The Wall

Mª Jesús Esteban Quiñoá

For the inhabitants of Lugo, the Roman wall is more than a monument, it is a symbol of the city that identifies us and makes us feel proud. Life goes on in some way or another around it and it is said to be part of our personality.

Its walk has been throughout the centuries a witness of conflicts, conspiracies, walks, secrets, first kisses and sadly also of suicides and, lately, open-air drinking sessions.

There were several attempts to knock it down mainly in the 19th century, to give way to the growth of the city, but after its being declared National Monument in 1921, that obscenity was forgotten. This was the starting point of a period of recognition and reassessment of our wall that had its main point on the 30th November 2010, when it was declared World Heritage by the UNESCO, a present for the city, for its inhabitants and for all Galicia.


The first written reference to this monument dates back to 1496, although it is just a little recession from Herman Künig von Bach, where he commented this about the city: “After III miles you arrive in Lucos, the city. There, by a bridge, you can find some baths (referring to the Roman thermal baths). The city is magnificently built, and to show this it owns a wall….”.

Until the 16th century, no references can be found devoted to the study. The first one is from Bachelor Bartolomé Sagrario de Molina (more than a thorough study, it is some notes taken during trips, talks to lords, priests). He says that the towers appear every eight steps and they have a lot of windows. He dates it back to the Roman times and says the shape of the perimeter is square. From this century, there is a plan of Lugo where 85 towers appear.

Among other references to the monument, we should highlight the one from the chronicler Ambrosio de Morales, who travelled along the northeast of Spain and in his “account of the sacred trip to the kingdoms of Leon, Galicia and Principality of Asturias” (1765), he tells the king that the wall is square, without adding that it is round at the angles, as in other western fortifications, and he also says that when king Afonso II repopulates the city, he found “the Roman fortification” complete.


The priest Juan Pallares e Gaioso made a bibliographic compilation of everything that existed up to then about the monument and coincides with Mauro Ferrer, Bachelor Molina, Gil Ibáñez and Frei Felipe de la Gándara e Ulloa in the Roman origin of the monument. He also points out that there are 86 original cubes.

At the end of 18th century, father Frei Manuel Risco gave an account of the Roman remains in the city, focusing on the wall and he indicates that there are 85 cubes and towers (he makes a distinction between cubes and towers, which were the ones with windows on the cubes). He alluded to the round shape of the building and the towers, which followed Vitruvius’s rules, although it is not totally regular, being longer than wide, thus contradicting Bachelor Molina. Both were right, as it is a square with round corners.

Risco also observed the irregular gaps between the towers, which are said to have had two floors and three, four or five windows, and the remains of chimneys (which makes you think that the cubes were used as homes at some time). He also mentions the towers with a rectangular plan, supposing they were the ones on the east side, reformed after Roman times, and not the ones between Miñá and Santiago gates, which are due to much later restorations in order to widen the size of the exterior sentry walk, a place where the towers were substituted by oblique buttresses (in this part of the sentry walk there were 7 towers, including the ones flanking the gates).

Father Risco’s theories were the source of many historians and archaeologists and many of his ideas are valid nowadays. Others have been overcome, such as the dating of the “blocks of stones” of the towers in the times of king Afonso XI and the idea that they were placed there following prince D. Felipe, when now we know they belong to the Roman system of fortification.


In the 19th century, the Wall of Lugo is often mentioned in the general histories of Galicia from several Galician writers such as Benito Vicetto (1886), who considered it “Roman-Galician” and Murguía (1886), who tells us of a popular proverb (according to him in the Galician language of the 15th century), which relates the walls of Lugo and Astorga:

Quen fez a Lugo fez Astorga e a Ponte da Cigarrosa, e levou a pedra no capelo, con que fez a Coronatelo”

From the writers born in Lugo Bartolomé Teijeiro y Sanfiz stands out. He, taking the works of Molina and Risco as a base, gives several measures, describes minutely the area and gives an account of the reforms of the 19th century. Thanks to him we know that near the Nova gate there used to be a ruinous tower with three rows of windows on top of which there were semicircular arches and that it was more than 20 metres high. He also gives an account of the several epigraphic materials (eleven inscriptions) found during the works of reform of the wall, which he attributes to “peoples after the Romans”. This is not an easy idea to confirm as, on the one hand, in some cases they were confirmed in the latest investigations and, on the other hand, it must be taken into account that in Roman times it was usual to reuse the materials.

As I said before, in the 19th century there were several attempts to knock down the wall. The first one dates back to 1812, when the Engineer major general Felipe Paz tried to demolish it without a previous agreement from the council and without telling the neighbours. In the end, a Xunta de Oficiais stopped him. At the end of that century, in 1895, there were two groups in the city: the ones pro-wall and the ones anti-wall. The former defended the monument owing to its Roman origin and the love and respect to the inheritance from our ancestors and the latter said the wall was a hindrance in the progress and growth of the city, apart from some other health reasons (in those times, there were a lot of houses attached to the wall and they used the walk as latrines).

