img_4227“What are those things?” we asked as we walked through the Galician countryside along the Camino Portugues. We saw them in farmyards and next to kitchen gardens – clearly they had some agricultural use. Some were plain, some elaborate. Occasionally one of the structures was made of wood, but most were fashioned of granite, the very common stone in the area. They had tile or granite roofs, and the sides were pierced by vertical slits.

                  Bit by bit, we pieced together the meaning. These structures are horreos, a very characteristic sight in Galicia. They’re used to store grain, which in this area is usually corn. Unlike most of Spain, Galicia gets plenty of rain. “It’s the bucket of Spain,” a Portuguese woman told Barbara. And — unlike in most of Europe — in this corner of Spain, corn is eaten by people, not simply used for animal food. The cornfields we passed were often bordered by grapevines, gleaming in the sunlight.

                  The horreos, some of them ancient, were used to store the grain up off the wet ground. Being made of granite, they resisted the incursions of rats. And they came to be a symbol of well-being, of prosperity. A full corncrib meant a successful harvest.

                  Few horreos are used today for holding grain. Sometimes families use them as a sort of outdoor storage shed, but mostly they remain in place because they link with the past.