The coast: A Mariña

The coast: A Mariña

Vanesa de la Fuente Vázquez   |   Leticia Mouriz Pérez (Photos: José A. Armesto)


  Datos do mapa © dos colaboradores do OpenStreetMap, CC BY-SA


It’s the Northern natural region in Galicia. It occupies the north of the province of Lugo and limits in the north with the Cantabrian Sea; in the south, with the areas of Terra Chá, Meira and Fonsagrada; in the west with the province of A Coruña (the limit is the river Sor) and in the east with the neighboring community of Asturias (in the river Eo). Its surface is 1.413,52 square kilometers distributed among the sub-areas of Mariña Occidental (Western Mariña, with administrative center in Viveiro), Mariña Central (Central Mariña, with three places that compete for being the administrative center: Burela, Foz and Mondoñedo) and Mariña Oriental (Eastern Mariña, whose administrative center is Ribadeo). It’s the coastal facade of a province that is completely interior in the rest of the territory.

So, it covers a coastal strip from the Ría de Ribadeo to the estuary of Bares-O Barqueiro, and an inner one as far as the city of Mondoñedo, capital of one of the seven provinces of the Ancient Kingdom of Galicia.

The environmental wealth of the area is very important: almost all the area was declared Site of Community Importance (SCI) and we can find two Natural Monuments (Praia das Catedrais and Eucaliptal Souto da Retorta) and another protected area due to their relevance in fauna and flora (Estuario do Eo).

In this area we can also find one of the more spectacular natural spaces in Galicia, the Covas do Rei Cintolo (Caves of King Cintolo) in Mondoñedo, with more than seven kilometers and several galleries.


The relief




The relief is structured in three morphologic units: the coastline, the Rasa Cantábrica and the valleys and mountains,

A) The coastline

Bathed by the Cantabrian sea, it spreads out from Estaca de Bares till the mouth of the river Eo. We can find many interesting geographical features as beaches, capes, headlands, islands and cliffs. The Lugo coast, in general, is characterized by its rectilinear nature and by the presence of a wide coastal plain, especially in the eastern part, where there are few natural shelters; on the contrary, in the western part, the mountains come close to the sea, what gives place to big slopes. On the other hand, there are big inlets like the ones that form the estuaries (rías) of Viveiro and O Barqueiro. Along the coast we can find almost eighty beaches, with an approximated extension of twenty kilometers. One of the most important ones is the Beach of the Cathedrals (Praia das Catedrais). 

B) The Rasa Cantábrica

It’s a coastal platform that spreads from the Cabo de Peñas in Asturias till Burela (Lugo), in parallel to the reliefs next to the coast, with a width that ranges between five kilometers and one hundred metres. Its more characteristic features are determined by the perfection of the devastation, its continuity and regularity and its sloping contour from the mountain foot till the cliffs edge or the beaches.


C) The valleys and Northern mountains





The granitic mountains that surround the estuary of the Landro (Viveiro) are, almost all of them, of crag kind and between them the one called Penedo Gordo should be emphasized. The topography is cracked by the fluvial system that crosses from South to North. The northern mountains, in which we should emphasize the Xistral massif, slide towards the sea and feed many courses of water with small routes, as the Masma one. In the central sector we can find wide fluvial valleys less inserted than in the western sector, as the ones of the Masma and Ouro rivers.


The climate

The situation of the area in the warm zone of the Northern Hemisphere and its location in a western maritime facade determine its climatic features. The climate is characterized by the thermal moderation, with short and lax winters, and warm summers with temperatures that oscillate between 17 and 19 degrees. The rains are present the whole year, with a maximum in winter and a decrease in summer. Cloudy days are frequent and in the Rasa Cantábrica there are persistent fogs. Frosts are not frequent and snow precipitations are very sporadic.