In those times, a group of town councillors proposed the demolition of the wall and others thought of closing all the gates but one. Facing this piece of nonsense, historian Villamil y Castro tried to show the wall was Roman, and to this end he used the documents from the years 747 to 1132, quotes from Morales to Risco, in order to refute engineer Andrade, who denied the Roman origin of the monument and dated it in the IX century. Villamil referred also to Murguía and the German historian Hübner, who also acknowledged the Roman origin of the monument. From this author, Villamil showed both an extract of his work and personal correspondence where this matter was discussed.

Another person who defended the wall was the Lugo priest Antolín López Peláez who, although he didn’t believe the Roman origin of the monument, thought it should be left where it was because “if time couldn’t knock it down, man shouldn’t do it either”.

These dialectic fights continued for several years between the ones who wanted to demolish it and the ones pro-wall. There was even foul play (the anti-wall group attacked the monument), or other sibylline options, such as the one from Rof Codina who, in 1905, published an article under a pseudonym saying that more than 78 years would be needed to make the wall disappear entirely, which would imply a cost that a small council like Lugo would not be able to assume.

In 1921, the Spanish House of Commons passed a law to declare the wall National monument, which involved its preservation and care. This law was, as could be expected, received with happiness by the pro-wall group and most the citizens and rejected by the anti-wall groups, who kept saying this declaration would hinder the growth of the city.

The Declaration signals a turning point in the history of the monument, both at a preservation level and for reforms, changes and studies. Among the latter, the works of Ian Richmond (1931), Manuel Vázquez Seijas, Salvador Castro Freire (1951), Narciso Peinado and, more recently, Felipe Arias Vila and Adolfo de Abel Vilela stand out.


Firstly, it must be highlighted the main use the wall was created for: military and defensive, a use it had from the Roman times until mid-19th century, going through the “suevos” (Swabian) times, the Muslim times with Muza, Almanzor’s siege (984), the times of king Afonso VI with the Rebellion of Count Rodrigo Ovéquez, the siege of the Irmandiños, the military actions in the war against the French (1809) and the first Carlist war.

Let’s take into account that the wall had originally five gates, some of which, like the False gate, was closed for many years in order to control the entrances and exits of people and goods and to restrict the movement in times of plague and illnesses.


As could be expected, the church had also an important role, both in the political fights about its ownership and the use of guard posts of the gates as chapels. The walk was used as a processional walk (a habit that is being retrieved lately during Easter processions). Three of the gates of the wall were considered sacred: San Pedro, Miñá and Nova. For this reason, convicts to be hanged were taken out of the city through the False gate to their scaffold, which can be placed outside the new Bishop Odoario’s gate.

In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the open council of the city of Lugo gathered in the Murega Tower (in the vicinity of Santiago’s gate).

One of the uses the citizens gave the wall was that of making its towers into homes and in the space between two cubes, buildings were made (houses, warehouses, ...). In this way, they used one of the walls of the building and also the materials of the wall. In 1971, with the “Clean Wall Operation”, a forced and urgent expropriation of all the buildings attached to the outside of the wall was carried out to make them disappear.

Its walk was and still is a compulsory walk around the city. Even in the times when there were houses attached to the wall, it was forbidden for them to be higher and for their chimneys to “disturb the pedestrians”. It is common to see in the morning and in the evening many citizens walking on the wall at leisure or practising sport.

The wall, its walk and its outside walk, the Ronda, is a mute witness of all the cultural and political shows that are performed in the city.

It is also a reference to study the history of the city and Galicia, as each stone is a piece of past and the wall is an almost inexhaustible source of study for archaeologists, historians and scientists.



Lugo boasts the typical system of defence of Roman times, the wall, which is a singular example in the whole Roman Empire. It is a great work of military engineering, thoroughly planned both in its design and in the building techniques and the different architectural elements. It is a complex defence system made up by the ditch, the wall (Moenia) and possibly also the Intervallum or inside walk.

Originally, it had 85 semicircular cubes (today 71 can be seen) with diameters varying from 6.3 to 13.5 metres and a height between 9 and 12 metres. The upper part had two floors which made up high towers. From these, only a part can be seen nowadays, in the window of A Mosqueira. Between the towers, straight spaces were placed about 15 metres long. On the upper part, between cubes and walls, there is an exceptionally wide sentry walk, between 3.5 and 6 metres wide.

The five original gates were designed according to the roads inside and outside. They have only one opening in semicircular arch made of granite, a material which is also used in its cubes and walls (except in the False gate). It can be supposed that from the inside, you could get to the top of the wall thanks to high stairs in each tower, many of them discovered in recent years.

