A brief history of Gijon
The establishment of a human settlement in the area now occupied by the principality of Gijon goes back to pre-history, but it is from the time of the Romans that a more detailed account of the town first started to immerge.
Early settlements like that of Campa Torres (also known as Noega) saw people living in “castro” like village forts comprised of round stone huts with defensive walls and moats. These were isolated people, but as the Roman Empire spread, and what is today known as Gijon found itself on the sea route of “Via de la Plata Route”, the town was quietly absorbed into the greater empire.
The early settlements expanded and soon covered a coastal outcrop called “Santa Catalina” which offered strategic trading advantages, but the area was always prone to attack and records of its development are sparse until the period of the Visigoth empire in the seventh century.
By now “Gijon” was a Christian settlement and although this religion was fiercely attacked by the Islamic Arabs in much of southern and central Spain, Gijon and Asturias remained free from their aggression and rule.
For the next few centuries little was heard of Gijon as it was sidelined from the power centres of the kingdom. Some accounts tell of an English ship porting there as it escaped from a storm at the turn of the eleventh century and there is also evidence of intense church and monastery building during this time. This explains the rich Christian heritage of the city and the strength of the Catholic faith.
Gijon came to notoriety again in the early fourteenth century when it inadvertently became the scene, or at least the base from which, rebellions against the crown were orchestrated. These times were complex and difficult for the city as illegitimate heirs to the kingdom vied and rallied for support and ultimately Gijon was the scene of a terrible battle. Ultimately a siege lasting several months saw the town largely destroyed with fatal consequences for many of its population and again Gijon disappeared from history for a time.
By now it was Gijon’s port that provided most of the towns limited prosperity, but with the kings and queens of the kingdom showing little concern for the city, it lacked the royal decrees necessary for it to trade in potential revenue generating merchandise like salt. These were reserved for the bigger cities and those with royal “favour”
More time passed by as Gijon existed, almost independently, until the early seventeenth century when it finally started to make its mark on the country as a whole. Things began with the building of fortifications and this was followed by the erection of the town’s first monumental buildings. These took the form of large stone palaces like the Valdes palace and the Revillagigedo palace which still stand today.
The eighteenth century saw Gijon finally gain acknowledgement and acceptance as a city to be and it was allowed to trade with the Spanish territories of South America. A brief blemish on the city saw the French enjoy a short and limited occupation in 1808, but by now Gijon was increasing in status and prosperity.
Subsequent decades saw an improved transportation and communication network and, significantly, the establishment of a town planning scheme, something new to all societies at that time. The big boon for Gijon though was the industrial revolution which saw small and craft based industries replace by the embryos of large scale industry.
The latter part of the nineteenth century saw Gijon capitalise on all these advantages by gaining an important rail link to Madrid along with investment in the manufacture of all manner of products ranging from beer to tobacco. Gijon was now a major city and a rapidly expanding economic power.
Along with this success came the finance to redevelop the city and although many important building were constructed, some of the city’s old heritage was lost in the process. Few intact and beautiful medieval quarters are found in cities that gained prosperity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. New money, rapid expansion and the need for bigger and more modern buildings has always seen the old replaced by the new.
Gijon continued to thrive and expand well into the twentieth century and it was not until the civil war that things again took a turn for the worst.
Gijon aligned itself against the ultimately victorious Franco regime and, like the rest of Asturias, paid a heavy price. Large parts of the town, but more importantly it documented archive, were damaged or destroyed and many atrocities were imposed on its people. Gijon also saw one of the highest population migration rates resulting from these cruelties and a significant proportion of its population was lost.
Since the Franco revolution, Gijon has again recovered and ascended to prosperity with interests in heavy industry and the production of iron and steel. It has become Spain national port for the transportation of coal and has also seen a renewal in its population which now numbers well over a quarter of a million people.
Today Gijons economic success is only surpassed by the region’s capital city of Oviedo and its population is now the largest in Asturias. The city has also diversified its business and trading interests and benefits from a mixed economy and an international outlook.