The rivers

There are many rivers in this area, but in general they are short. They are born in the reliefs next to the coast and they flow from South to North to the Cantabrian Sea. They have a big erosive capacity because they should cover strong slopes in a few kilometers of route. They have an abundant flow rate and a regular and rain pattern with a maximum in winter and a minimum simple and little marked in summer. The most important ones are the Sor, Landro, Masma and Eo.



Regarding the vegetation, the primary vegetal landscape, the woodland climax, suffered an intense degradation, due to the intense and prolonged deforestation and to the intense reforestation with pines and eucalyptuses. Although the predominance of the eucalyptus is very clear, there are still important masses of autochthonous species, like the Fraga das Furnas (O Valadouro), rich in holly trees.

But the vegetal landscape par excellence is formed by bushes. It’s the Oceanic landa, over poor soils, formed by heathers alternated with farming lands and deciduous forests.



The official census shows that the population of the fifteen councils that belong to A Mariña is 75,000 inhabitants, what is aproximately the 18.44% of the total in the province of Lugo. The population density is more or less 58.58 inhabitants by square kilometer, bigger than the media of the province. In 1920 the area had 76,577 inhabitants, so it suffered a demographic loss of the 3.83%. In the year 2011 only Burela and Ribadeo increased their population. Immigrants compensate the fall in birth rate and the aging. Like in the rest of Galicia, the rural villages tend to be abandoned, while the most urban ones attract population. Viveiro is the most populated council with 16,107 inhabitants and in the opposite side it is Ourol, that has only 1152 inhabitants. Apart from the natural growth, we should emphasize the importance of the immigration in this area, specially in Burela, where many people from Cape Verde live and work, specially in the fishing sector.



The agricultural area is more than 70% of the total one, but only 13% of the lands are cultivated. The family business is the predominant productive unit. The principal crops are cereals, wheat and, less frequently, rye. There are many orchards, but they are not very profitable. On the other hand, there are some specific products with an added value as the broad beans. The most profitable exploitation is the meadow one, specially in the “rasa” area, because, due to the frequent rains, grass grows everywhere without being irrigated. The natural meadows are located in the slopes of the valleys and in the coastal “rasa”. One of the most important problems of agriculture in this area is the division of land into smallholdings.





Regarding the livestock farming (mostly cattle) this area has more or less 18% of the total provincial exploitations. It’s very important the dairy production and in the East part there are many medium farms beef exploitations and cooperatives.

Building and naval repair industry is also very important, the conservation of fishery products, the timber and the ceramic industry (Sargadelos, Burela and Fazouro). Tourism gives this area important incomes, since the beaches along the coastaline attract many people in summer.


In the industrial field we should emphasize Alcoa's factory of alumina and aluminium (inaugurated in 1980), placed in San Cibrao, whose complex occupies five square kilometers.

Fishing has important infrastructures: fishing ports like Burela or Celeiro are the base of a fleet that fishes in international waters and it's specialized in the capture of the tuna or hake from the Great Sole fishing grounds. There are also important fishing ports the ones in Foz and Rinlo. Fishing has an important number of workers in this area, but the contribution to the economy is small.


There are many quarries in this area, specially the ones of kaolin that provide the raw material to make pottery or building materials.

This region was pioneering in the Spanish industrialization. The most significant example is the Sargadelos Historical Group-Artistic. Antonio Raimundo Ibáñez first projected an iron and steel industry in 1791 and later (in 1804) an English style pottery factory. In spite of the litigations with the neighbours, the destruction of the installations after a riot in 1798 and the non-payments and debts, the Real Factories of Sargadelos lasted until 1875. The restoration of Sargadelos arose with a project of the “Laboratorio de Formas de Galicia”, under the responsibility of Díaz Pardo and Luís Seoane. In 1970 it was inaugurated the new Sargadelos and the first ceramic pieces designed by these two artists began to come out. This group played from the beginning an important role in Galician culture. The pieces from Sargadelos, in china, have an original manufacture process, based in cultural concepts, and with some production systems that are often handcrafted. Some of the designs are based in Galician culture, for example, with historical figures or symbolic ones; another part of the production are tableware (dinner services, coffee sets...). These pieces are considered to be works of art and a part of Galician culture as long as they try to recover our historical memory.

