Lugo History and Culture

Lugo (Galicia): History and Culture

Lugo, Galicia is a city with deeply connected roots to Roman history, evidenced by its Romanesque Wall (a World Heritage Site), Roman Baths and Roman Bridge. Lugo also has a great Cathedral and puts on events such as Lugo's Patron Saint festivities and the Fiestas de San Froilán, some of Galicia's most-visited celebrations. In those events, Lugo's inhabitants convert to one religion: that of theatre, music, open-air dancing, street bands…and tapas! For many, this means dining on the best cuisine in Galicia, especially the tasty gastronomic specialities of octopus “á feira”, “carne ao caldeiro” (spicy boiled meat) and the many delicious traditional desserts of Lugo.

Lugo (population approx. 100,000) is the capital of the Primitive Way in Galicia, about 100 kilometres away from Santiago de Compostela. 

The city was probably founded by regional Celtic inhabitants, and dedicated to the god of light and arts: Lugos. It was later conquered by Paullus Fabius Maximus and called Lucus Augusti in 13 BC on the positioning of a Roman military camp. 

It was centrally situated in a large gold mining region, during which the Roman period was very active. The city had some famous and beautiful Roman bath architecture.

During the Middle Ages, Lugo, like Santiago de Compostela, was a center of pilgrimage, because the cathedral had the special privilege, which it still retains today, of publicly showing the consecrated host twenty-four hours a day. The cathedral received this  permanent privilege to show the Holy Sacrament from the Pope. Later, in the 18th century, Lugo was granted the privilege of organizing the fairs of St. Froilán. During the Modern Age, Lugo had a certain supremacy over other areas in the same region, although nearby towns such as Mondoñedo or Ribadeo disputed it. It was not until the division of the state into provinces in 1833 and the creation of provincial governments that Lugo became the most important town in the province of Lugo due to its capital status. 

During the 20th century the city continued to grow as the administration and services center of the province.

In 2000, the recognition of the Roman walls on UNESCO's World Heritage Site was an important event in the city.

Lugo Cathedral

Lugo Catedral


Saint Mary's Cathedral (Galician: Catedral de Santa María), better known as Lugo Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church and basilica, erected in the early 12th century in a Romanesque style, with Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassicism elements.

A church existed on the site from 755AD. In year 1129, Bishop Peter III commissioned a new edifice in the latest architectural style from Raimundo, a local architect and builder. This Romanesque structure was completed in 1273.

Later renovations and restorations added elements in other styles, such as the Renaissance retablo at the high altar. It was unfortunately destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake; fragments of it are housed in the church.

Lugo Cathedral had a neoclassical wall built in the eighteenth century to replace the original Romanesque structure. Inside the most outstanding features are the three Romanesque-Gothic naves and the triforium, as well as the chapel and image of the Virxe dos Ollos Grandes, named after the expressive eyes of the Virgin; the wooden Baroque choir and the Gothic ambulatory. The northern door is a beautiful Romanesque structure with a tympanum presided over by "Christ in his Majesty" dating from the thirteenth century.

Other Important Places

In Santa María Square we can find the Episcopal Palace, in Baroque style. Nearby is Campo Square, the true heart of the city, almost certainly the Roman centre where markets were held for many years. In the centre is a Baroque fountain, plentiful homes and the well-known hot spot for tapas in Lugo’s bars and restaurants.  

At one end is Nova Square, what was the cardus maximus or main street of the Roman city. Nearby is Soedade Square, with the old Gothic church of San Francisco, today San Pedro, next to the building that contains the Provincial Museum, where we can find Roman remains and artefacts from the ancient city. A great mosaic shows the myth of Dedalus and Persiphone, unique in the Roman world. There are also fascinating collections of pre- Roman gold and silver items, as well as early Christian elements.

The square of Santo Domingo, another bustling part of the city, has the famous Convent of the Augustinian Nuns, with Gothic elements. Between Santo Domingo and the Praza Maior Square, you can find Raia Street, another important place of Lugo, with countless businesses and restaurants. Alameda Park is centrally located in this region. 

The gateway of Bispo Aguirre (opened in 1894) continues with a large green area that connects with Rosalía de Castro Park.  Here we find the buildings of two traditional institutions, the Teacher Training Faculty and Business Studies Faculty, as well as a number of administrative buildings. This is a perfect area to relax and enjoy leisure time, with magnificent views over the river Miño (Minho)

Minho River

Minho River

The Minho is the longest river in Galicia, sharing the border with Portugal, with a length of 340 kilometres. It is the fourth river of the Iberian peninsula, after the Douro (Duero), Ebro and Tagus (Tajo).

