timeline of the Tower of Brigantia,
symbol of Corunna
2nd/1st century BC
of Brigantia: the first name given to the lighthouse
The area where the lighthouse was built was part of a Kingdom of Brigantia
that existed before the Roman invasion and extended over the Artabrian
Gulf and county Bergantiños. It is believed that its capital
city, Brigantia or Flavium Brigantium in latin, would have
been the modern city of Betanzos which at that time was a busy trading
In the Celtic religion,
Brigantia was the name of an important goddess. The word [Briga-]
meant "high" or "holy" in the ancient Celtic language.
Besides the Galician realm of Brigantium, there were also two
other kingdoms of Brigantia in Ireland and Britain.
trade and cultural relations were intense in Atlantic Europe since
the Bronze Age and the Galician city of Brigantia was a major trading
port with the British Isles. It is likely that the mouth of the estuary
leading to the city of Brigantia had several small watchtowers to
alert the oppidum or city in case of danger. One of those watchtowers
--the most strategic of them all, overlooking the estuary and the
open seas-- could have been replaced by the Farum Brigantium
lighthouse, which today is known as Tower of Hercules.
The oldest legend telling the history of the Tower refers to the Kingdom
of Brigantia and to a King Breoghain that sent his people to populate
Ireland. The lighthouse was known by the name Farum Brigantium
(Tower of Brigantia) during Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
1st-5th century AD
Roman lighthouse is built
The Romans invaded Galicia looking to secure control of her mineral
wealth and strategic position in the Atlantic trading route. Roman
historian Cassius Dio mentions in his History of Rome the arrival
to "Brigantium, city of Gallaecia" of the famous
Roman general Julius Caesar in 62 BC. The Greek geographer Ptolemy
wrote as well about the wealth of the Brigantian capital, describing
Flavium Brigantium in his 2nd century Geography as "the
great port of the Galicians."
were greatly developed during the Roman occupation. The Romans built
several lighthouses in Atlantic Europe with the aim of improving navigation
and trade. Two of those Roman lighthouses can still be seen today
on the Atlantic shores: the Dubris Beacon at Dover in Britain,
and the Tower of Brigantia in Galicia. Of these two, the Brigantian
lighthouse is the only lighthouse in the world which was built in
Roman times and is still in operation.
The Farum Brigantium was built in the 2nd century AD by Caius
Servius Lupus, an architect from Aeminium (Coimbra) in Lusitania who
left a commemorative carving on a rock at the foot of the tower. The
Roman tower was higher than the previous Celtic watchtower: it was
about 30 meters high, had three floors, and an indoor ramp leading
to the beacon. The building was square and had windows and doors in
the façade. Some of those Roman windows can still be seen in
the current interior structure of the tower.
Kingdom of Galicia
5th-15th century AD
invasions and military use of the tower
In 407 AD the Roman armies left Galicia and the country became the
first kingdom to emerge in medieval Europe prior to the fall of the
Roman Empire. Galician historian Paulus Orosius, who lived during
the first years of the new Galician kingdom, mentioned the Tower of
Brigantia in his Historia adversum Paganos: "Brigantia,
city of Gallaecia, where a lighthouse stands very high looking towards
Britannia", clearly suggesting that trading relations between
Galicia and Britain were still strong in those days.
The Early Middle Ages were marked by territorial wars and political
instability that hampered trade in the Atlantic. The main trading
partners of Galicia --Britain and the Mediterranean-- were living
with insecurity due to Saxon and Arab invasions respectively. Centuries
later Atlantic Europe was invaded by the Vikings and the Normans,
and this also took a toll on Brigantia's trading relations with Britain.
In 844 AD a fleet
of 150 Viking ships attacked Galicia and devastated the city of Brigantia.
The raid was eventually aborted by king Ramiro in a battle near the
Tower of Brigantia, but from this attempted invasion watchtowers were
built throughout the Galician coast. The Brigantian lighthouse became
a military tower which was used to watch for invading Viking ships.
Yet, in 1015 AD a Scandinavian fleet led by the future King of Norway
Olaf Haraldsson managed to reach and destroy again the city of Flavium
During this period the Tower suffered much deterioration and part
of the outer wall fell away. We do not know whether the deterioration
was caused by damage received after a military attack or by a long
period of neglect, or both.
The legend of King Breoghain comes
Leabhar Gabhála Éireann or Book of Invasions
of Ireland is an ancient book of Irish history and folklore written
in Ireland circa 1050 AD. The Leabhar Gabhála tells
that Breoghain, a king of the city of Brigantium, built a watchtower
called Tor Breoghain or Tower of Breoghain from where
he could see a new, unexplored land. His descendants, Ith and Mil,
gathered an army and left to conquer the new island, which they called
The Irish legend was known on the Galician side as well, for there
were ancient trade relations between Galicia and Ireland. A Galician
legend called Trezenzonii Solistitionis Insula Magna, written
nearly a century before the Leabhar Gabhála between
900-1000 AD, recounts how a monk called Trezenzonius climbed up the
Tower of Brigantia, saw a wonderful island very far at sea, and went
to explore the island in the same way that Ith and Mil did in the
That Galician-Gaelic legend is the oldest literary reference to the
Tower of Brigantia, as well as being an outstanding case of shared
mythology between two Atlantic nations.