The iron work and trade left other pieces of value like the mines of Silvarosa (Viveiro); forges, like the ones in Bravo (Ourol) and Bogo (A Pontenova); the mineral loading in Ribadeo, where the train from Vilaoudriz arrived with materials to be exported to Europe. In Viveiro there was a similar load station. In Vilaoudriz (A Pontenova) we can find the impressive limonite ovens.

In the Central Mariña, although the three productive sectors are well represented, the tertiary one is the most important in the economic structure. The agriculture sector suffered a sectorial reorganization after the starting of Alcoa in 1975 because this industry sped up the rural exodus and displaced agriculture and cattle farming to a second level. In spite of this, this sector is well represented in the interior of the region. The exploitation of species like pines and eucalyptus favoured the development of the timber industry. The fishing sector occupies 9% of the active population, especially in Burela (one of the main ports in Galicia, specialized in the capture of tune) and Foz (specialize in the fishing of sardine). The industrial activities have also importance in the seaside villages (Foz and Burela) and there is an important contingent of population employed in Alúmina-Aluminium. In these two councils the ceramic, metallurgical and timber industries are also important.

The shipyards in Burela and Foz and the mining industry in these two councils and in Lourenzá are also important. The production of electric energy got some relevance with the installation in O Valadouro of the aeolian park of O Xistral. The building sector was dinamic these last years, but at this moment, like in the rest of Galicia, it’s having a serious crisis. The tertiary sector, as we have said, is the most dynamic, mainly in the seaside councils where the commercial activities and public services are emphasized. Tourism in summer is especially important in Foz

In the Western Mariña the economic structure is dominated by the service sector and industry. The primary sector has some importance in the most rural councils (Ourol and O Vicedo) and, at the same time, fishing is outstanding in Celeiro, the first port in the province billing specialized in hake and tuna. Industry has the maximum representation in the plant of Alúmina Aluminium; other important industrial sectors are the ceramic one (Sargadelos), the timber and metallurgical industries and the ones linked to fishing, as shipyards and canning factories. The tertiary sector is well represented in Viveiro and San Cibrao. Viveiro is an important financial and touristic centre in the area and the traditional trade is also noteworthy in this village.

In the Eastern Mariña the agricultural activities have still an important weight in economy, in spite of the fact that they have lost workers in favour of the secondary and tertiary sectors. This implies the third of the employment and it's specially concentrated in the bovine livestock farming. This causes the existence of big meadows which determines the landscapes of the region. Fishing was more important in the past than in the present, but the port in Rinlo keeps some dynamism. As a consequence of the importance of livestock farming in the zone, the industry was oriented facing the production of feeds and fertilizars. The timber and metallurgical industries are also important (especially in A Pontenova). In the tertiary sector the most important village is Ribadeo, that concentrates the administrative, commercial and leisure services. Tourism is well represented both in Ribadeo and in Barreiros.

History and heritage

Central Mariña


The archaeological remains proved this area was occupied in the Prehistory. Remains from the Megalithic and Castro cultures were found, like the pendant earrings and torc of Os Castros (Burela) and the fort in Fazouro (Foz). There are also proofs of settlements from the ancient age, especially in the small town of Foz, where the port facilitated the contact with Phoenician, Tartessos and other people from the northeast navigators before the Romanization. The Roman presence is testified by the bronzes of Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian, the Roman roads in Mondoñedo, the gold-mining in the south and southwest of the Masma stuary and the abundance of slags near Marzán, indicators of ancient iron foundries.

This area got more importance for the history of Galicia at the beginning of the Middle Age, with the foundation of the diocese of Mondoñedo and the designation of this city as one of the provinces of the Kingdom of Galicia.

