If you travel through north eastern Spain the chances are that you will see something like above structure, pictured in Ourense in Galicia. Known as hórreo and often centuries old, these structures served a vital purpose for the local communities. Can you guess what they were for?
As European civilization spread so did problem solving technology. The hórreo was the answer to a particular issue – how to keep cobs of corn and other crops dry and safe from rodents before they were threshed. Although a simple solution it was one which persevered through two thousand years. Although they have now been superseded, the hórreo of Spain are a reminder that a good idea can persist for a great deal of time.ssss
Although hórreo is the modern Spanish word, the constructions come with a variety of different names according o the local language or dialect with variations in places such as Asturia, Galicia and the Basque country.
They will also come in a variety of permutations and combinations - some even have a thatched roof. Yet they all follow very similar means of construction. Common to them all is the manner in which the hórreo is raised from the ground by pillars. Yet the design is a little more complex than that.
At the base of each is an enormous slab of stone which are known as pilpayos. The legs of the hórreo stand upon this and are usually known as pegollos. On top of this is another huge stone which is called the muela. This combination of stone (or sometimes wood) is remarkably effective at keeping rodents at bay.
Many people think that the hórreo was a Roman invention and its use was spread around the empire as it expanded. This is because the word hórreo derives from the Latin horreum. Yet according to Roman writers such as Strabonius the structure was not an invention of the empire. Anthropologists believe that they were originally Celtic in origin.
Anyone would be forgiven for thinking the hórreo a Roman invention. If you are familiar with the hypercaust system of furnace driven heating and ventilation built under many Roman villas there are striking similarities. Whereas in a hypercaust heat would travel upwards, the hórreo structure was designed to keep things above cool. Hence a hypercaust was built under the ground, a hórreo above, exposed to the elements.
As you can see the shape of the hórreo differs, and this depends on the region. In Galicia and Asturia the hórreo is usually an extended rectangle. In Cantabria and Galicia they tend to be square. Although they were part of the landscape for hundreds of years before the first depiction in literature comes from the 12th century.
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