/* */ History


Valdeorras, the province of Ourense’s easternmost region, is situated in Galicia, near the province of León, in north-western Spain.

The geological history of the region has meant that a large part of its soil is made up of slate, quartzite and schist. Over the last 2,500 million years, Valdeorras has undergone numerous climate changes and glacial phases which left their mark on the mountainous areas, transforming it into a unique natural landscape, formation of fluvial terraces and sheer narrow river channels.

The richness of the natural resources and the fertility of its soil has made Valdeorras an ideal place for people to settle over the ages. Proof of man’s ancient presence here are the megalithic remains to be seen in the Enciña da Lastra mountain range, as well as cave paintings and the petroglyphs of Valdegodos, Petín and San Esteban de A Rúa Vella.

Cabeza de Bronce © M. Moretón The first historical mentions of Valdeorras appear in classical references: Pliny, when talking of the Gigurri tribe, which Ptolemy called the Egurros, refers to them as one of the 22 towns dependent upon the ancient Asturian legal jurisdiction, with its capital in Astorga. Traditionally, the Gigurros, along with the “Calubrigensis” were considered the ancient settlers of Valdeorras. From these inhabitants of the Forum Cigurrorum emerged the Orras voice – Val de Geurres, Valdeorras would, therefore, be the valley of the Gigurros. Some of the most important remains of that pre-Roman age are the funeral stela of A Coroa, in A Rúa, and the bronze’s head of As medorras, in Vilamartín.

The arrival of the Roman legions led to a drastic change in the everyday life of our ancestors as, while the fortified settlements were located on high on the mountainside, the Romans transferred the nuclei of populations to flatter ground. This led to the dispersion of population and continuous movement, giving rise to the construction of one of the most important roads in the Iberian Peninsula, the XVIII Roman road or “Vía Nova” from Bracara-Augusta (Braga) to Asturica Augusta (Astorga). It crossed Valdeorras from south-west to north-west. It is the only means of accessing Galicia which does not involve crossing a mountain pass, meaning it was passable in the winter. Thus it was later used as the Way of St. James Royal Way or Winter Way. Bridges such as the one crossing the River Bibei, altars, capitals, stone plaques such as the one in  A Cigarrosamosaics and sculptures form a part of Rome’s imperial legacy; having said this, of all their feats of engineering, the excavation of the Montefurado tunnel, stands out, its aim to alter the course of the river to extract the gold it carried.

There is a generalised opinion that the vine which produces the grapes, the Vitis viniferous, was brought to Galicia by the Romans or that they, at the very least, encouraged its cultivation. Some archaeological studies indicate that Lucio Pompeyo Reburro might have been responsible for planting the first stock in Valdeorras.

The fall of the Roman Empire was followed by the arrival of the Suevi and the Visigoths. There are remarkable pre-Romanic remains in Petín, Valencia do Sil, Xagoaza, Córgomo and A Rúa. This was a dark period which ended with the depopulation of the region: the result of the Arab invasion and especially the location of Valdeorras as the only means of accessing the plateau from the border.

After the political and religious unification of the Iberian peninsula came a period of peace and splendour. This was also around the time that the first written reference to the existence of vines in Valdeorras appeared. The document dates back to 19 October 940.
Villa de O CastroWith the influence of the large monasteries, Christianization and the establishment of the monastic orders began a period of transition which would culminate in one of the most interesting periods in the valley’s historical evolution: the age in which the region acquires a personality of its own to become a concrete unit with a certain amount of independence, under the protection of the counts of Ribadavia.

The castle in the town of O Castro was built as a fortress, the town becoming the administrative and political capital of the valley: for four hundred years all the important decisions concerning the region were made in this castle.

The 17th Century began with a significant event: the construction of the sanctuary of Nosa Sra. de As Ermidas began in 1624. This temple sits on the banks of the Bibei river valley and is one of the most impressive examples of Baroque art in rural Galicia. It also played an important role in focussing the spiritual attention of the people of Valdeorras.

Wine was essential to the economy of the sanctuary, with more than 200 plots of land given over to grape cultivation.

The early 19th Century saw these lands stained by blood as a result of the arrival of the French troops during the War of Independence, which the locals fought successfully, led by the so-called “guerrilla priests”.

At the end of the 19th Century, the Industrial Revolution and advances in communications brought the railway to the region: on 1 September the Palencia-A Coruña route, passing through Valdeorras, was opened. Winds were beginning to blow favourably, for vine-growing too, and from the combination of autochthonous varieties and suitable techniques was born a high-quality, well-structured wine.

In 1882, phylloxera epidemic invaded the vineyards of Valdeorras, destroying more than 1000 hectares in just a few years. However, it was a distinguished citizen of Valdeorras, José Núñez who discovered the antidote to exterminate the parasite: it involved removing the infected stumps and burning all the contaminated organic matter in order to graft European varieties or “castas” onto American vines. The task was enormous, but the region eventually recovered its wine-growing splendour.

The 20th Century was marked by rural depopulation and emigration en masse, first to South America and later to central Europe, economic recession after the Civil War, a drop in the consumption of wolfram, the industrial extraction of slate and the building of reservoirs and hydro-electric plants.

Today, the region comprises nine borough councils: A Rúa, A Veiga, Carballeda, Larouco, O Barco, O Bolo, Petín, Rubiá and Vilamartin. With the exception of A Veiga, they all possess vineyards which lend the region a unique singularity. The quality of the wines of Valdeorras have made it one of the sector’s reference points, arousing both national and international interest while capturing all of its essence in a bottle.