Magic in MONDOÑEDO
- San Lucas Fair, Mondoñedo, Spain – 17th to 21st October, 2012
The medieval city of Mondoñedo, once the provincial capital of “The Old Galician Kingdom”, has been celebrating the San Lucas horse fair around the 18th of October every year since 1248. For nearly a millennium the wild horses that inhabit the surrounding mountains from Campo de Oso to Gañidoira and the Serra da Capelada have been brought down from the hills to this small rural town in Lugo.
Driving up from the coast, following the river Masma through a green fertile valley Mondoñedo appeared, its narrow ancient streets thronging with people from all over the region out to enjoy the day. Market stalls lined the pavement selling local produce and craftware, between the usual gifts and clothes, at very reasonable prices.
Winding our way up to the fields at the top of the town the horse fair was already in full swing. I spoke to Eloy Garcia who had travelled 20 kilometres across the hills with almost 180 wild horses, his young son and his father with him; the family and livestock have made this three day trip for countless generations. Several local and even national television crew were filming the events.
Everyone seemed to be eating “churrasco and pulpo” in one of many marquees erected at the fair. Whole octopus were being cooked in furiously boiling great copper cauldrons over open fires whilst racks of pork ribs and sausages sizzled over flaming grills. Joining in this medieval banquet, we sat on a wooden bench and were served with enormous portions of this feast, eaten with homemade bread and washed down with local red wine. Unusual but delicious!
This small city has its origins in the bronze age and some remains can still be traced. Still an important ecclesiastical centre, Mondoñedo has always breathed history and culture. Several writers were born here, their favourite Alvaro Cunqueira, and musicians such as Pascual Veiga who wrote the music for the Galician anthem. The quaint streets are dotted with squares and ancient buildings, convents and churches. The magnificent seminar founded in 1573 was the first to be built in Galicia, the third in Spain, and houses an important library of rare and ancient books.
The Plaza de España in the heart of Mondoñedo is fronted on one side by the Cathedral, dating from 1219, the oldest existing in this country today. Declared a national monument it is decorated with paintings by Rubens and holds the Bishop’s Museum. It was in this square that I saw Mago Merlin, a most unusual character, being interviewed by TV Galicia. My Spanish companion seemed most impressed so I wandered over to this illustrious magician and was treated as a long lost friend by this lovely man. Trying to hide my ignorance, I learned that Manuel Monteiro Rego was renowned throughout Spain for his “good magic” and is part of Galician folklore. Once a librarian, he invited us into his museum-home where he keeps a unique collection of literature entrusted to him by illustrious friends, celebrated poets and writers. He wished us fortune and gave me some treasured verses which actually seem to bring good luck when I read them, believe it or not…
The following day a rodeo and horse riding were to take place but as reluctant as we were to miss this we had to be on our way. Our last visit was to one of the many bakeries to buy some of the famous Mondoñedo sweet “tarta” made from almonds, cherries and figs.
The surrounding countryside with vast expanses of forest, mainly pine, chestnut and oak trees is a picturesque and ideal place for endless walks and excursions. The innumerable intriguing stories that have been written, legends of the Cintolo caves where primitive remains were discovered or the Ponte de Pasatiempo bridge where the Catholic Kings had their enemies decapitated, just add to the mystery of the place. A Roman road crosses the parish as does the North Camino de Santiago from Oviedo direction.
Mondoñedo can be easily reached from Lugo well worth a visit itself, a walled city full of history and surrounded by vast, remote, sparsely inhabited forests and mountains. Also by the N-634 road from Santander to La Coruña. We’d been staying on the Cantabrian Sea coast and drove back towards Foz, a mixture of old and new, a holiday resort with harbour, river and a succession of sandy beaches bathed by cool, clear waters.
Photos courtesy of Portal de Mondoñedo on Twitter @mondonedo