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Pallozas - ancient dwellings

By: Destination Spain

Galicia, Asturias and León all share a common cultural heritage in the form of pallozas. These are primitive structures, traditional dwellings where humans and animals once lived side by side. Their origins are obscure, but they look very similar to both pre-Roman hill forts and Celtic huts

There are more than 250 pallozas in Galicia, mainly in the western region of the Sierra de los Ancares, around Donís, Pando and Cereixedo.
It is not unusual, however, to also come across them in the mountains areas of eastern Galicia, western Asturias and northeastern León.
All these areas display a wide range of native vegetation and have many different animal species. The capercaillie lives here, an endangered bird only found in forests in the north of Spain.
Pallozas have a unique structure different to the architecture of other traditional Iberian dwellings, in particular their shape, which is distinctively round or oval.
The building materials used were wood, stone and straw, all able to withstand the cold weather in these regions.
Inside the palloza were the dwelling, the animals’ ‘quarters’ and the straw loft. In the harsh winters the people who lived in them had everything they needed to survive close at hand.
In the centre was the lareira, where meals were prepared in huge metal pots at a safe distance from the rest of the dwelling. The humans and sometimes even the animals would huddle in this space, searching out the warmest spot in the house.
Around the lareira were arranged the other sections of the palloza, separated only by rudimentary wood partitions. These were the ‘bedrooms’, the animal feed store, the larder, the wood pile, and so on.
The structure of the palloza is solid. On a round or oval base a stone wall was built up to around 1.7 metres. On this, a roof was constructed by experts in plaiting rye straw into a thatch, which was supported by a wide tree trunk placed in the centre.
The roof was made very steep so that rain and snow would run off and not remain on top, weighing the structure down. Smoke from the fire could pass through the straw, doing away with the need for a chimney. The pallozas were usually built on slopes so that sewage could easily drain away.
But pallozas are no longer used as dwellings. They have been reduced to simple grain and crop stores. Only a few of them have been restored and converted into restaurants and guest-houses.
The reduction in the rye crop in the area was also a blow for the pallozas. As more and more people have moved from the country into the towns and cities the pallozas have been abandoned and their owners do not want to spend money on their upkeep when they are no longer living in them.
Nowadays the palloza is principally a tourist attraction in these northern Spanish regions. One of the most visited is Palloza Baltasar in los Ancares and there are others at O Cebreiro and O Piornedo that have been converted into ‘real-life museums’ that sometimes host temporary art exhibitions.
Yet others have become charming ‘shrines’ where you can see all the tools and utensils the palloza dwellers used in their daily lives.
Interestingly, not all pallozas have the same basic design. Exceptions include the ones in los Ancares that are taller than the norm and have a more complex structure, reflecting the shape of the mountains surrounding them.
In contrast, the ones in O Cebreiro have the same sort of flattened tops as the hills in which they nestle.

Thursday, February 12, 2004
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