A trip to Fisterra and the Costa da Morte is, for its historical and geographical significance, a rite not to be missed by all of those who visit Galicia, surprising them with true discoveries in the form of landscapes and monuments.
From Santiago our tour progresses bordering the ría of Muros and Noia from the mouth of the river at its head: the Tambre, one of most important rivers of Galicia. It continues through the picturesque town of Muros and beyond, now facing the open sea, through the ample sandbanks of Carnota, where one of the largest hórreos in Galicia can be seen. The itinerary continues through the slopes of the mythical Monte Pindo and through Ézaro –where the river Xallas meets the sea, being the only river in Europe that does so directly in the form of a waterfall– until the point of Fisterra is reached, a moving experience and a name inseparable from that of the Costa da Morte, popularly believed to be the most westerly point of the European continent since it was discovered by the Romans on an expedition led by Decimus Iunius Brutus.
The granite rock formations impart their personality throughout most of the landscapes of this tour, as can be unequivocally appreciated in Monte Louro, the hill closing the northern part of the Ría of Muros and Noia and protecting it from the force of the Atlantic ocean. Monte Louro is the scenic icon guiding the first section of this route.
Other features of this landscape that must be mentioned are the clear transparent waters, the long beaches of the finest white sand, and the bays scattered with fishing villages, some of them aristocratic, such as Noia –at the head of the ría-, Muros –on its northern margin-, or Corcubión –almost reaching Finisterre-. These are medieval towns built in granite, the Galician stone for building par excellence, and the very same kind of stone to be seen breaking out all over the landscape. These are towns with narrow and winding streets leading to small squares with their characteristic and welcoming arcades.
The Costa da Morte
The beginning of the Costa da Morte is held by some to be at Muros. The name applies to the northwestern section of the Galician coastline, halfway between the Rías Altas and the Rías Baixas, and extending for miles within the limits of the province of A Coruña. It is a coast of desert beaches, bays and cliffs. The capes, among which Fisterra is the most remarkable, protrude into a fierce ocean of beating waters, giving this landscape its unmistakable quality, nowhere else to be found.
The Costa da Morte’s personality bears the deep mark of its being thought of as the western limit of Europe. The continent’s most westerly point is actually at Cabo da Roca in Portugal, but since Antiquity people have considered this to be the Finis Terrae, the end of the world, land’s end, or the door to the Beyond. On their arrival here, the Romans witnessed and then related the spectacle of the sun sinking into the Atlantic Ocean, a scene that was to fix indelibly upon the collective imagination of the Ancients since the remotest of times. Fisterra is at the end of many roads, including the Pilgrim’s Road to Santiago which extends as far as here to satisfy the last rites of pilgrimage, by finally reaching the place where the sun sets in order to be reborn, as a symbol of the renewal of life.
A large part of the seaborne traffic of the North Atlantic in both past and present times had and has to sail through these waters. The abrupt shores, the many hidden reefs and the winter gales and storms account for the large number of shipwrecks that the Costa da Morte has witnessed. Next to these it is still possible to see the crosses in honour of the victims, and hence the name of this coast.
Its villages are inhabited by men and women whose life is the sea. One of the most characteristic sights here is that of the percebeiros at work as they jump from rock to rock and narrowly escape the deadly blows of high waves beating against the cliffs which the percebeiros strip of their barnacles. As it could not be otherwise, the fish and seafood of these parts benefits from a quality and variety that is absolutely out of the ordinary.
The Costa da Morte has also kept alive a whole tradition of ancient crafts, for example handmade lace, especially that of Camariñas, but also that of a few other towns, which have earned for themselves a well-deserved international reputation.
This is a land of mystery, legend and myth. Both the beauty of its landscapes and the allure of its culture make of it a unique area with a special charm.
Located well within the ría of Muros and Noia, this town is important in Galician history, and still retains an interesting old town of medieval origin. Two of the town’s temples figure among the most relevant in Galician architecture: Santa María la Nueva (fourteenth century), which contains interesting guild-related headstones with inscriptions, and San Martiño (fifteenth century). Also important is San Francisco, and as for relevant urban environments, the Rúa do Curro, with the house containing the Grammar School.
From Noia, in the estuary of the Tambre, the ría gradually opens up toward the sea. A curve on the road just before entering the village of Esteiro suddenly reveals the hill closing the ría, one of the most rermarkable and emblematic sights to be enjoyed in Galicia: Monte Louro. From here on, beaches of transparent and quiet waters and tiny villages which appear increasingly scattered and announce the proximity of the Costa da Morte.