The defence was completed with a ditch and individual projectiles were used from the towers and the upper floors.

All this shows the wall is a complex work of military engineering. Its perimeter is 2,266 metres long. It comprises an area of 34.4 hectares. It has a rectangular plan with a northsouth axis about 700 metres long and an eastwest axis about 500 metres long. The corners of this area are rounded, flanked by four gates, two of which date back from Roman times: Saint Peter or Toledana and Santiago or Poxigo, and two are modern: Saint Fernando and Bishop Odoario or Hospital.

As for the material used in its building, it is mainly slabs characteristic of the area of Lugo, and, in to a lesser degree, granite and quartzite (pebbles). The use of slabs is habitual as it was the most easily found material in the area, easily cut to obtain more or less regular plates, which makes its engraving easier and because it is light and water-proof. For buildings, they were selected according to form, quality and size. In this way, the most irregular ones were used for the filling, the triangular ones for the inside and outside walls; the square or rectangular ones were only used for the stairs. The sandstone could have been obtained when digging the ditch and in neighbouring quarries.

The mining and transport of granite was more difficult and expensive, so this material was used only in the gates (False, Miñá, San Pedro, Santiago and Nova) and their flanking towers and nearby walls. It is used only for the foundation in blocks that haven’t been worked.

As may be expected, material existing from other buildings was also used. This is a very important fact for the study and dating of the monument.


The Roman Wall has ten gates or "portas", out of which five date back to Roman times and the remaining five were opened later following the needs of the growing city, as the Station Gate (opened to lead to the railway station) or Bishop Aguirre Gate ( opened to allow the priests go to the Seminary).

Porta Nova

"Porta Nova" means New Gate. This gate was modified thoroughly, but old photos are witnesses of its original aspect, very similar to the Miñá Gate. Through the Nova Gate was the via XIX, coming from Bracara Augusta (Braga) and the via XX (“per loca maritima”), which joined Lugo with one of the most important sea harbours, the one in Flavium Brigantium (A Coruña). It was the way out of the longest road in the city and, according to Schulten, the western limit of the Augustus camp. Several inscriptions and the relief of Jupiter appeared on this gate.

Originally, it was a small and short semicircular arch between two towers, it had an upper guard post, transformed in the medieval ages into a chapel devoted to Saint Mary and the Virgin of the Remedies (a fact that is also true for other gates) and which was removed in 1785.

The medieval gate was totally restored in 1899, making it more modern and bigger. Opened in April 1900, this new building is due to architect Juan Alvarez de Mendoza. Nowadays, it is 4.8 metres wide and 8 metres high, with a belfry arch and masonry. One of the original cubes that flank it was totally modified, as it was cut in half.

Porta Miñá or PORTA do Carme

It is the best kept in all the monument, and its situation and building system make us know the rule that all the gates had. This gate was the way out of the via XIX, which led to Iria Flavia and to the southeast of Gallaecia, linking to via XVIII in the legionnaire camp Aquis Guerquennis (Bande). Inside the city, it was linked to the “decumanum” and it crossed the forum of Lucus Augusti.

This gate is between two towers of blocks of granite, it is 3.67 metres wide and has two slightly lowered semicircular arches. The walls to the sides have also been made of granite and two vertical holes can be seen through which the grille used to pass. The inside is divided into two parts. The upper part, with a barrel vault, was used by the guard post and it was reached thanks to some stairs attached to the inside wall. This place was transformed into the Saint Ramon chapel until in the 18th century, the chapel was placed in the church of Carme. This is the other name given to the gate.

Porta de Santiago or do PoxigoImage

"Porta do poxigo" means Wicket gate. Its aspect is similar to the Miñá gate, but it has been more modified by different reforms. The outside arch was changed and a niche was opened in the inside arch. It has a ramp that leads to the walk. The tower to the right was modified with plaques and some granite blocks, losing its symmetry, as it became bigger than the tower to the left of the gate.

Its vicinity to the cathedral is the reason why it appears in several documents. From the end of the 12th century and through the 13th century it was a private gate for the use of the priests of the cathedral. Until 1759 it was known as the Poxigo gate. In that year, a reform was made in order to give way to carriages and a niche was built to place the image of the apostle Santiago upon the coat of arms of Bishop Izquierdo.

In 1838, the part that could be raised was in a very poor condition and a parapet was built to defend the city from the possible Carlists attacks.

The gate’s flanking cubes are slightly asymmetrical, as previously seen, and the left one was half-hidden by buildings until 1970. It can be supposed that in these cubes there used to be defending posts, similarly to other original gates. During plague times, this is the gate that remained open and it used to have a drawbridge.

