The biggest and most delightful surprise on Monte de Santa Tegra is not the steep winding road that leads to the wonderful views at the top, but the sight of the Castro de Santa Tegra.
So what is a Castro? It’s the Spanish name for a Celtic prehistoric settlement that was uncovered here around 1900, was excavated and then partially rebuilt over the years.
Only a few of the dwellings have been rebuilt to the point of completion, most have their walls raised just high enough to show off the style and character of the settlement and still give a more or less unimpeded view of the whole site.
Apparently the people who lived in these houses were from the Bronze Age and so predated the Romans but the area was also inhabited during Roman times.
The stone houses are tightly packed together, there are very narrow paths in between some of the walls that would have been tiny alleyways when all the walls were standing at their original heights. Defense? Weatherproofing? Warmth in the winter months? Shade in the summer months? Maybe the tight fit of the houses was simply due to the steep topography of the peak on which the settlement is located?
Livestock, people, everything was packed in here.
For me (thinking typical Foodie thoughts) It’s hard to see today where food would have been grown, because the hill is rocky and the best arable land is a steep climb down and an even harder haul back up.
One thing is for certain, the people who lived in this settlement would have been fit!
The dwellings are circular, or at least roughly circular, some are almost oval and many have the odd kink and bend in them, in fact it reminds me of when you try and lay elastic bands on a table, invariably there are some that don’t quite lay flat are not completely circular as the sides of one circle push gently on the sides of another one.
At odd points in the settlement there are “intersections” where the alleyways or footpaths cross… some of these are more open than others suggesting small communal areas. Some of the houses appear to have a small attachments to them too, perhaps storerooms?, and there are few square “rooms” perhaps for livestock?
However it looked all those centuries ago, the fact remains that the structure, engineering, layout and construction of this entire site is a marvel, especially considering that it was all carried out in the absence of many of the tools that we take for granted today.
Even though what we see today is a partial reconstruction laid onto the foundations that have been excavated over the years, the sense of history is still very much here, and the reality of how life would have been lived pops into your imagination as you scan over the site.
When you start to walk around the site it quickly become apparent that it’s bigger than it first appears, so the social structure must also have been quite involved and highly organised.
We look inside one of the little dwellings that has been finished and roofed as it would have been originally, the inside is “cosy” at best, window space is almost non existent and the doorway low.
Wooden posts fitted into these holes, which then acted las a hinge or support…
In the centre of the circle there would have been the fire so I assume that the house would have been filled with wood smoke on a regular basis too.
There is a museum somewhere up here too, where the many artifacts that have been excavated are exhibited, but it’s starting to get very busy here, the clouds are drifting in all around us, it’s getting misty and damp and the kids are itching for a swim back at camp, so we skip looking for it an head back down the hill to Camposancos and the ferry back to Portugal.
As we negotiate the tight bends in the road and steep gradient, even going downhill, I have an ever growing respect for the people who lived so high up on this promontory and for whom the slog up and down can not have been pleasant.
Technology they may have lacked, but wimps they were not.