The pictures on the Internet looked cool. And Wikipedia’s description of the Tower of Hercules made us want to visit even more. Torre de Hércules, as the Tower of Hercules is known in Galician, is an ancient Roman lighthouse located on a peninsula near A Coruña in the northwest of Spain. This we had to see.
Overlooking the Atlantic coast, the Tower of Hercules is 180 feet tall. Almost 1900 years old, it is the oldest Roman lighthouse in use today. A restoration in 1791 extended the lighthouse’s life; the tower has been in constant use since the 2nd Century. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009.
As we arrived at A Coruña’s port we could see Tower of Hercules alone on a hill in the distance. Driving closer, the lighthouse is striking; it looks new. Even if the building was recently cleaned, from the distance the tower seems to be in far too good condition. Is this really a 1900-year-old Roman building that has sat exposed to elements for millenniums?
The tower looked even better as we walked to the base. Were we in the right place?
For a fee, visitors can climb the stairs on the inside to the top of the tower. Entering we joined the tourist crowds working their way to the observation deck at the top. Inside Torre de Hércules’ staircase looks old but not old enough to have been built by the Romans 1900 years ago.
We were confused. Where is the “Roman” tower?
Reading the information signs told us more. There is an ancient Roman tower in A Coruña. In fact, as we climbed the internal staircase a Roman building surrounded us. Not that we could tell.
During the late 18th Century restoration/reconstruction the Tower of Hercules was encased by the façade that can be seen from the distance today. The restoration increased the buildings height and width. At the same time the interior staircase was reworked. Sandwiched somewhere in between the new exterior skin and the refurbished staircase is an original Roman tower, or so we were told. It took a healthy dose of imagination to feel like we were standing in a tower built 1900 years before by the Romans.
In truth, if we hadn’t known the Roman history of tower we would have been more enthused about our visit. The location, surrounded by artworks on a rocky peninsula overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is spectacular. And the tower is striking from the outside no matter which year it was constructed. It’s only disappointing when you except to see a really old Roman lighthouse.