Couto Mixto – Meaus
Couto Mixto – Meaus
The so-called “Couto Mixto” was formed by the cities of Santiago, Rubiás (both in the municipality of Calvos de Randín) and Meaus (municipality of Baltar). We are facing a territory that was self-governed for seven centuries.
Situated on the border with Portugal, its history dates back to the 12th century, when the Republic of Couto Mixto was considered the oldest state in Europe. The main thesis of its origin lies in the “homicide coutos” that were shelters for refugees or fugitives. Created on the current (very permeable) border during the Middle Ages, they were also the place where prisoners served their sentences, repopulating the lands after the arrival of the Muslims.
The reality tells us of a small territory in the form of a democratic State and alien to the two crowns that surrounded it until the 19th century. Its extension was 27km2, at the foot of the Serra do Larouco and Serra da Pena.
Its inhabitants had various privileges over the rest of the population of both kingdoms. They were not required to choose nationality (they could be from any of the kingdoms or mixed). They did not pay most of the taxes and fees, they traded and grew freely (even tobacco), and they were not required to bring any documents that identify them. Finally, its inhabitants did not have to send men to the army.
In Couto Misto there was a judge democratically elected in an assembly by the residents. This judge was elected every three years and supported by the “Men of the Agreement”, two men from each seat. These were the delegates of the judge in each place (villages or places in Santiago, Rubiás and Meaus). On the other hand, there was also a “vicar of the month” (sheriff),
the one in charge of executing the orders. Santiago was its capital and administrative center. Meaus (Municipality of Baltar) the economic and commercial hub. Rubiás was the largest in terms of number of neighbors.
Of course, being able to grow whatever they wanted made smuggling easier. There was a route that connected the three towns and Tourém, on the Portuguese side, which was called “Caminho Privilegiado” (privileged path). A 6 km route that was free of border guard controls. No good could be seized, nor could anyone be detained.
To keep the important documents there was a chest with three keys. In order to open it, both the judge and the “Deal Men” had to be present.
Couto lost its sovereignty and privileges on November 5, 1868. With the so-called “Treaty of Lisbon”, the borders between Spain and Portugal were perfectly delimited, leaving the three towns on the Spanish side. Couto’s last judge was Delfín Modesto Brandán. Currently, a statue is dedicated to him in the atrium of the church of Santiago.
Legends / Linked Stories
Legend has it that the queen of Portugal, fleeing to these lands, pregnant, and faced with the pains of childbirth, was welcomed by the residents of O Couto. In view of this display of empathy and good deeds, when Portugal won the war, they were granted independence.
Information of interest
There are no visiting hours. One can enjoy the villages, their architecture and nature freely at any time of the year. To access the Church of Santiago, it is recommended to attend the opening hours or the recreation party that takes place every year. More information can be requested by calling 0034 988 466 503.
As a complement, you can visit the Couto Misto Interpretation Center at Porta de Calvos de Randín, located in the rectory of Santiago de Rubiás. Further information can be requested by calling 0034 988 434 000 or contacting at:
García Mañá, L. M. (2005) Couto Mixto, unha república esquecida. Ed. Xerais.
López Mira, A. X. (2008) O Couto Mixto: Autogoberno, fronteiras e soberanías distantes. U. Vigo, Madrygal.
Trillo Santamaría, J. M. (2014) Discussing the Couto Mixto (Galicia, Spain) Trascending the territorial trap through borderscapes and border poetics analyses. P. 56-78. Vol.20.