Friday, April 5, 2013

The Tower of Hercules

This is the year of the lord of 702. Imagine a tiny fishing village, full of Roman ruins, like many others in Europe. You are seeing the remains of Flavium Brigantium, a city that used to be the main port of the Roman province of Gallaecia. The harbour was always full of goods brought by people from all over the Empire and the richness was evident everywhere you could see. You could have admired the theatre, full of citizens enjoying a play. Or maybe you could have a walk around the forum while watching the last debate between the patricians. But nobody remembers those times any more.

Life is hard now. The old city is ruined and deserted and people have built fragile timber cabins that barely resist the cold winds from the depths of the Dark Ocean where -as everybody knows- the world ends.

But there's one building that seems to resist to die, to be forgotten, as the rest of the city is.

It seems a like a tower, but it was something else. A lighthouse. You are seeing the Tower of Hercules.

Between History and Legend

The tower is named after the Greco-Roman hero Hercules, who killed Geryon in order to obtain his famous cattle and accomplished the tenth of the Twelve Labours instructed to him by Eurystheus, king of Tyrins. 

According to one version of the myth, Hercules would have defeated Geryon after three days and three nights of continuous battle. Hercules then buried the head of the giant and built a lighthouse with his bones and weapons.

However, it seems that the lighthouse is not that old. The tower is known to have existed by the 2nd century, but is probably older, as the Romans had built a settlement long time before. We are well-informed about the expedition led by Julius Caesar along the north-west coast of the Iberian Peninsula looking for tin, gold and prestige to strengthen his political position in Rome. Caesar reached Brigantium, where he probably left a garrison to guarantee the submission of the Gallaeci and the new trade route. A lighthouse may have been built to help the ships to navigate along this difficult coast that is now known as Costa da Morte: the Death Coast. After the Cantabrian Wars a Roman settlement was built and the population began to grow quickly due to its commercial importance. 

A new lighthouse

Probably built over the old one, the new lighthouse followed the model of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria. The Lighthouse still guided ships for three more centuries, but the fall of the Roman Empire and the decay of the commerce and the cities affected this beautiful lighthouse as well, and by the end of the sixth century there was no one on the top to light the torch to guide the very few galleys that still navigated across the Atlantic waters; as there was no city and no ships the lighthouse was off. 

During the Early Medieval ages the remains of the lighthouse saw a couple of Viking raids and was adapted as a military tower to prevent naval incursions. Later, served as a castle to guard the new town -Crunia, now known as Corunna- built by Alfonso IX, king of León and Galicia.

The light is on again

The Tower had been damaged after the attack against Corunna led by Francis Drake in 1589 and part of the masonry was reused to rebuild the city after the English retreat, so it became very deteriorate. But the Tower of Hercules was gonna to revive by the later years of the XVII century, when the governor of Galicia ordered the complete restoration of the building in order to use it again as a lighthouse.

In 1788 The Tower of Hercules was given a neoclassical restoration including a new floor, the fourth one. The work was undertaken by naval engineer Eustaquio Giannini and was finished three years later. 

The exterior of the building has not changed since then.

The Tower of Hercules is considered a National Monument in Spain, and since 2009, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is oldest active lighthouse in the world.

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