Warm ambiance remains in ruins of Monte Santa Tecla

The Galician coast of Spain, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is a magnificent stretch of country, a land of brilliant yellow gorse, eucalyptus groves, and battered stands of pines; of golden beaches without a body in sight; of picturesque fishing villages with cobblestone quays and gaily painted boats riding at anchor. Women on their knees scrub the family laundry in clear, swift-flowing streams, and on the farms oxen draw wooden plows, haystacks come shaped like giant mushrooms, slotted arms of windmills spin in the stiff ocean breeze, and strange little wooden houses on stilts are repositories for grain.

In the extreme south of this beautiful and primitive area Spain flows into Portugal and here, rising steeply over the small Galician port of La Guardia, at the mouth of the Mino River, is Monte Santa Tecla, sheltering a spectacular Celtic village.

In 700 BC, when small bands of Celts swept across the Pyrenees and established hilltop settlements along the Atlantic coast, there were no artificial boundary lines in western Europe. Today, of course, frontiers are well-defined and Spain claims one of these ancient villages as an important archaeological site. In your haste to reach Portugal, don't pass up Monte Santa Tecla. From its summit you can look down into the Portuguese hinterland.

The Celts who lived in this village many years before Jesus was born must have stepped thankfully out of their sturdy, windowless, smoky stone huts to breathe deeply the clean, tangy air of a sunny spring day. The sight that met their eyes was little different from the one today's visitors see, except that now the Celtic homes lie in ruins. The steep hillside, dropping a thousand feet to turquoise water and booming surf, is covered with a mat of gorse in full bloom. Ragged pines, beaten about by winds off the ocean, and graceful eucalyptus trees are silhouetted against an enamel- blue sky. The sun-soaked gorse gives off a heady fragrance and the air is filled with the hum of bees busy gathering honey.

Today the hillside is crowded with the circular stone ruins of dozens of small huts. These ancient Celts, probably for safety's sake, live closely packed together. There is no guard or guide or anyone to show you about and ask for money. You can wander at will and step inside any or all of the restored huts and see for yourself just how these people lived when BC changed to AD.

Each has a small, open area in front, edged by a low stone wall, convenient for sitting or for depositing utensils or tools. A simple stone oven is built against one end. Inside, the floor is packed earth, the fire area not clearly defined. Smoke escaped through vents cut through the stone blocks and through an opening in the peak of the thatched roof. About halfway up the wall opposite the door a smooth rock juts out, making a small, crude shelf. Each house has a corral beside it with stone rings for tethering animals.

It is disheartening to learn that these proud, stalwart people, noted for their hospitality, were eventually penned into their mountain fastness by the Romans and after a long, long struggle starved to death. The Romans so admired their enemies' tenacity and courage that they paid the Celts the compliment of dubbing them "hearts of oak."

Today, except for the casual visitor, only ghosts roam the hillside settlement. In the empty solitude you can almost hear the pad of bare feet and the soft breathing of those ancient Celts, catch the whinny of a tethered pony and the muted chatter of children at play. They are not hostile ghosts, these old Celts. There is a warm and welcoming ambiance among the ruins of Monte Santa Tecla, in keeping with these peoples' reputation for hospitality.

Be sure to continue beyond the ruins to the summit of Monte Santa Tecla. A good paved road leads up to the peak where there is a hotel with restaurant, a gift shop, a tiny pilgrims' church, and beautiful views across the Mino River to Portugal and north up the ocean-washed Spanish coast.

Monte Santa Tecla is just off the main coastal road that follows the Spanish shore into Portugal. A stop there won't delay you more than an hour and you will remember it as one of the most rewarding experiences of your journey.

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