Tower of Hercules, Vigo, Spain | CruiseBe
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Tower of Hercules

History and museums
attractions, sightseeing, lighthouse, tower

The Tower of Hercules (Galician and Spanish: Torre de Hércules) is an ancient Roman lighthouse on a peninsula about 2.4 kilometers (1.5 mi) from the centre of A Coruña, Galicia, in north-western Spain. Until the 20th century, the tower itself was known as the "Farum Brigantium". The Latin word farum is derived from the Greek pharos for the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The structure is 55 metres (180 ft) tall and overlooks the North Atlantic coast of Spain. The structure, almost 1900 years old and rehabilitated in 1791, is the oldest Roman lighthouse in use today. There is a sculpture garden featuring works by Pablo Serrano and Francisco Leiro.

The Tower of Hercules is a National Monument of Spain, and since June 27, 2009, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the second tallest lighthouse in Spain, after the Faro de Chipiona.


Construction and history

The tower is known to have existed by the 2nd century, built or perhaps rebuilt under Trajan, possibly on foundations following a design that was Phoenician in origin. It is thought to be modeled after the Lighthouse of Alexandria. At its base is preserved the cornerstone with the inscription MARTI AUG.SACR C.SEVIVS LUPUS ARCHTECTUS AEMINIENSIS LVSITANVS.EX.VO, permitting the original lighthouse tower to be ascribed to the architect Gaius Sevius Lupus, from Aeminium (present-day Coimbra, Portugal) in the former province of Lusitania, as an offering dedicated to Mars. The tower has been in constant use since the 2nd century and is considered to be the oldest existing lighthouse in the world.

The earliest known reference to the lighthouse at Brigantium is by Paulus Orosius in Historiae adversum Paganos written around 415-417:

Secundus angulus circium intendit, ubi Brigantia Gallaeciae civitas sita altissimum farum et inter pauca memorandi operis ad speculam Britanniae erigit ("At the second angle of the circuit circumnavigating Hispania, where the Gallaecian city of Brigantia is sited, a very tall lighthouse is erected among a few commemorative works, for looking towards Britannia.")

In 1788, the original 34 metres (112 ft), 3-story tower was given a neoclassical restoration, including a new 21 metres (69 ft) fourth storey. The restoration was undertaken by naval engineer Eustaquio Giannini during the reign of Charles III of Spain, and was finished in 1791. Within, the much-repaired Roman and medieval masonry may be inspected.

The Romans who conquered this region of Spain believed it to be, in a figurative sense, the end of the earth, as described in "Finisterra". This region is notorious for shipwrecks, earning it the name Costa da Morte, "Coast of Death".


Through the millennia many mythical stories of its origin have been told. According to a myth that blends Celtic and Greco-Roman elements, the hero Hercules slew the giant tyrant Geryon after three days and three nights of continuous battle. Hercules then—in a Celtic gesture— buried the head of Geryon with his weapons and ordered that a city be built on the site. The lighthouse atop a skull and crossbones representing the buried head of Hercules’ slain enemy appears in the coat-of-arms of the city of Corunna.

Another legend embodied in the 11th-century Irish compilation Lebor Gabála Érenn— the "Book of Invasions"— King Breogán, the founding father of the Galician Celtic nation, constructed here a massive tower of such a grand height that his sons could see a distant green shore from its top. The glimpse of that distant green land lured them to sail north to Ireland. According to the legend, these Breogán's descendants who stayed in Ireland and their followers are the Celtic ancestors of the current Irish people. A colossal statue of Breogán has been erected near the Tower.

Possible locations of Brigantia

Early geographical descriptions on the location of Brigantia point out that the town could be actually located in Corunna or in the locality of the modern town of Betanzos. There is some debate about this, as the people from Betanzos claim it as a fact that Betanzos was referred to as "the former city of Brigancia" until the 17th century, both in literary accounts as well as in maps, and they also believe that the name Betanzos is a phonetical evolution from Brigantium > Breganzo > Betanzos. This, however, could be a false etymology.

The Betanzos tradition claims that the port of Betanzos was getting too small for the larger mediaeval ships, and that king Alfonso IX of León decided to create a bigger port nearby in the 13th century. The place he chose was an uninhabited place called Clunia, which later on evolved to Cruña and Coruña, and so (in English) to Corunna. The place name Clunia is believed to come from the Galician Celtic name Cluain, which means The Meadow.

However, the Coruña tradition maintains that the "port" of Betanzos (which is a fluvial one, in a quite small river) was way too small for the Roman warships to dock, for example when Julius Caesar visited this area with "more than a hundred triremes". It is demonstrated that Corunna was an important Roman site, as graveyards and other Roman remains have been found in the city center, demonstrating that the site was inhabited in the Roman period, and only was deserted in the early Middle Ages due to Viking attacks, when its people moved inland to O Burgo, nowadays Culleredo. The proponents of Corunna also explain the different name as a change that occurred in the Middle Ages, and point out the fact that the lighthouse, which was called "Pharum Brigantium", is placed in Corunna, and at least 25 km walking distance or a whole day's journey, from Betanzos.

Other use of the name

A medieval watchtower in Segovia also bears the name "Tower of Hercules".

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