Decadence of Brigantium and
emergence of Crunia
Brigantia became known as Betanzos during the Middle Ages,
as per phonetic evolution of Brigantium » Breganzo
» Betanzos. Medieval times brought much political instability,
wars and invasions that hampered trade in the Atlantic. As the city
went into decline, so did also the magnificent lighthouse.
To make things worse, the harbour of Betanzos had been accumulating
sediments that prevented large ships to enter the ancient Brigantian
port. Thus, when King Afonso IX of Galicia and Leon decided to revitalise
the area in 1208 AD, he set his sight on a nearby area called Crunia:
the benefit of my kingdom I am building a new population near the
Tower of the Lighthouse, in a place called Crunna". The village,
built on meadows as its ancient Celtic placename Clunia (modern
irish Cluain) points out, would become the city of Corunna
which took over the decadent city of Brigantium.
The next kings of Galicia granted Corunna many rights and tax exemptions
in order to boost free trade with England. The new city emerged rapidly
as the main trading port in Galicia, in the same way that the city
of Brigantia had once also been. By the 15th century Corunna had become
one of the main ports in Europe and the lighthouse was its symbol
Early depictions of the lighthouse
The earliest representation
of the brigantian lighthouse is found in the Burgo de Osma Codex from
1086 AD which shows the lighthouse in Gallaecia, next to the Shrine
of Santiago and facing the islands of Britain and Ireland.
The largest medieval map of the world (Hereford Mappamundi, made in
England about 1300 AD) also shows the Brigantian tower prominently
located on the coast near Santiago de Compostela, with a fire burning
at the top of the lighthouse in order to guide the ships in the Atlantic.
During the Middle Ages the lighthouse was still named after the city
of Brigantia: Farum Bregantium, Farum Brecantium, Farum Pregantium,
Faro Brigantio, all of them meaning "Lighthouse of Brigantia".
With the emergence of the new city of Corunna, the Brigantian reference
eventually disappeared and the lighthouse became known just as Faro
(lighthouse), Castelo (Castle) or Castelo Vello (Old
Castle) until it was finally renamed as "Tower of Hercules"
during the nineteenth and twentieth century.
The Greek Myth
of Hercules comes to Castile
Some two hundred
years after the Book of Invasions of Ireland was written, the
Castilian king Alfonso X wrote a Cronica General in the late
13th century where he used Mediterranean myths in order to create
a new history of the Brigantian tower.
The Castilian king Alfonso X
The new Castilian legend told that Greek hero Hercules fought for
three days against a Trojan giant called Gerion, whom he eventually
defeated. To celebrate his victory, Hercules built a tower and brought
a group of people to live in the city. The Castilian tale explains
that those settlers were brought from Galatia, in Anatolia, and "that's
why the land became known as Galizia".
That legend, inspired by Mediterranean mythology, was promoted during
the 19th and 20th centuries in Spain until the Galician lighthouse
was eventually renamed as "Tower of Hercules".
representations of the lighthouse as the coat of arms of the city
The first known
coat of arms of Corunna dates from 1448. It is a small seal stamped
over an insurance policy issued by the city council to a Portuguese
merchant. The seal features the lighthouse with a lantern hanging
from the top of the tower and with a pair of scallop shells on the
sides of the tower.
coat of arms from 1552, in a Royal Charter issued by king Charles
V of Spain, features the lighthouse with its lantern, eight scallop
shells, and a crowned head of a king buried under the tower.
of arms of the city, such as the one in the main stairs of the town
hall, show a rather standardised representation of the lighthouse
with its exterior ramp, the lantern hanging from the the top of the
building, a crowned head underneath the tower, and seven scallops
shells around the lighthouse. Some of those coats of arms (the one
at the town hall and another one at St Carlos' Gardens) also feature
Grail of the Kingdom of Galicia above them.
legend of king Breoghain emerges again
December 1601 the Irish lost the Battle
of Kinsale against England and subsequently many Gaelic earls
and their families decided to leave the country to avoid reprisals.
Hundreds of Irish men, women and children arrived to Corunna and many
of them decided to stay forever in Galicia, which reminded them strongly
Earl Hugh O'Donnell, a popular rebel leader who fought at Kinsale,
was one of the many Irishmen who decided to stay in Galicia. He escaped
from Castlehaven on January 6th, 1602, and arrived at Corunna on the
14th, where he was received with all the honours. According to the
History of Ireland, one of the first things of O'Donnell did
upon his arrival was "visiting the remains of the tower of
Betanzos, from which, according to Bardic legends, the sons of Milesius
had sailed to seek for the Isle of Destiny among the waves of the
The fact that Earl O'Donnell was taken to visit the lighthouse shows
the legend of the Galician colonisation of Ireland was still known
in Galicia in the 17th century. Also from the 17th century there is
a Galician book telling the story of Gatelo (a Galician phonetic
pronunciation of the Irish word Gaedhel), a king who founded
the city of Brigancia, married Princess Scota, and then
colonised Ireland and Scotland. Later in the 18th century, the name
of the Brigantian king changed to king Brigo, and in the 19th
century the name finally changed to Breogán.
tower falls into ruins once again
The 16th century was a period of economic stagnation for Galicia because
of the Spanish wars against England and Flanders, Galicia's major
trading partners. Lack of international trade and abusive taxation
resulted in a period of neglect and deterioration of the lighthouse.
