A trip to the Viking history of Pazo Baión and Galician Tuscany
The grounds of Pazo Baión witnessed the presence of Vikings in O Salnés a thousand years ago to plunder and exploit the natural resources
The main reason why most people are attracted to historical stories is that they never cease to surprise us, especially in the case of territories inhabited by humans since time immemorial, and have witnessed fascinating historical processes and events, as is the case of the Pazo Baión property. Many centuries before the pazo was built and the estate of the Casa de Fontán was constituted, these lands were a privileged witness of the presence of Vikings in O Salnés during the High Middle Ages and until the beginning of the Compostelan Era.
These travelers from Scandinavia did not come precisely to do wine tourism. Moreover, vine cultivation was not yet widespread in a region known today as the Galician Tuscany. However, at that time, the land near the Arousa estuary was known for its mineral wealth and being fertile. In addition, the coastal towns were a good target for plundering for the fierce Vikings who came from the North, fleeing from the scarcity of resources in their regions.
A thousand years after the end of the Viking presence in O Salnés, the region receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, some of them from Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway…). However, their goal is no longer to plunder the local wealth but to enjoy its beaches, landscapes, and fishing villages, taste its gastronomic delights, and taste its Albariño wines, some elaborations celebrated and admired worldwide.
In this article, we propose that you join us on a journey through time to a time when the presence of the Vikings in O Salnés was not welcome because these travelers did not come to enjoy wonderful wine tourism experiences in the Rías Baixas, but to sow chaos and decimate the local population and boycott their efforts to move forward.
The Arousa estuary, gateway to Galicia and its riches
How did the Vikings end up in O Salnés, a region that owes its name to salt mines on its shores, even before visitors from the North?
On the one hand, as we indicated before, Scandinavia did not have the necessary natural resources to feed themselves due to the low temperatures and adverse weather conditions. This pushed the Vikings to invade more prosperous and more fertile lands.
On the other hand, the beginning of the pilgrimages to Santiago, from the 9th century onwards, spread throughout Europe the goodness of our lands, the abundance of natural resources, and the wealth generated from pilgrimages and trade.
Thus, Viking raids in O Salnés were common between the ninth and twelfth centuries. However, they never gave way to permanent settlements, as in Normandy, nor to the colonization of the territory. The Vikings never settled for periods longer than two years. Still, their modus operandi was generally to undertake raids to plunder the localities, establish sieges in cities like Santiago, kidnap people to carry out extortions, and appropriate the wealth generated by the pilgrimages.
The Arousa estuary was the easiest way for the Vikings to enter Galicia and, in particular, to reach Santiago. Hence, the Viking attacks in O Salnés occurred periodically during these dark centuries, and even temporary settlements were erected in enclaves of the region, such as the island of Cortegada.
The effects of the razzias in O Salnés and the first trade exchanges
Due to the Viking attacks in O Salnés, the local population sought refuge between spring and autumn in the mountains and caves of the region to avoid the looting and flee from the Viking devastation. This affected, as it could not be otherwise, the economic activity and the exploitation of the land.
Cereal and vine crops would not become the economic engines of O Salnés until the end of the Viking raids, as we will see below.
However, historians point out that the Vikings in O Salnés not only carried out raids to enrich themselves but also set up certain commercial relations with the local population, and their influence can be seen in maritime vessels such as the dornas.
These incipient commercial exchanges that took place more than a thousand years ago have ended up becoming today a deep and effective internationalization of the products of O Salnés, starting with the seafood and fish from the Arousa estuary, known as the marine pantry of Europe, and ending with the wines of the D.O. Rías Baixas that are produced in dozens of wineries in the region as Pazo Baión.
The Compostelan Era and the colonization of the region
Fortunately for the local population, the Viking attacks in O Salnés ended with the beginning of the Compostelan Era, marked by the successful leadership of the archbishop of Santiago Xelmírez. The first leader of the Compostelan archdiocese ordered the construction of the coast’s first war fleet to stop the Vikings’ actions in O Salnés and the Saracen raids that took place during those centuries.
The best example of the measures taken by Xelmírez to end the Viking attacks in O Salnés can still be visited today: the West Towers. The construction of these defensive buildings, located in Catoira, aimed to stop the Viking invasions that tried to reach Compostela. A Viking pilgrimage is held annually in Catoira, where battles between the Scandinavian warriors and the Galicians are reconstructed.
These actions made it possible to stop the Viking and Saracen incursions. They facilitated the colonization and repopulation of the entire coastline of the region, which led to the establishment of cereal crops, the construction of churches, such as the one in Baión, the creation of parish churches, and the beginning of what is nowadays an industry that exports its products all over the world: the wine industry.
The end of the Viking attacks in O Salnés marked the expansion of vine cultivation
The new times of peace and prosperity brought about by the Compostelan Era led to an explosion in the local economy—the surface area dedicated to multiannual crops such as vines multiplied from the 12th century onwards. The formal documents of the time show the abundance of cereal crops such as rye and the growing importance of vine cultivation.
Thus, once the Vikings’ presence in O Salnés ended, viticultural activities flourished. Vineyards began to spread throughout the region, initiating a transformation that has consolidated in our days to plague O Salnés with thousands of hectares of vineyards that form landscapes worthy of Tuscany.
The growing peasantry that settled in the region, attracted by the goodness of the land and the estuary, opted, mainly, to start and work in vineyards that produced red grapes. The vineyards linked to the nobility, as in the case of the plots of Pazo Baión, also had white grapes, thanks to the cultivation of the native vine variety of the region: the albariño.
Such was the revolution caused by the production of wine in the Rías Baixas from the 12th century onwards that in the 15th century, 40% of Pontevedra’s tax revenue came from wine, and the city had become a leading commercial center thanks to the monopolization of the foreign wine trade.
Pazo Baión today: A global wine tourism space and winery
Although the recurrent stays of the Vikings in O Salnés are very distant in time, they are an undeniable part of the history of the region that hosts Pazo Baión. Their end marked, as we have pointed out throughout this article, the rise of vine cultivation and winemaking, which are the main hallmarks of a property with five centuries of life that has gone from being a prototypical center of the feudal economy to an example of the rule of the nobility, to:
- Becoming a winery that exports the only single-estate Albariños to dozens of countries.
- To become a wine tourism space of international reference, where the tradition of winemaking and the history and culture of a fascinating region, which was able to impose itself on the almighty Vikings, are put in value.
The people who suffered the presence of the Vikings in O Salnés a thousand years ago could never have thought that Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes would return to enter the villages, wineries, and natural environments of the region so many centuries later. But this time, not to steal or plunder, but to let themselves be seduced by its charms.
Pazo Baión is the best example of the new incursions of the Vikings in O Salnés. Our property welcomes with open arms, year after year, hundreds of visitors from Northern Europe who come to this micro-universe attracted by our Albariño wines but also by the beautiful landscapes of our property, the monumental buildings that are part of the estate, and the fascinating history of Galicia. A history that could not be understood without the dangerous presence of the Vikings in O Salnés and throughout Galicia during the High Middle Ages.
The descendants of the Vikings no longer come to loot and steal but to do wine tourism, taste extraordinary Albariño wines, and forge a relationship full of potential for them and us.
At Pazo Baión, Odin and Dionysus are not rivals but friends.