The interior plain: A Terra Cha

Antonio Bernárdez Sobreira

Although it´s a relatively small territory (29574 square kilometers) Galicia presents a complex landscape variety, as a result of a process of geomorphological and historical conformation of the country, an Hercinian base worn out and fractured in upper areas (eroded and relatively low mountains) and decreases (plains, depressions and fluvial valleys). Every space will be defined from some physical, climatic and human characteristics, appearing then a diversity of regions or differentiated territories, that form a different "cultural landscape". “The Plain” (“Chaira” or “Terra Chá” in galician language) is one of these territories, identified by it´s own physical space (the plain or “Chaira”) and human beings (the plainsman or “Chairego”) with own features.


Winter time at Cospeito lake
Miño river near Meira
Frost at Cospeito

The Plain is 1822.7 square km, distributed among the councils of Abadín, Begonte, Castro de Rei, Cospeito, Guitiriz, Muras, A Pastoriza, Vilalba and Xermade. It´s a natural prolongation of a greater physical unit (Lugo’s Plateau), it is a relatively low geographical space (from 400 to 500 ms of altitude) delimited by the north by the septentrional mountains among which it stands out the Xistral, in the west by the Central Galician Range, in the east by the Neda’s Range and by the south by the region of Lugo. On Paleozoic materials (granites and schists) posterior sediments (Tertiary and Quaternary) settled what generated a clayey cover that sets up one of the signals of identity of the space, the impermeability and the proliferation of humid and flooding areas. A slightly rounded landscape is constituted then, that it alternates very flat spaces with soft hills (in fact the toponym "Vilalba", capital of the region, refers to an elevation surrounded with lower lands), and very conditioned by the rural activity. This fact contributes to transform The Plain in a great biodiversity’s area, about 5,000 hectares of the region were integrated into the Natura’s 2000 Net as the Parga-Ladra SCI, and so they were integrated into Reserve of the Biosphere "Miño’s Lands".

SCI’s name may be explained by the complexity of the hydrographic net, as it corresponds to a deep space or to a tectonic pit. The main river of the region is Miño, that it is born in the eastern border (Irimia’s RockyGround in Meira’s Range) and it crosses the region with a sinuous journey, with frequent floods like natural space of Pumar’s plain. Tributaries and subtributaries to it are Ladra, Parga and Támoga, the most important of an authentic capillary network that combines rivers, rills and flooded areas as Cospeito or Caqué small lakes.

The proliferation of humid spaces keeps relation with the climatic attributes which integrated The Plain in the Oceanic Dominion although with variations due to it´s relative isolation with regard to the sea (continentality). So we find a annual average temperature of 11 degrees, with wider thermal variation than the coast and with the frequent presence of winter frosts.

A combination of physical, climatic and human factors has configured a space of great biodiversity, however, very degraded by the socioeconomic changes of the last twenty years. The climax vegetation was altered throughout the history by the processes of deforestation and farming, preserving however small areas of oaks and birches alternated with areas of thicket ("toxeiras"), progressively replaced by pinewoods of repopulation (and in the last years of eucalyptuses) and meadows. They also increased their presence for the drying of flooded areas, appearing a peculiar landscape with winter flooded pastures (Pumar’s Plain for example). There are very important natural spaces, because of the reception and the breeding of rare wintering birds like curlew or lapwing, which were nearly exterminated in Franco's times but luckily they were recovered in the last decades (small lakes of Cospeito and Caqué). On another side, the bank forests are very interesting along the fluvial capillary network (alluvial or flooding forests), one of the strongest reasons to establish the Reserve of the Biosphere in the area.

The Plain formed a type of settlement and territorial organization that the French geographer Bouhier situated in a wide called space the "fields of “agras”, present in good part of the central Galicia and characterized by the "association of blocks of crops provided of general fences and divided internally in open plots" (Bouhier, vol. 1, p. 235). We find then a disperse settlement in the form of places or farmhouses alternated with small kernels which were strongly conditioned by the land structure, furthermore it gave place to a type of specific house "the plain house", characterized according to Mariño Ferro and González Reboredo by being "a wide house, a clean prismatic volume, with walls of slate, without auxiliary buildings and with a hipped roof" (Mariño Ferro and González Reboredo, páx.444). The inhabitants are grouped together in the calls "polynuclear hamlets with a clear country house", that is, wide spaces among houses occupied with market gardens or crop fields and several kernels or else in the calls "nebula nuclear hamlets", similar to the previous ones but of smaller entity.

ImageTraditionally, lands were worked with a system of biennial fallow that included cereal, corn and potatoes. Besides, the alternance of mount lands and crops meant (in order to furnish wood, fertilizer or pasture by example) the semi-extensive cattle breeding with commercial orientation, either bovine or equine (mules breeding). This traditional system would enter into crisis at the end of the 19th century and beginnings of the 20th leading on to a model more and more intensive and specialized in bovine breeding, especially with the changes introduced in the second half of Franco’s period. In this historical stage it stands out the called "colonization" which was called by the authority "Tierra Llana de Castro de Rey", for that 2800 has of communal mount were expropriated and parcelled out for the posterior distribution between 189 families of settlers established in four kernels or Civic-Cooperative Centers, in a productive proposal of deep mussolinian roots. The current landscape of the Plain is therefore debtor of the productive transformations introduced by the Liberal State in the 19th century and consolidated in Franco's times to give form in the last times to a specialized model with a strong concentration of the explotations and intensely depended on external inputs as fertilizers and concentrated fodders, which brought at the same time economic problems (financial weakness of the agrarian enterprises) and environmental (pollution of aquifers for nitrates).