Facing the southern sun, and protected by the hills of Carnota and Mazaricos, the medieval port of Muros, a historical and artistic setting and the main tourist station of the Finisterrae, is the symbolic entrance leading to the Costa da Morte.
Among the beautiful architectural picture preserved among its old streets with their suggestive names, one must feature the buildings of religious significance over those of a civil character, the former reminding us of the fact that Muros belongs to the bishopric of Compostela. Among those, the church of San Pedro (10th century), the old collegiate church of Santa María and present day parochial church of San Pedro de Muros (12th century), in which the Gothic style predominates over the Romanesque remains, and sepulchres from the 15th and 16th centuries are preserved.
Retaking the pilgrimage to Finisterre, the road crosses the parish of Louro, a scarce 3 km from Muros, where we find the convent of San Francisco –from which a precious outdoor Vía Crucis starts, offering a great view of the ría, and the protected ecosystem of Monte Louro, with its beautiful sweet water lagoon next to the sea and its sand dunes.
Hórreo of Carnota
The long Hórreo of Carnota, a National Monument, imparts its celebrity to this fish and seafood-processing town, placed between endless beaches and the majestic height of the ancestral Monte Pindo. In the name of Carnota, of a very ancient origin, the syllable ‘Carn’, frequently found throughout Galicia, refers to stones or rocky terrain.
The Hórreo of Carnota and its traditional pigeon loft, both part of a parish setting to which the church of Santa Comba also belongs, as do the cemetery and the rectoral, are typical examples of Galician rural architecture. Built in solid masonry, this hórreo is the second largest in Galicia with its 34 meter length and 11 pairs of columns, or feet. The largest is the Hórreo de Araño –in Rianxo- with its length of 37 meters, the longest in the world.
The natural environment of Carnota, stretching as far as Caldebarcos, next to the magical Monte Pindo, fascinating for its unusual pinkish hue, is the temporary home of an important variety of migrating species, and is made up of a unique set of dunes and marshes with an inner lagoon. The large beach is considered one of Galicia’s longest and most beautiful. According to the German magazine ‘Traum Strände’ (‘Dream Beaches’), it is also one of the world’s top 100.
Set within the picturesque landscape of the placid waters at the ría of Corcubión, and almost joining the neighboring industrial town of Cee, this town was declared Conjunto Histórico-Artístico in 1985.
In the Middle Ages, apart from its important fishing fleet, Corcubión had a hospital to shelter the Jacobean pilgrims arriving to the town on their way to the Holy Christ of Fisterra, or the Sanctuary of Nosa Señora da Barca, in Muxía, a route necessarily followed by those who, after having given worship to the Apostle, finished their pilgrimage at the End of the World.
The stained glass façades, the charming waterfront and the old streets continue year after year to attract visitors who choose this town as the geographical base for their holidays in the Finisterrae.
Among the town’s aristocratic architecture we have to feature the Pazo de los Condes de Altamira (15th century), the port –rebuilt after it was destroyed by the troops of Napoleon and its bombardment by the British in order to expel the French during the Peninsular war -, the Casa Miñones, the Castillo del Cardenal –a fortress designed by La Ferrière in 1741, which used to defend the ría with 12 cannon and a garrison of 96 men-, and the churches of San Marcos and San Pedro (both 12th century).
Fisterra has all the magnetism of one of the mythical places of Antiquity. People from all over Europe regarded it as the end of the known world and the door to the Beyond. The image of the sun setting over the waters of the Atlantic terrified and fascinated whoever came to look from the continent’s western extremity. The rocky cliffs of Fisterra, in their permanent duel against the ocean waters, have always contributed to feeding the legend that surrounds this place.
Fisterra, Finisterre, Finis Terrae, is a territory marked by finality, by sundown, by limit, and is also the final destiny of the Camino de Santiago, which must be reached in order to begin one’s return.
In the urban nucleus of this seafaring town, there are certain points of interest such as, among others, the village port and the castle of San Carlos. Where the way up to its legendary lighthouse begins, there is the Holy Christ of Fisterra, an image to be admired in the church of Santa María das Areas (twelfth century).
However, without doubt, the main attraction is in the landscape: the coastline with its cliffs, the wild beaches and the ocean itself. Also, the Cape of Fisterra, jutting out into the ocean, looking away infinitely far into a sea that appears to have no end. Neither can the excellent local cuisine be overlooked, a cuisine based on the best possible products of the seas, among which we may feature the Longueirón, a large variety of razor-shell which is perhaps most representative of the seafood of the area.
At the ‘end of the world’ is the end of this road, which returns toward Santiago through the interior –Negreira, Bertamiráns-, with its rolling green hills, in contrast to the sea which we have just left behind.