the days when Spain, France, Portugal and England vied for maritime supremacy.
Many a battle has been witnessed from its 55-metre high watchtower, making this the second-highest lighthouse in Spain, but it is the latter function for which the Torre de Hércules is best known. Surrounding this rather mystical spot that peers forlornly into the wide expanse of sea is a popular park and sculpture garden featuring works by Pablo Serrano and Francisco Leiro.
The largest statue is of Breogán, the Celtic king considered to be the founding father of the Galician Celtic nation. Legend has it that he had a towering structure built on this spot from whose heights his sons could see a distant green land on the edge of the ocean. Drawn by its promise they set off to settle it, and it is said that herein lay the origins of the Irish people.
Archaeologists still search for Breogán’s capital, Brigantia, which is believed to be somewhere between A Coruña and the nearby town of Betanzos. Visited by Romans, including Julius Caesar himself, Moors, Germanic tribes, Barbary Corsairs, Vikings, Normans and the navies of England and others, the now tranquil surroundings of the tower guard the entrance to A Coruña’s port just over two kilometres from the city centre itself.
Here, where the Iberian Peninsula gives way to the open expanses of the Atlantic Ocean, history traces long lines back to a far and distant past while sportsmen jog, families stroll and children play in the shadow of one of Europe’s most mysterious and fascinating structures.
Photo & video courtesy of Turismo Coruña