Artistic heritage

One of the most relevant buildings is the cathedral of Mondoñedo, national monument from 1902. It was begun in the 13th century following the Romanesque canon with three naves and reformed in the 16th century in Gothic style (the ambulatory). In the 18th century the façade was remodeled and the two Baroque towers were made.

The parish church of San Martiño de Mondoñedo, in Foz, is considered the most ancient cathedral in Spain. It was begun in the 10th century almost surely over a 6th century temple, but the church we can see nowadays dates from the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century.

Another outstanding building is the monastery of San Salvador de Lourenzá, classed as historical artistic monument-artistic in 1974. It was founded in 969 and rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries in Baroque style. The façade was made by Fernando de Casas, master of O Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela.

Western Mariña

The primitive inhabitants of this area were Megalithic, “castrexos” and Romans. Ptolemy located here the ancient “castrexo” settlement called Fabria Lambris. The development of the area is associated to the birth and the forming of the historical small town of Viveiro, in the Middle and Modern ages, and to the prosperity of Cervo, in the contemporary one.

The founding of Viveiro dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. Under the protection of the wall, wich was paid with the concession of the profits from the salt trade by the king, it began a strong port activity (which would achieve the boom with the wine export to the Breton ports and the wooden export to Seville and Lisbon) and a mercantile one (with abundance of guilds: merchants, shoemakers, smiths …). In the small town, which had economic prosperity and a firm social organisation, religious communities as Franciscan and Dominicans lived together with the local nobility. The last sign of its influence is linked to the linen trade and to the parallel revival of an important bourgeoisie.

With the entrance of the 19th century it’s the small town of Cervo which became prominent. The existence of this village is documented in the 12th century, but its history referred fundamentally to Antonio Raimundo Ibáñez, the promoter of the Real Fábrica de Fundición in Sargadelos.

Artistic heritage

The most ancient signs dated from Prehistory, the "castrexo" time was a rich period, as it’s proved by the remains of the "castros" of A Coroa in Viveiro. Viveiro concentrates most of the artistic heritage: gate of Carlos V or Castle of the Bridge (the main entrance to the wall), Praza Maior and San Francisco convent.

Another important monument in the area is the artistic-historical complex of Sargadelos, placed in Cervo, that includes the ancient factories and the actual plant.

We should also emphasize the Museum Carlos Maside, the Historical Museum of Sargadelos and the Provincial Sea Museum, the only one of this kind existing in Lugo.


Eastern Mariña

According to the archaeologic remains this area was also populated from ancient times. Both the Roman presence and the "castrexa" one are proved. The region was colonized by monastic orders, specially by the Cistercian order, which founded many monasteries.

The port of Ribadeo had big importance due to the fact it was the “door” of the Kingdom of Galicia to trade with America and Northern Europe in the 18th century. It was also important for this area the foundation of the Real Fábrica de Sargadelos in the same century. In the 19th century, the exploitation of the limonite deposits in A Pontenova by a Basque company affected the local development and led to the construction of a railway line that linked the mines with the port in Ribadeo.

Artistic heritage




The most ancient examples are the Megalithic ones: burial mounds in San Miguel de Reinante (Barreiros) and Xudán (A Pontenova) and the menhir of Marco da Pena Verde (Trabada). From the castro culture we can emphasize the hillforts in Vilamar (Barreiros) and Goios, Rececende and Vilaboa (A Pontenova).

In the civil architecture there are also important buildings as the Neoclassical Manor house of Ibañez, nowadays the town hall of Ribadeo (18th century) and the Tower of Os Moreno in the same town.

The furnace complex of Vilaoudriz (A Pontenova) deserves special mention. Declared ethnographic park, it’s an interesting example of industrial architecture from the early of the 20th century.




  • Enciclopedia Galega Universal
  • Gran Enciclopedia Gallega
  • Laredo Verdejo, X. L. (1996) Lugo y provincia, Vigo, Edicións do Cumio
  • Laredo Verdejo, X. L. (1998) Galicia enteira. Ferrol, A Mariña e Terra Cha, Vigo, Xerais.





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