A Coruña - History


The Romans came to Galicia in the 2nd century BC, driven mainly by economic motives (the area was rich in minerals), and the military interests of occupation and recruiting soldiers. In 62 BC Julius Caesar came to the city (known at the time as Brigantium) in search of metal trade, establishing commerce with France, England and Portugal.

At this time the population was made up of a few fishermen living in primitive conditions. The colonisers made the most of the strategic position and soon the city became quite important in sea trade, as can be seen from the building of the lighthouse in the first or 2nd century AD. The influence of the Romans was very significant and affected all areas of life - language, culture, religion etc., given the fact that the settlement lasted for so long.


Not much is known of the city of La Coruña after the Roman occupation - it is a time of darkness with no written records. It would seem that it suffered from the same invasions from the north as the rest of Spain in the 5th century AD, undergoing the same destruction as other cities.

The Arab invasion in the 8th century was brief due to local resistance. Something that should be remembered is the Norman landing in 846 AD at the Brigantium lighthouse.


At this time in history society was under feudal lordships with bishops, monasteries and nobles, giving the Middle Ages their particular characteristics. Most of the inhabitants of La Coruña lived in the Old City during this time.

King Alfonso IX de León (1171-1230) decided to move the inhabitants of El Burgo to La Coruña and granted the Statutes of Benavente in 1188, under which most of Galicia was populated. Some years later, Alfonso X the Wise granted La Coruña the privilege of becoming a salt port with no taxes for unloading and selling.

The growth of the city over these centuries is due to agricultural growth and the reopening of sea trade. Guilds were formed at this time in the streets that still bear their names. Under King Juan II, La Coruña was officially recognised as a city in 1446. This same monarch also authorised free commerce between La Coruña and England for two British ships and two from the city. This meant a significant growth in the city's trading.

Under the Catholic Kings, seafarers and merchants were declared exempt from the tax known as the quintelada, consisting of quarter of a barrel of wine, salt, five thousand sardines and a cartload of wood. Carlos I granted two significant privileges to the city: the right to hold a market on Saturdays and the creation of the Royal Contract House for spices.

The effects of the plague were also felt in La Coruña. There were two hospitals for the sick: San Andrés and the Buen Suceso. The enmity between Felipe II and Queen Elizabeth I of England (due to religious differences, made worse by the sending of the Spanish Armada etc) resulted in Elizabeth's sending various fleets against the Spanish monarchy. One of these was sent to La Coruña under Admiral Sir Francis Drake in 1589. But the English fleet retreated on 19 May after burning down the monastery of Santo Domingo, the parish of Santo Tomás and the area called the Pescadería. Under this same monarch, the Crown Court was moved from Santiago to La Coruña.


In the 17th century, La Coruña went from being a royally privileged city to become a city laden down with taxes and military service. The Royal Tax Service continually requested men, cattle and other items for the never-ending wars faced by the monarchy. Sometimes various wars were being waged at the same time. At the beginning of the century, the Captain General and Governor, Diego das Mariñas, improved the city's fortifications. The Gateway of San Miguel was built and the walls were amplified so that the Convent of San Francisco and the Buen Suceso hospital now lay within.

In 1620, under Felipe III, the Escuela de Muchachos del Mar (Sea Lads' School) was formed at the Royal Mint. Years later, under Felipe IV, it was joined to the Hospital of San Andrés. In 1623, Galicia obtained its own representative in the Spanish Parliament, thus breaking its links with the Parliament of Zamora, where it had been represented up to this time.

In 1682, when the Duque de Eceda was Captain General, they decided to restore the Tower of Hercules, which was in a state of total abandonment. The architect was Antúnez, while the consulates of England, Holland and Flanders contributed to the restoration costs. An agreement between the reigning monarchs of England and Spain in 1689 established the post route from La Coruña to Falmouth.


King Carlos II died in November 1700 with no descendants, leaving the crown of Spain in the hands of the Duke of Anjou (Felipe V). This decision went against the interests of England, Holland and Portugal, who wished Carlos II's will to be declared null and void, defending the right to the Spanish throne of the House of Austria. During the war of the Spanish Succession, which lasted for 14 years, the city of La Coruña was not attacked, although taxes rose, men were drafted, forts were rebuilt (just as in the wars of the previous century).

Once the war was over, the Governorship of Galicia was created in La Coruña in 1716, known at the time as the Governorship of Tax, War and Police. The economic recovery of La Coruña was underway halfway through the century, driven by the production and exportation of the Catalan companies based in the city, as well as many other manufacturing industries. This expansion was due to two main factors: the ocean lines from Las Indias (Havana, Montevideo and Buenos Aires) all departed from and arrived at La Coruña. In 1778, Carlos III authorised trade with America from 13 Spanish ports, one of which is La Coruña.


