Courel

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Courel

Neftalí Platas García ( Photos by José A. Armesto)

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

This region comprises the municipalities of Folgoso do Courel, Pedrafita do Cebreiro and Quiroga and it has a surface about 25000 hectares in an area limited to the north by St.James Way, to the east by the headwaters of the rivers Selmo and Soldón, to the south by O Boi mountain pass and to the west by the valley of the river Lóuzara.

It's a mountainous area that makes up the western side of Cantabrian Range. Courel massif has three main peaks: Formigueiros (1639 m), Pía Páxaro (1616 m) and Alto do Faro (1615 m).

The main features are the differences in altitude (from 400 m to 1639 m) with very steep slopes and a very rough and complex relief because of a complicated process of foldings, fractures and erosions made on diferent kind of rocks.

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The climate is oceanic with peculiarities because it's a mountainous area. Precipitations about 1500 mm and an average temperature between 8º and 10ºC. However, there are differences between the headwaters of river Lor (rainier and colder) and the middle and low lands, with a milder climate.

Landscape, human environment and agricultural and livestock activity

Landscape in Courel is strongly altered by human activity. The lands with less slope were used from ages to kitchen garden and crop rotation based on rye, woods were used for firewood and fire and pasturage acted on big areas of scrubland. The authentic woods can be found only in the craggier valleys, with steep slopes and difficult access.

Courel lost population countinuously from the middle of 19th century and mainly from the 40's. It's estimated that the population in the area was reduced to three-fifths. Some of the 42 populated villages and hamlets don't have any children among their inhabitants. This process can be seen very well in the agricultural activity: between 1962 and 1985, the amount of farms in the municipality of Folgoso was reduced to 60%.

Historical and cultural heritage

Courel keeps important traditional architectural models of Galician mountains. We can highlight beautiful hamlets like Seceda, Céramo and Visuña, all of them great examples of integration in the environment. Throughout the highlands it's possible to find ancient houses, old watermills, fountains, “sequeiros” (buildings to dry up the chestnuts) and shepherd huts, all of them are a valuable heritage.

We can find too more than 20 “castros” (hillforts), Prerroman and romanised ones: Vilar, A Torre, Brío, Megoxe and Monte Cido are the most importants. As to the remains of Roman culture there are gold mines like Mina da Toca, near Seoane, and Mina de Torubio. There are also two bronze hospitality tables between the Romans and the indigenous tribes. From the Middle Ages it's highligted the ruins of Carbedo castle.

Another remarkable aspect of cultural and industrial heritage are the smithies, buildings devoted to ellaborate forged iron to make farming tools, weapons, etc. This technology began about 11th century and reached the 19th century with few changes. From the Middle Ages, in Courel and Western Bierzo (the neighbour region in León) a real industrial network has developped with more than 30 smithies.

The biological heritage: Flora and Fauna

Courel is a well known land from the point of view of flora. At present , Courel's flora is estimated around 800 species of vascular plants of 82 families and more than 400 genera. This number is up to 40% of Galician flora in a territory smaller than 6% of total surface. The big variation in altitude, with the Mediterranean climatic influence through the valleys and the strata of calcareous rock, rare in Galicia, are the reasons to explain the great biodiversity of the range.

The invertebrate fauna of Courel is not well known although some of the species are well studied and in the last years new species were discover. We can highlight slugs, thysanoptera (thrips), coleoptera (beetles), ants and butterflies.

Regarding vertebrates, Courel is one of the areas or greatest faunistic interest in Galicia because there are around 160 species. Among fish we can stress trouts and eels. There are 7 species of amphibians and 15 of reptiles. Among these, there are mountainous species like Portuguese viper, or Mediterranean ones like Montpellier snake.

There are more than 90 species of birds and we can highlight golden eagle, tawny owl, alpine accentor and blue rock thrush. Finally, the mammals are 48 species and the most important are the bats and the carnivores. The brown bear and the capercaillie, before present, disappeared and now only the bear can be seen from time to time.

Etnography

Carnival

As in other places, carnival in Courel were festive days and it was possible to do unthinkable things in any other time of the year. There were lot of differences between the villages but with common aspects: carnival Sunday was “Water day”, Monday was “Stain Monday” and Tuesday was “Fire Tuesday”. It was usual to make two dolls, “o entroido” (male) and “a entroida” (female) and then both were burned on Tuesday night.

Protection from storms

People from Courel were always very afraid of summer storms, because they often damaged crops, houses, trees and even people. In order to protect themselves they used to call on Saint Barbara and to take her statue out of the chapels and churchs.

The “Viceira”

As in all villages there were a lot of “cría” (all the goats and sheep), one of the villagers took care of all those animals between May and the winter. In order to distinguish the animals of each owner, they made a brand cutting one or several pieces of their ears. In the morning, the “viceira” would leave to the mountain announcing it with a large conch shell. They came back at night.

The “Responso”

This word includes a collection of prayers that the people of Courel used as protection against enemies. The “responso” protected the cattle against the wolf, the diseases and other people. Even some people used it in order to find lost properties.

Beliefs

There are a lot of beliefs in Courel and we can stress the followings:

  • If we find many wasps' nest in summer, in winter it will snow a lot.
  • Crows are birds of bad omen.
  • To have a viper's head at home, into a match box, gives good luck.
  • People were afraid of salamanders because of its unpleasant appeareance and its poison, considered very strong.
  • People were afraid of least weasel because it was said its bite was deadly.

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Bibliography:

  • Parada Jato, J. A. Usos,costumes, e cousas do Courel. Edición ToxoSoutos.
  • Guitián, J. Guitián Rivera,L. Martínez Villar, J. L. Guía do Courel. Edicións Xerais.

 

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This page was written by the Spanish team. Only the Spanish team is responsible for its content.
For further information please contact: Jose Armesto o
r María Rodríguez Valcárcel | EPAPU Albeiros
Copyright (c) 2011 by EPAPU Albeiros | Lugo | Galicia | Spain | www.edu.xunta.es/centros/epapualbeiros

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