ImageThe rural identity determined a small settlement, with a low density (25.6 inhabitants for square km) that it is more noticeable in the rims, upper areas of transition to the mountains. The particular land changes and the change in society determined that between 1900 and 2005 the Plain lost 28% of his population, taking into account that in the first half of the 20th century it reached it´s demographical maximum. We can say that in 2005 there was a total population of 46,688 inhabitants, 31% of whom were older than 65 years (in contrast with a 9.3% of younger of 15). Therefore we attend an ageing populational that follows the general trend of the rural Galician. This population occupies very large territories with councils much bigger than in other areas of Galicia and besides with a very strong parish subdivision that tells us about the evident dispersion of the inhabitants, Vilalba with 30 parishes, Castro de Rei with 25, Cospeito with 20, Abadín, Begonte and A Pastoriza with each 19 parishes, Guitiriz with 18, Xermade with 10 and Muras with 8.




The Plain seems to have already been a very attractive settlement place since Paleolithic period. The archeological works indicate several important sites in surrounding areas, as "Dúas Nenas" (Vilalba) or "Férvedes II" (Xermade), which situate the establishment of human groups in the Superior Paleolithic. On the other hand, there is an important megalithic presence with examples like "Madorra da Granxa" in Castro de Rei, Medorras da Millarada (Cospeito) or the "Necrópole de Roza das Modias" (Vilalba) as well as the abundant mounds confirmed in the councils of Vilalba, Abadín and Muras. In fact, investigators indicate that the Galician septentrional mountains of the Lugo’s province (Mounts of Buio, Xistral and Toxiza ranges), constitute the north limit of our region, as a place whose “anthropization process of environment” was confirmed around 6000 years ago, in the form of an intense orientated deforestation because of the tendence towards farming and breeding. This early humanization of the mountain range joined to cattle economy would be in contrast with a late settlement of the Plain strictly speaking. Studies about this settlement are very conditioned by the destruction of the patrimony. According to the investigator Xosé Ignacio Vilaseco Vázquez (La Voz de Galicia, 23/2/2005) in 1960 a census was made with 220 mounds or "medorras" in the northwest of the Plain whereas in the 2000, only remained,179 which meant 18.6% of destruction, that it would be owed to reafforestation and agrarian activities. The mounds were thought to be burial structures.

The toponym "Castro de Rei" (King’s Fort) alludes to the importance in the Plain of the Gallaecian-Roman settlement or Hillfort Culture ("cultura castrexa"), confirmed by other voices as "Castromaior" (Abadín), "Castro" (Begonte) or "Croa" (Cospeito), but with a probably smaller density that in other parts in Galicia, as already had confirmed Bouhier in the seventies. We could point up the forts of Baroncelle and Terraxis (Abadín), Donalbai (Begonte), Duarría and Ameixende (Castro de Rei), Torrillón (Cospeito), Quenllas do Forno (Guitiriz), Igrexa de Cazán and Regueira (Xermade) or the 12 quantified ones in Vilalba, but above of all the Viladonga’s Fort (Castro de Rei). Viladonga constitutes a site of great archaeological importance for the quantity and quality of the remains found, corresponding to the period of the Roman domination, mainly around 3rd and 5th centuries. Excavated since 1971, it has a monographic museum that gathers together many of the remains found in the different archaeological campaigns and that certifies a romanized population with strong links with the nearest metropolis, the conventual capital Lucus Augusti. According to Bouhier and others, the hillfort period was the one in which the structures of population, that they are going to reign in the later Galicia, were fixed.

The Plain seems to be a passing area between the Coast (A Mariña) and the inner Galicia. Romans built the road that communicated Brigantium with Asturica Augusta, which is still preserved today as Duarría’s bridge in Castro de Rei and we can also find monuments and rests like aras, tombstones or villae in different localities. There are also footprints of the Germanic presence (toponyms as Guitiriz) and even of the Britons immigration, the parish of Bretoña (Pastoriza), an episcopal see founded by Celts to shelter from the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons to Britain. It was after the Muslim invasion when the Plain (and generally Galicia) became strongly feudalized, with ecclesiastical feudal estates (the Bishopric of Mondoñedo, the monasteries of Meira and Lourenzá) as well as lay estates (Montenegros, Pargas, Andrades). These stately powers filled up the Plain with castles and forts, most of them brought down after the Brotherhood Revolts in 15th century (Pobra de Parga, Andrade’s Tower in Vilalba, Caldaloba’s Tower in Cospeito).

In 14th century the Andrade’s House, who was born in Betanzos (A Coruña) and to whom Henrique II of Trastámara awarded the feudal estate of Vilalba, already in the Low Middle Age, the neuralgic center of the Plain, is going to acquire a great relevance in the region. The neighbours of Vilalba rose up in the 1431’s Brotherhood War ("irmandiña"), a Medieval Jacquerie that had as a consequence the destruction of the town’s castle, which was devastated again in the second war of 1467. Reconstructed later, today it is a National Parador of Tourism and testimony of the importance of a villa that between the 16th centuries and 18th is going to be the main economical and administrative center in Plain.

The importance of the Plain could be measured in an important artistic and ethnographic patrimony. The churches, the cemeteries, the houses, the crosses, the oral tradition, tell us about the significance of a region with long-lived settlement and where we even find flooded cities, the mythical Veria that some people situates under the waters of Cospeito or the Boedo submerged in Guitiriz. Mythology or reality?



Consulted sources

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