In 1682 the governor of the Kingdom of Galicia, the Duke of Uceda,
began repairs to the "Castelo Vello" (Old Castle),
as the lighthouse was known at the time. The works were directed by
local architect Amaro Antunez, who carried out general maintenance
works and built two small towers on the top of the tower.
Cornide and calls to repair the lighthouse
Galician Enlightenment intellectual Joseph Cornide
the 17th and 18th centuries the Galician authorities, supported by
her trading partners England, Flanders and Holland, asked the kings
of Spain to repair the Corunna lighthouse. The Galician requests were
ignored until the end of the 18th century when king Carlos III of
Spain finally agreed to repair the lighthouse (at the time, the building
was owned by the Spanish Ministry of War).
Among all requests and initiatives put forward for the lighthouse,
the most influential was undoubtely the research
work carried out by Galician Enlightenment intellectual Joseph
Cornide, who devoted three decades of his life to compiling the largest
study done so far on the history of the lighthouse. Cornide's outstanding
research was used as a guideline for the 1788-1791 makeover of the
tower is finally repaired in 1791
Galician requests to repair the lighthouse were at last approved in
1788 by king Carlos III of Spain. The modern facade in neoclassic
style was finished in 1791 by Eustaquio Giannini, an engineer at the
arsenal of Ferrol.
» Giannini added a new floor at the top of the tower, destroying
the ancient semicircular roof and building instead a two-storey octagonal
room where he placed the lantern of the lighthouse.
» The internal structure of the tower was generally preserved,
the only exception being the construction of internal stairs (prior
to this, the stairs of the lighthouse were in the outside).
» The facade was completely redone. Neoclassic-style windows
were added, as well as the diagonal stripes that can be seen around
the tower. According to Joseph Cornide those stripes were added as
a reminder of the ramp or stairs that climbed around the building
by the outside.
The Tower of Corunna has barely changed at all since the 1788-1791
Farum Brigantium becomes "Tower of Hercules"
was known by the name "Farum Brigantium" (Tower of
Brigantia) up to the Middle Ages. Only after the decline of the city
of Brigantia and the emergence of Corunna the building started to
be known by other names such as "Faro" (Lighthouse)
or "Castelo Vello" (Old Castle).
In 1792 Joseph Cornide confirmed that there were "tales"
telling the lighthouse at Corunna was founded either by Greek hero
Hercules or by king Brigo of Galicia and Ireland. Yet, the
Galician Enlightenment intellectual asserted that the "real"
founder of the lighthouse would rather be Roman Emperor Trajan, for
the lighthouse was built during his time in government.
Probably the illustrious Mr Cornide, born and bred in Corunna, would
have been happy for the lighthouse to be known around the world by
the name of "Tower of Corunna". However, the lighthouse
became known eventually as "Tower of Hercules", mostly as
the result of the support of Royal Spanish Academy member Mr Ramon
Menendez (1869-1968), who favoured the Castilian-Mediterranean myth.
During the Galician
Cultural Renaissance (19th and early 20th centuries) Galician
authors favoured king Breoghain of Brigantia as the genuine Galician-Atlantic
myth for the lighthouse. Although the lighthouse of Corunna was finally
named after the Greek hero, king Breoghain managed to secure a place
in the Galician National Anthem where he is hailed as the nation's
More recently, Corunna City Council also also acknowledged king Breoghain's
ancient connection with the lighthouse by placing several Celtic-themed
monuments in the area. The Council's tribute to the legendary king
include a statue of Breoghain placed at the entry path to the lighthouse;
a Compass Rose with symbols featuring the seven Celtic nations, and
a group of standing stones symbolising the Atlantic megalithic culture.
World Heritage Site
Lighthouse of Corunna is the only lighthouse in the world that has
been in operation for two thousand years.
In the same way that the Lighthouse of Alexandria was the most important
lighthouse in the Mediterranean, the Lighthouse of Corunna was the
most important lighthouse in the Atlantic.
The Lighthouse of Corunna is also the centrepiece of an ancient tradition
according to which the tower is the place where the Celtic colonisation
of Ireland began. That legend is an oustanding example of shared mythology
between two European nations.
The Lighthouse of Corunna has been guiding millions of ships past
this dangerous stretch of the Atlantic for two thousand years. Moreover,
Irish and Galician folklore point to the tower as the place where
the Celtic colonisation of Ireland began. For those reasons, we believe
that the Tower of Corunna deserves to be declared a UNESCO
World Heritage Site.
Corunna's bid for UNESCO World Heritage status!
Fly the flag of Corunna to show your support!