Porta San Pedro or Porta Toledana

14 lugo pedro

The name Toledana is related to the emigration of the “suevos” (Swabians) to the capital of the Visigoth kingdom (Toledo) searching for jobs. In Roman times, it was the way out to Asturica Augusta, along the vias XIX and XX. In the medieval times, it was known as Santi Petri. It was the gate through which the pilgrims to Santiago entered the city.

The current aspect of the gate dates from the reform in 1781, a fact that has been recorded in a plaque. It is 3.70 metres wide and 4.85 metres high. From the outside, a semicircular arch can be seen upon which there is a pediment with the coat of arms of Lugo between two lions. On top of that, there are granite blocks and an iron fence. Fortunately, due to the economic crisis at the end of the 19th century, it was not modified in 1865, as was Nova Gate.

Porta Falsa or Porta do Boquete

"Porta Falsa" means False Gate and "Porta do Boquete" means Hole Gate. It is not very clear why this gate is called False. There are references from the 13th century to a “hidden way out” and other sources claim it was a hole made to make way for the road from Mondoñedo to the coast. Besides, differently from other Roman gates, this one does not show symmetry in the flanking cubes and it lacks blocks of granite. However, taking into account its size, it is an original one, a Roman type of gates called posterulae, with a military use.

As most of them, it suffered many modifications. It is 3.45 metres wide and 5.65 metres high. It is made of granite on the outside and stone slabs on the inside. It may have been a half-dug way through the ground, as recent archaeological discoveries show.

The stairs that it has nowadays, from the second half of the 18th century, allow us to bridge the gap. During the first Carlist war, there used to be a fort attached to it, whose remains can be seen on the outside around the gate.


The remaining five gates were opened between the 19th and 20th centuries, following the growth of the city and its urban configuration.

Porta do Hospital or do Bispo Odoario

"Porta do Hospital" means Hospital Gate and "Porta do Bispo Odoario" means Bishop Odoarius' Gate. It is the most recent of all, as it was built in 1921 to give way to one of the longest streets that cross Lugo from east to west (Montevideo and Bolaño Rivadeneira streets nowadays).

Designed by architect Saenz, it was built with a double bending, to follow the line of the area. To build it, the cube that belonged to one of the rounded corners of the wall was destroyed, and a stretch of wall on the right and one the left was also knocked down. This gate is in one of the highest points of the wall, and it is thought that the Amena do Rei may have been, due to its privileged situation to see the valley of the River Miño (nowadays, the buildings facing it hinder the sight).

Porta de Bispo Aguirre

"Porta de Bispo Aguirre" means Bishop Aguirre's gate. It was opened in 1894 and it was made to make it easier the access to the new Seminary and the cemetery built in 1858. The architect who made it, Nemesio Cobreros Cuevillas, also made the Seminary. To build this gate, two towers were destroyed which had Roman plaques. During the works, several inscriptions and some building material were found. It is 10 metres wide and 8.15 metres high. Its style is similar to the Nova gate after its reform, but it is much wider.

Porta de Bispo Esquerdo or Porta do cárcere or do Campo Castelo

The names mean Bishop Izquierdo's Gate and Prison Gate. The prison was inside the wall and it was later moved to the outside. This fact, together with the inauguration of the new area for the fairs (placed in the area where the bus station is nowadays), led to the proposal of opening a new gate in this area. The work didn’t affect the original Roman structure, but the Cristina’s redoubt. It is between a cube and the starting point of the 19th century bastion. Like other gates, it was designed by Cobreros Cuevillas, but it is smaller: 4.32 metres wide and 7.15 metres high.

Porta da EstaciónImage

"Porta da Estación" means Railway station gate. 

This gate was opened in order to make a direct and easy access from the city centre to the railway station. Designed by architect Nemesio Cobreros Cuevillas, it was opened in 1876 and two cubes were knocked down for that. In 1880 and later in 1918, it was widened and modernized to ease the traffic (10 metres wide and 8 metres high). The cubes that had been knocked down were rebuilt in 1973 on the original basement under the buildings attached to the wall.







Porta de San Fernando ou Porta do Príncipe Afonso

This gate was opened in 1856, after the visit of queen Elizabeth and her son to the city, which led to its being known as Prince Afonso’s gate. It made use of a hole through which water came to the city in Roman times. The building of this gate, placed in one of the corners of the wall, knocked down a tower and defaced another one.

It is also known as Saint Fernando’s gate, a name that comes from the San Fernando’s military quarters placed in the neighbourhood. This gate had the greatest confluence of both pedestrians and traffic, as it was the easiest access to the neighbourhoods that were growing outside the wall: Agro do Rolo, Piringalla, Padre Feixoo and Garabolos, as well as being the way out of the road N-VI (Madrid- A Coruña), so it became small and narrow. That is why in 1963 the old gate was knocked down and the one we have nowadays was built. In fact, it is the gate with a widest span. For this work, a new demolition of an important section of the wall and of two cubes was necessary.



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