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Thursday, January 29, 2015 (read 2072 times)

Viking Festival in Spain

by David

Did the Vikings Sleep Here?

There is an international festival held the first Sunday of August each year in the Galician village of Catoria which attracts thousands from around the world. Here you will find people dressed in animal skins aboard Viking ships preparing to make invade this small village and pillage and wreak havoc. But does this festival really have a factual links to historic events? The historical record is not very telling but in March of 2014, a winter storm washed ashore anchors that have been identified as being Viking in origin. With this clue, there is a rush to determine just how much did the Vikings influence in the history of this region of Spain.

Although there is very little to go on, there is some historical proof that Vikings at least raided the Galician and Portuguese coast around the 9th century. It is known that Alfonso III, King of León and later considered to be the first "Emperor of Spain", built up the defenses along the Galician coast in a bid to protect against Viking raiders and imitating what others were doing in other parts of Europe at the time. For the next two hundred years there are records of raids throughout the region, in fact in 846 the Vikings ransomed the king of Pamplona, García Íñiguez, who they had captured earlier. In 946, the Bishop of Santiago, Sisnando Menéndez, was killed in a Viking raid. The Village of Catoira would later become home to a strategic fortress that would be used to defend Santiago de Campostela from future aggression.

Until now, this is the history that we know, but there are some scholars like Dr. Irene Losquino, from the University of Aberdeen's Centre for Scandinavian Studies, believes that the Viking presence went beyond just the coming and going of opportunistic raiders. She believes that the Vikings may have had a more permanent presence in Spain. The anchor may be her proof that there was a more permanent settlement of Norse warriors.

When the anchors washed ashore, Dr. Losquino rushed to Galicia to find out more and possibly find new clues to help solve the puzzle of Viking history in Spain. As luck would have it, she found evidence of a longphort which is a Viking fortress that is an indicator of a more permanent settlement since this is something that would have required time and resources to build and would not have been constructed by a raiding party.

Evidence of the influence that the Vikings have had can be seen today in the traditional three day pilgrimages that are held throughout the area where people walk from the coast villages to inland sanctuaries. Today these pilgrimages are done with a religious purpose but they echo the same thing their ancestors would have done to escape the Viking invaders.   

In a country with a history that has included people from all over Europe (Vandals, Visigoths), Asia and Africa (Phoenicians, Moors) there has been little knowledge of a Nordic influence except for the anecdotal evidence of blond haired and blue eyed descendents that are commonly seen in Galicia—the percentage of people in Galicia with blond hair and blue eyes is more than double the Spanish average and higher here than any other part of the country. It is the hope of Dr. Losquino and her fellow academics to return to Galicia this spring to study the area with greater detail and hopefully shed more light on the role the Vikings had in the development of Spain. Maybe those half-crazy festival goers covered in furs and doused in wine have been onto something all along.

Keywords: viking history,viking festival,spanish festival,viking raiders,viking fortress,vikings in spain,viking festivals

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