Admittedly, I had never heard of A Coruña, Spain prior to our visit. Located in the northwest corner of Spain on the Atlantic coast in the region of Galicia, A Coruña is noteworthy as the base from which the Spanish Armada set sail to conquer England in 1588. Even more importantly to me, however, it is the home of another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Tower of Hercules.
We were ready to disembark when our ship docked at 8 am. We took bus #3 to our number one sight, the Tower of Hercules, but unfortunately, found that it didn’t open until 10 am. Instead of waiting until the opening time to climb the 234 steps to the top of the tower, we contented ourselves with a tour of the grounds and the spectacular views from the base of the tower.
The only Roman lighthouse still in existence and the oldest lighthouse in the world, the Tower of Hercules was built by the Romans in the last half of the first century, AD. Originally named Farum Brigantium by the Romans, it has served continuously as a lighthouse since its construction, marking the entrance to La Coruña Harbor. The restoration in 1789 preserved the original Roman structure resulting in its designation in 2009 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The tower is surrounded by a sculpture garden in a green space comprising 116 acres. The Doors of Hercules, on either side of the tower, are among the art pieces in the collection. The bronze doors, sculpted by Francisco Leiro, contain images representing the various myths and legends about the tower.
Next to the tower, the Portrait of King Carlos III, by Pablo Serrano Aguilar, struck me as incongruous until I did a little research and learned that he was the monarch who authorized the restoration of the tower. I first thought he looked like an American Revolutionary soldier who wandered into the wrong historical setting.
Legend has it the Celts, led by Breogán, founded Brigantia and built a tower on this site prior to the Romans. When his son, Ithe, spied Ireland from the top of the tower, he set sail for the island but was killed upon his arrival by locals. When his body was brought back to Brigantia, the family decided to return to Ireland to avenge his death and settled there permanently. (Per sign on-site.) The white granite sculpture, Breogán, by José Cid, commemorates this story.
The mosaic, Rosa de Los Vientos, by Javier Correa, pays tribute to the seven Celtic peoples.
Finally, the sculpture, Charon, by Ramón Conde, depicts the boatman who ferried the dead to Hades in Greek mythology. Hercules defeated him in a standoff when he faced the challenge to bring the three-headed dog, Cerebus, back from Hades.
There was more to see including a Muslim cemetery and we could have spent lots more time at the tower but we wanted to get to the historic quarter and the castle. We set off to walk the 2 kilometers to the old city by way of the new promenade along the water.
We stopped first at San Carlos Garden in the Historic Quarter where Sir John Moore is entombed. He died in the Battle of Coruña where he defeated the French. This peaceful and beautiful park is the perfect resting place for any hero.
Then by chance, we came upon Santa Maria del Campo Collegiate Church from the 13th century and took a peek inside.
Plaza de la Harina, today called Plaza de Azcárraga, was the main square in the old city where grain was sold.
The Church of Santiago, built in the 12th century, is one of A Coruña’s oldest buildings.
The Castle of San Antón was built beginning in the 14th century as a fortress to quarantine soldiers with a disease called “the fire of San Antón.” It later served as a prison for political prisoners as well as common criminals. Today it houses the Archeological and History Museum.
Following our visit to the Castle of San Antón, we strolled back to the modern, attractive cruise terminal. We enjoyed our first port of call in A Coruña very much with everything conveniently located near the cruise ship terminal or a short bus or tram ride away. We didn’t take the time to see the beaches, the new city of nearly 250,000, or shopping areas but we saw the historic areas that interested us most.
Based on events from April/May 2016.