The city's population grew at the same time as this economic boom, reaching 10,000 inhabitants. Catalan and Basque naval, industry and commerce specialists had been coming to the city since the middle of the 18th century; in the second half of the 18th century and indeed the 19th the most profitable activity was without doubt sea trade. Apart from transporting linen, leather, tobacco, salt etc., some traders were engaged in the slave trade. There were other improvements in the second half of the century, as communications were improved with the Royal Highways to Madrid and Santiago and public lighting was installed etc.


The city's population increased fast during the first half of the 19th century (from 12,000 at the beginning of the century to about 20,000 in 1850). The urban structure underwent great transformations at the same time. Public squares and walkways were built, communication lines with other cities were designed and public buildings sprang up in the Pescaderí­a. Buildings facing the bay were grouped together into blocks.

The social-economic fabric of the city at this time was characterised by:
- The opening of the Tobacco Factory, providing work for 500 people.
- Increase in the milliners' business.
- Presence of La Coruña in the Royal Fraternity of Table Linen.
- Various ship-owners devoted to legal piracy.
- Significant rope making business.

The Peninsular War saw a fall in economic activity, as the importation of foreign products slowed commercial activity down. In spite of this, new companies came to the city, such as the glass factory La Coruñesa, small charcoal factories and the iron foundry of Galiacho.

The city of La Coruña, under the leadership of Sinforiano López, was invaded by the French in May 1808. La Coruña was the only city in Galicia to oppose the invasion and various battles were fought here, the most representative being the Battle of La Coruña. The French evacuated Galicia at the end of May 1809.

The Balmis expedition is worthy of mention; at this time in history it took the smallpox vaccine to almost all America and the Philippines. It was the first international sanitary expedition in history. The process for the establishment of the defence juntas was underway, culminating in the supreme Junta of the Kingdom of Galicia, with its headquarters in La Coruña. On the return of absolutism, various citizens fell victim to the Inquisition, among them General Lacy and 23 traders. Even Sinforiano López was killed in 1815.

On 19 August, 1815 Field Marshal Dí­az Porlier (known as the "Little Marquis") rose in insurrection to restore the Constitution of 1812. He was supported by the middle and academic classes, although no battles were fought. He was betrayed three days later, captured and imprisoned in the Castillo de San Antón, where he was hanged two months later. On 20 February, 1820 La Coruña was behind the rebellion of Riego. The middle class were decidedly in favour of the military action and lived another progressive experience (1820 - 1823). It came to an end with the "Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis", some of whom besieged and conquered the city under General Burke. Some years later, La Coruña would be the first city to rebel against the new dictator (Espartero).


Once the moderate Narváez was in power, people were sent to Galicia to keep the political situation under control. And so Brigadier Martí­nez came to La Coruña as civil governor.

The Spanish economy was riding a wave of expansion at this time, and new companies appeared in the city, such as Primera Coruñesa de Hilados y Tejidos in 1882, two refineries, and the Art?­stica factory (tin engraving). Under the law of 1856, various banks were opened, such as the Bank of La Coruña, later substituted by El Crédito Gallego, the forerunner of the Caixa de Ahorros savings bank. The branch office of the Banco de España was installed in the city in 1875. There were over 40,000 inhabitants at this time.

The rebellion of September 1868 saw the establishment of new revolutionary juntas in the cities of Galicia, this time decidedly conservative. In March 1893 the Junta for the Defence of La Coruña was formed as a response to the attempt to move the Captaincy General to León.

As a result of industrial expansion, a group of workers literally prepared to fight for their rights meant that from 1900 to 1923 the city was one of the best organised trade union centres in Spain. We could highlight the anarchical trend. In 1904, the anarchical trade union movement had 4,000 members in a city of 45,000 inhabitants. Labour conflicts were among the most active in Spain, and various victories were won in La Coru?±a before they were in the rest of the country (e.g. the eight hour working day).

Between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, vanguard architecture was very evident in La Coruña. The style known as modernism was seen in houses, kiosks, cafeterias, shops etc, thanks to architects like Antonio López, Pedro Mariño and Julio Galán. At the height of eclecticism in the 1920s, middle class residences were built along with the Banco Pastor (1921) and the Banco da Coruña (1923). Rationalism also left its mark during the republic.

The second republican experience was cut short by the military uprising of 1936. In order to try and avoid the triumph that the rebels would eventually win, a trade union assembly was held in the bull ring on 18 July.


Under Franco the city underwent growth in all aspects. In the 1930s there were 70,000 inhabitants, whereas due to new industries coming to the city the population in the 1950s was already 130,000.

Urban expansion was constant, but carried out in a rational way. This was the origin of city neighbourhoods like Los Mallos, Agra do Orzán, Labañou and the Barrio de las Flores. All vanguard tendencies disappeared under Franco, not to be seen again until the 1960's.