Fourteen years before the Common Era, the legate Paulus Fabius Maximus, acting in the name of the Roman Emperor, founded the city of Lvcvs Avgvsti, on a hilltop close to Galicia’s longest river, the Miño. It was to become the capital of the Conventus Iuridicus Lucensis – the northwestern area of the vast Gallaecia which extended southwards as far as the River Douro. Gallaecia’s gold mines were a crucial resource for the Empire’s economy and Lvcvs Avgvsti was destined to become an important provincial city. Three centuries later, the city layout was modified and slightly displaced, although most of its plan remained unchanged.
From a political and military perspective, it was a period of crisis. New fortifications were raised, including a wall with a perimeter of more than two kilometres, topped by 85 sturdy turrets. After the fall of the Empire, Roman Gallaecia was the territorial base for the Suebi monarchs, the first kingdom that emerged from the ruins of the Empire in Europe. By this time, Lugo had become an important episcopal seat, which some claim shared the status of an archbishopric with Braga. The indications are that in the early 8th century, Lugo was occupied by the Moors, although they would soon retreat southwards.
The history of the city during this period remains a mystery, and the figure of Bishop Odoario is shrouded in legend. However, it is known that in the year 842, a great Galician army gathered before setting off to conquer Oviedo and place Ramiro I on the throne, the first Galician king of the western Hispanic monarchy. A few years before, during the reign of Alphonse the Chaste, the shrine identified as the tomb of the Apostle Saint James has been discovered in a deserted area where today the city of Santiago de Compostela stands. Waves of pilgrims began to flock to this holy site from all over Europe on a journey that inevitably took them through Asturias and Lugo; under Moorish rule, the lands of Castile and León were filled with perils, where travellers were exposed to frequent attacks and ambushes. Lugo is the finishing point of one of the principal stages of the Primitive Way of Saint James, with its imposing Roman walls that withstood the siege of Al-Mansur, the dreaded general and chief minister of the Caliphate of Cordoba.
Towards the end of the 11th century, Lugo was the epicentre of a civil war. Count Rodrigo Ovéquiz took possession of Lugo – destroying the ancient cathedral and the bishop’s fortress – during the uprising against Alphonse VI in order to restore King D. García to the throne. Following the defeat of the Count, the grateful Alphonse VI granted the bishops of Lugo full control of the city. Yet harmony did not always reign between the bishops and the people of Lugo: for centuries there were a succession of open uprisings or silent rebellions, the most famous of which is probably the one supposedly led by María Castaña, who murdered the bishop’s administrator.
Lugo prospered during the Late Middle Ages, often finding itself in “situations of conflict”: its involvement in civil war in which it took the side of shifting alliances; between the secular lords and the church, monarchy and the burghers and the people. At the start of the Modern Age, Lugo fell into a long period of decadence. The city was dominated by the church, and was also home to a small number of noble landlords, who led generally idle and unproductive lives. Around four hundred artisans and small-time traders and merchants completed a population of just under two thousand inhabitants.
Yet in the 18th century, Lugo enjoyed a period of renewed prosperity, symbolised by the granting of the royal privilege to celebrate the San Froilán fair in 1754. Just a few years later, the wise Benedictine friar Martín Sarmiento noted the crucial role this fair would play in the progress and prosperity of Lugo, which gradually became the agricultural capital of Galicia. This was further consolidated following the arrival of the railway in 1875, a situation that would continue well into the 20th century. The San Froilán fair was of crucial importance for the economy; for instance, it supplied León and Castile with horses and mules, and the railway turned Lugo into the principal cattle-trading centre in the Iberian Peninsula. Another landmark event in this process was the founding of FRIGSA, which together with similar facilities in Merida, became Spain’s most important industrial abattoir and which would play an essential part in city life during the second half of the last century.
Today, Lugo is home to around 100,000 people, and is essentially a commercial and service city. It has a large university campus, belonging to the University of Santiago de Compostela, specialised in agricultural sciences (Veterinary surgery, Forestry, etc.). Its status as a Roman city and the privilege of being the only walled enclosure to remain intact in the former Roman Empire, also makes it an outstanding destination for cultural tourism.