The Minho waters vineyards and farmland, is used to produce hydroelectric power, and also delineates a section of the Spanish–Portuguese border.

The source of the Minho lies north of Lugo in Galicia, in a place called Pedregal de Irimia. After about 73 kilometres, the river passes the walls of this old Roman city and flows south through canyons until the valley widens north of Ourense. The river has been harnessed in reservoirs from Portomarín to Frieira. 

About 20 kilometres north of Ourense at Os Peares, the river receives the waters of its main tributary, the Sil. Passing Ourense. There is one major dam at Frieira near the town of Ribadavia, which is famous for its wine: Ribeiro. Later on, the river flows in a southwest direction until reaching the Portuguese border near Melgaço.

After 260 kilometres through Galicia, the Minho sets the border of Portugal for about another 80 kilometres, mainly towards the west. The valley is a green place where the land is used to produce corn, potatoes, cabbage, even kiwi fruit, or just grass, depending on the time of year, and everywhere edging the fields, rivers and gardens, wherever there is space.  

The vines which produce the light, slightly sparkling “Vinho Verde” and the Ribeiro wine are both peculiar to this area. The very best of these wines, Alvarinho in Portuguese or Albariño in Spanish and Galician, is produced in the area around Monção, Arbo and Melgaço.

Passing the medieval towns of Melgaço and Monção, the Minho divides the Spanish Tui and Portuguese Valença do Minho, towns that guarded an important bridge for road and rail. Both towns preserve fortifications and are national monuments. The Minho reaches the Atlantic between the Galician A Guarda and the Portuguese Caminha.

Some festivals in Lugo

The Festival of San Froilán is a National Tourist Interest, held from October 4 to 12 since 1754. It is a hugely popular traditional festival with street performers, outdoor dances, theatre, concerts, folk events and religious celebrations as some of the events that are repeated every year. 

During the two weekends of the festival, Lugo becomes Galicia's epicentre of social life. It is considered the quintessential Galician autumn festival. At the fairground, the octopus stalls are the most popular attraction. Numerous activities for children and the market round out the festival, which attracts more and more interest with each passing year, bringing in hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The squares of the old quarter are filled with activities, many intended specifically for children, together known as San Froilanciño. In the evenings, they host free concerts by the best performers on the Spanish music scene. One of the most important days is the second Sunday of the festival, known as O Domingo das Mozas, with tradition affirming that this is the perfect day to find a friend from amongst those visiting the fair. It is devoted to the celebration of traditional costumes and Galician folklore.

Parades of cabezudos (giant-headed paper-mâché figures), brass bands, markets, and magic and juggling shows fill the days of the festival, which ends with a medieval fair in the cathedral square area around the Roman walls, and a great fireworks show.

Arde Locus is another important Roman festival coinciding with the summer solstice on the night of San Xoán. It was established in 2002 with the core aim of commemorating the founding of the city of Lugo through a recreation of its Roman past. Participants wear period costumes and a series of events are held, including bonfires and other fire rituals as an essential component, in memory of the city's Roman past. Theatrical performances also form an important part of the festival.

The Arde Lucus festival is linked to the summer solstice and the event combines entertainment and culture with the utmost historical accuracy. For three days each year, the walled area of the town is transformed into Lucus Augusti, a prominent city in Roman Gallaecia.

The city walls play a special role during the festival, as do the local residents, who form an active part of the festive atmosphere, taking to the streets in Roman or pre-Roman attire. In addition to the historical reenactment, Lucus Augusti offers participants a fine selection of Lugo cuisine.

The town council, residents, historical reenactment associations and various private organizations have made it possible for Arde Lucus to achieve strong growth since its first edition. The festival currently receives about half a million visitors every year.

The quintessential gathering spot, the Macellum (market), is a constant throng of activity. The Praza Maior (main square) is the ideal place to travel back to the 1st century. Even the Cohors I Lucensium sets up camp in this square, protecting the safety of the empire's citizens.

Another must-see spot for visitors to Arde Lucus is the camp where legionaries and gladiators, people from Lucus Augusti and other parts of the empire, lived together and shared space with members of various tribes from the pre-Roman castro culture. The circus, Gallaeci settlement, and Romanus Theatrum on Plaza de Santa María, the festival's cultural centre, are other areas well worth visiting.