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Farum Brigantium (Tower of Brigantia), Coat of Arms of Corunna

County Corunna, GaliciaThe coat of arms of the city of Corunna is one of the oldest in Galicia. Since the 15th century the Tower of Brigantia (known for many centuries by its latin name Farum Brigantium) has always been the main feature in the coat of arms of the city.

The Tower of Brigantia is the only lighthouse in the world with two thousand years in operation. The tower existed in Celtic times, possibly as a watchtower. A Gaelic tradition written in the Book of Invasions of Ireland (Lebor Gabala Erenn in Irish) during the 11th century AD tells that King Breoghain of Brigantia discovered Ireland from the top of the tower and thereby decided to send his people to populate the island. In the Middle Ages the lighthouse was still known by the name Farum Brigantium, or just Farum (lighthouse), but in the 20th century it was named Tower of Hercules after a Greek mythological legend created in Spain.

The coat of arms of the city of Corunna features a silver lighthouse built on a promontory, with a skull and bones underneath. The skull is topped with a golden crown and the lighthouse is surrounded by seven golden scallop shells. The field of the coat of arms is azure, like the Arms of the Kingdom of Galicia.

In some institutional events, the Corunna city council displays the municipal coat of arms over a dark red-bluish standard to represent the dependency of the city upon the crown of Spain.

For civil use, the Corunna flag displays the same features as the city coat of arms:
- The Farum Brigantium lighthouse tower.
- Seven golden scallop shells; three on each side of the lighthouse plus one at the foot of the Tower.
- The skull and bones of a king buried under the Tower.
- An azure blue flag field, like the flag of the Kingdom of Galicia.

Historical timeline of the Tower of Brigantia, symbol of Corunna

Celtic Kingdom of Brigantia
2nd/1st century BC
Tower 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 port.

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.

Maritime 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.

Roman Gallaecia
1st-5th century AD
The 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."

Infrastructures 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 Gallaecia
Kingdom of Galicia
5th-15th century AD
Viking 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 Brigantium.

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 to light

The 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 Ireland.

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 Irish legend.

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 port of Corunna and the lighthouse"For 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 of prosperity.

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

The Castilian king Alfonso X
The Castilian king Alfonso X
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 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".

16th century Early 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.

Another 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.

Coat of Arms of Corunna in the City Hall, dated on the 16th century
Corunna City Hall, 16th century

[Enlarge image]
Coat of Arms of Corunna in St Carlos' gardens, Corunna
San Carlos' gardens

[Enlarge image]
16th-century coats 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 the Holy Grail of the Kingdom of Galicia above them.

17th century The legend of king Breoghain emerges again

In 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 of home.

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 Popular 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 west".

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.

The 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.

18th century
Galician Enlightenment intellectual Joseph Cornide, the greatest researcher on the Tower of Corunna
Galician Enlightenment intellectual Joseph Cornide
Joseph Cornide and calls to repair the lighthouse

During 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.

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 neoclassic-style makeover.

The Farum Brigantium becomes "Tower of Hercules"

The lighthouse 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 eternal king.

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

The 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.

Please support Corunna's bid for UNESCO World Heritage status!

Fly the flag of Corunna to show your support!

Interpretation of the symbols in the Coat of Arms of Corunna

The coat of arms of the city of Corunna feature a lighthouse built over a rock, both in argent, in which there is a crowned head of a king. There are seven scallop shells in gold colour around the lighthouse and the field of the coat of arms is azure.

The symbols displayed in the coat of arms of Corunna have the following meaning:

- The blue field in the coat of arms is the national colour of the Kingdom of Galicia, for the city of Corunna was the most important port of the Galician kingdom.

- The scallop shells are a reminder of times when the city belonged to the Galician Church of Santiago (the scallop shell was the symbol of Santiago and also of the pilgrims to Saint James). Moreover, the port of Corunna was the place of arrival for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from England, Ireland, Brittany, Flanders, Scandinavia, Germany, etc.

- The lighthouse and the crowned head of the king are open to interpretation:

Mediterranean interpretation: Tower of Hercules: According to the Cronica General written in Castile by the end of the 13th century, the tower was built by Greek hero Hercules after defeating his enemy Gerion of Troy and burying his head underneath.

Atlantic interpretation: Tower of Brigantia or Tower of Breoghain - According to Gaelic and Galician legends (such as in the Book of Invasions of Ireland from ca. 1050 AD) the tower was built by king Breoghain of Brigantia who discovered Ireland from the top of the building. The skull buried under the tower is Breoghain's, in line with the Celtic tradition of burying heads under buildings with protection purposes. A similar tradition can be found in Welsh folklore, according to which the head of Celtic king Bran was buried under the Tower of London in order to protect the city from enemy attackes.

 County Corunna
  County Corunna comprises 95 parishes which are organised into 9 community councils
A Coruña (Corunna)
A Coruña, Elviña, Oza, San Cristovo das Viñas, Visma
Armentón, Arteixo, Barrañán, Chamín, Lañas, Larín, Loureda, Monteagudo, Morás, Oseiro, Pastoriza, Sorrizo, Suevos
Anceis, Andeiro, Brexo, Bribes, Cambre, Cecebre, Cela, Meixigo, Pravio, Sigrás, O Temple, Vigo
Bergondo, Cortiñán, Guísamo, Lubre, Moruxo, Ouces, Rois, Santa María de Babío, Vixoi
Carnoedo, Meirás, Mondego, Mosteirón, Osedo, Sada, Soñeiro, Veigue
Dexo, Dorneda, Iñás, Liáns, Maianca, Oleiros, Perillo, San Pedro de Nós, Serantes
Almeiras, O Burgo, Castelo, Celas, Culleredo, Ledoño, Orro, Rutis, Sésamo, Sueiro, Veiga
Abegondo, Cabanas, Cerneda, Cos, Crendes, Cullergondo, Figueroa, Folgoso, Leiro, Limiñón, Mabegondo, Meangos, Montouto, Orto, Presedo, Sarandós, Vilacova, Viós, Vizoño
Beira, Cañás, Paleo, Quembre, Sergude, Sumio, Tabeaio, Vigo

Where can I buy this flag?

Flag of Corunna, county Corunna, made in polyester with two metal rings to allow the flag to be hoisted on a flagpole. The flag measures 150 x 90 cm and costs €8 + shipping.

» Please click here to see a list of Galician shops that sell this flag...»

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