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Spanish Secrets: An Alternative History Lesson

Craig Briggs now has a different perspective on an English “hero’’ after visiting A Coruna.

To read more of Craig’s vivid accounts of life in Galicia click on Spanish Secrets in the menu on this page.

It’s inevitable that expectation occasionally leads to disappointment. This was true of our recent trip to A Coruna.

A Coruna is situated on the northern coastline of Galicia and has a long established connection with Britain. British Catholics used to disembark here on their pilgrimage to Santiago and the tomb of Saint James.

It was also the launching site of the ill-fated Spanish Armada, 130 ships and over 30,000 men, many destined never to see their homeland again.

In 1507 the English buccaneer Drake fired the town with his band of mercenaries. He and his brigands were eventually repulsed by the city’s heroine Maria Pita, who seized the English standard and rallied the townsfolk.

Her heroism is commemorated in a large bronze statue in the Plaza Maria Pita. She’s depicted defiantly brandishing the standard and holding a spear. Lying at her feet are a couple of slain English mercenaries.

Who would have thought that our nice Sir Francis Drake could have been responsible for such despicable acts? My schooling taught me of an altogether different Drake. An intrepid adventurer, credited with introducing the humble spud to the English cuisine.

Some things never change. One man’s hero is another man’s villain.

A Coruna is about 170km from our home. The drive begins interestingly enough through beautiful countryside around Sarria and on towards our Provincial capital, Lugo. At that point we joined the A6, the main arterial road to Madrid. From then on the scenery was far less inspiring but the road was quiet and we made speedy progress.

The outskirts of the city are like many other sprawling metropolises. High-rise apartment blocks, large retail parks and dreary industrial estates. We passed more traffic in five minutes than we had in the previous hour and a half.

The main route took us directly to the sea front. The city is famed for its attractive old houses with trademark galerias, rows of tall, narrow windows, half-panelled, with decoratively carved wooden frames. I’d expected these old traditional houses to be in a quiet pedestrian area and was disappointed to find them running along the main harbour road.

Attempts have been made to disguise the modern flourishing port and hide it from visitors. It’s a bit like trying to hide a partially dismantled oily-old motorcycle in someone’s kitchen.

Behind the buildings along the coast road is a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with trendy shops, tapas bars, cafés and more fish restaurants than seem economically viable. Most of these lead to or from, the Palaza Maria Pita. This is a large enclosed square. The prominent town hall runs the length of one side and cafés and bars occupy the other three sides.

Whilst A Coruna is worth a visit, it really hasn’t any outstanding features.

The area around the royal marina in Vigo has a pleasanter sea view, the plaza in Santiago has more outstanding architecture and the Roman-walled city of Lugo is more pedestrian friendly.

We enjoyed our day trip, but aren’t in any rush to return.

PS. But in Deportivo La Coruna, they do have a pretty good football team.

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Copyright © 2006 Craig Briggs

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