From 6th to 15th August, A Guarda is the place to be. This town in the south of As Rías Baixas hosts the Festa do Monte, declared Festival of Tourist Interest in Galicia. The festival includes three important attractions: the folk parade, the pilgrimage to the Santa Trega Hill and the fireworks, which close the event.
The origin of this festival is linked to the Sociedad Pro-Monte Santa Tecla, established in 1912 by a group of emigrants in America. These people strove to foster the social, economic and cultural development of the town of A Guarda. To achieve this, they strengthened the ties between both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and contributed to the restoration works of the holy places, as well as to the improvement of the surrounding area and the accesses to the Santa Trega Hill.
More than 300 metres high, this hill is the most important attraction of this town in the province of Pontevedra. At this place, from where you can see how the Miño River flows into the Atlantic Ocean, lies the renowned hillfort of Santa Trega, excavated about a century ago. In fact, the Archeologic Museum of Santa Trega (with the Spanish acronym MASAT) turns 100 this year.
How this tradition was born
The festival was born as a familiar event for the members of the Sociedad Pro-Monte Santa Tecla in 1913 to celebrate the first anniversary of the foundation of the society. Today, it is a popular event which gathers thousands of people. Sixty-seven years later, the society was dissolved but their philosophy has been preserved in this festival, organised every year by the local government of A Guarda and the festival's committee.
Held in the middle of August, the Hill Festival attracts visitors coming not only from As Rías Baixas, but also from the neighbouring country Portugal. Music and the festive atmosphere last the whole week. On Saturday, a grand traditional folk parade is held, which marches from the alameda (public garden) to the harbour, after passing through the streets of the town. At the port, the different music bands stand in an open and flat area to participate in the great treboada (downpour), which consists in a thunder of drums and bass drums in unison. It is a popular tradition in the area of O Baixo Miño, where each parish used to have a traditional band in charge of playing the drums, the bass drums and the bagpipes.
Different music bands from inside and outside the region come to A Guarda to participate in this one-hundred-year-old procession: about twenty orchestras from coastal areas, around thirty folk groups and hundreds of people wearing traditional costumes. Cabezudos (people wearing a costume with an oversized papier mâché head, common in Spanish tradition), folk groups and orchestras march in this order in a procession where the Banda Negra stands out because it was the pioneer, in 1971. The sound of the drums wafts in a town full of colourful costumes. Each of these groups, identified by their attires, occupy a different space in the Santa Tegra Hill.
There is another important tradition in A Guarda. It takes place on Sunday, when processioners, bands and families start the about four-kilometre pilgrimage towards the top of the hill. The fireworks announce lunch time and, at this moment, thousands of people gather to have a picnic. In the afternoon, it is time for the pledge, when the bands promise to return the following year, and they start the descent, leaving enough time to have a snack in the park of O Cancelón-O Montiño.
The fortress, symbol of A Guarda
Tens of people visit Santa Trega every day. This archaeological site in As Rías Baixas, one of the most important ones in Galicia, became popular in the early 20th century, when the Sociedad Pro-Monte fostered the construction of the access road. Excavations began in 1914, starting then an intensive work to promote this tourist attraction and its surrounding area. It was declared Historic-Artistic Monument and is listed as Cultural Interest Site.
Since 2015, the Deputación de Pontevedra has been carrying out different actions in the Santa Trega Hill, within the framework of the programme to promote the Galician-Roman archaeological sites of the province. These works, involving an archaeological excavation of the area, focus on the part of the hillfort known as "Mergelina neighbourhood", a space which was already studied at the beginning of the 20th century. This excavation brought about the discovery of objects and structures of great interest.
One of the major contributions made by the team from the Deputación de Pontevedra was to extend back in time the origins of the archeologic site, traditionally dated from the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. According to the new findings, the hillfort may date back to the 4th century BC. Next year, further work will be carried out to ensure the long-term conservation of the area under excavation and to give visitors the chance to admire a big area full of new structures.
The state of conservation, the surface area or the location are among the many reasons why, once you discover the Celtic hillfort of Santa Trega, it will remain in your mind forever. In the surroundings of one of the most important archaeological sites in As Rías Baixas and in Galicia, it will be held a popular festival in the area: The Festa do Monte (Hill Festival)