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Castro de Baroña, ancient fort by the sea

by Silke Elzner

The path is slippery and covered in lose pebbles. We need to hold hands, catch each other’s falls. Make long strides to avoid the big stones, those with the sharp edges. Around us, the landscape is rural and dry. Long weedy grass stands tall to both sides, framing this path as it leads us to the water. Crickets make noise in the thickets, the sounds of the south. We are on the Atlantic side of Spain, in Galicia.

The further we go, the more the trees close up on us. Slim strong trunks of pine trees, their shed needles covering the floor like a thick carpet. At this stage it is hard to imagine that we will soon reach the Atlantic Ocean. We are on our way to a forgotten fort by the sea. It’s a place that is quite special, a home to mysterious people some two thousand years ago.

From the darkness we descend down towards the untamed coast until, very suddenly, the trees give way to unlimited views all the way to the coast. And there it is, right before us. The ruins of a fort that is spectacular in its location and not yet less intriguing in its history. We have finally arrived at the Castro de Baroña.
Pine Forest near the Castro

An ancient fort right by the ocean

A scene which is so mind-blowing you have to stop for a minute to take in the views. From our rocky plateau with patches of stubborn grass, we can make out the sandy crescent of a beautiful beach, remote, devoid of people, and simply picture-perfect. No sign of life, just the constant rolling of waves onto sand. Rocks are framing the beach, some of them covered in bright green sea grass, a colour that looks strangely familiar. Where have we seen it before?

To our right, the landscape is quite different. Rough and unforbidden, a picture of lichen covered rocks that fall steeply into the sea. The water washes and gushes around them, white foam dancing on the crowns. Again, the dark stones, the patches of grass, the lines in the rock ledge, it all looks familiar. This feels like Scotland in the sun. Ireland, as you would want it to be on a good day. Wales, with its wild and untamed shores.
Ancient Celtic Fort by the sea in Galicia

Home of mysterious people

Our destination is what lies between these two virgin places, the beach and the rocks. A small headland, connected to the mainland by a sandy isthmus, barely raised from the water. Yet, the structures on top are quite distinguishable. Round man-made foundations, walls round as circles, cover the peninsula. It’s an ancient fort, familiar in some way yet also strange.

It is an extraordinary location, right here on the Galician coast, selected by Celtic people many thousand years ago. They made this wild and untamed part of the coast their own. They built houses here for their families, circular in shape. They secured their homes by constructing high walls and deep trenches around them. They used the sea as an additional line of defence, thus sealing this settlement to all sides from exterior forces. It must have been violent times that called for these measures, to make these people settle rather on a rock by the sea than in a fertile valley near a freshwater stream.

Visitor on the rocks overlooking the sea

Not much is known about the Celts, and even less about the Celtic people that settled on the Iberian peninsula. Many will think them volatile and violent, uncivilised and aggressive. Yet, when looking at archeological findings, they paint a very different picture. The Celts were in fact highly civilised and progressive. They produced beautiful artwork and jewellery, were quite skilled with their pottery. And it also shows in the ruins of this fort.

Castro de Baroña has a aesthetic quality to it that makes it more than just a fort by the sea. The round shapes of the foundations resemble suckers as you would find them on an octopus’s arm. A shape that can be found in nature yet it is distinctively man-made. You cannot help but give credit to these people who built this labyrinth of structures in this magical spot by the sea.

Our exploration of Castro de Baroña

We cross the barren plateau and head towards the fort. Many paths lead to the outpost, left by hundreds of visitors before us. There is no route to follow, you are free to explore the site in whatever way you want. No signs to show you the way, no fences to stop you from venturing too far.

There is a certain freedom to this, a welcoming spirit that invites you to take in the fort and the sights in any way you like.

We walk on sand to the other side of the isthmus, past the trench that the Celts built many, many years ago. The remains of a defensive wall are still visible, rising from the soft white sand, now home to wildflowers that cling onto the gaps between the rocks.

There are the remains of a gate, so we pass through it. Inside the fort, the round shapes of the buildings are clearly visible. In the salty morning light, they cast hesitant shadows on the floor. Other visitors climb onto the tall rocks to the back of the structure, take pictures from above and from themselves as they are embracing the atmosphere of this untamed land. All around us, the sea sighs its eternal roar, today just as loudly as it used to back then.

Why did the Celts leave this place, abandoned the fort and virtually disappeared? We don’t know. But we cannot imagine that they left voluntarily. The rocks at Baroña offered shelter and safety from other people. The sea and the woods would have provided them with food.

The Celts didn’t leave any written records. Maybe we will never know what happened to them. It is this mystery which makes Castro de Baroña such a special place to visit.

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