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LIEBANA´s History

The region of Liébana has been an important cultural focus through history. During the Middle Ages a great number of churches and monasteries were built in the district, and some of them exercised great power over the population.

Each time we know more and more about this land´s old settlements, due to archaeological excavations carried out in the later years and better field studies.

We known that the populations from the Palaeolithic lived in the Pleistocene epoch, as hunters, fisher men and harvesters, although most probably, during this time, Picos de Europa were covered with perpetual snow. From this time there are very little population indicators in Picos de Europa. In the case of Liébana, the outdoor archaeological deposit El Habario, between Pendes and Cabañes (Cillorigo), is the most important, having been recently studied and where some lithic instruments have been recovered.

From the year 9,000 Before Christ, the weather improved and little by little would be similar to the weather today. The Epipalaeolithic, between 11,150 and 8,000 BC and the Mesolithic between the 8,000 and 5,000 BC, are epochs where life evolved and most ways of life improved. From the Mesolithic is the deposit of La Mina, rocky shelter in the vicinity of Dobarganes, where silex objects have been found.

The step towards the Neolithic period will be fundamental on the appearance of agriculture and cattle raising. In Liébana and Picos de Europa there is an important number of Megalithic monuments, formed by huge tombs, corresponding to that time. In Liébana the necropolis of Peña Oviedo has been dug and studied during several campaigns. It is above Mogrovejo and near the place called La Calvera, and after an analysis carried out in several spots, it is dated from the beginning and the middle of the forth millennium. In these excavations the foundations of some huts and silos have appeared with the remains of many cereals, as well as ceramic objects, which without any doubt open an important way to know how these populations lived.

There were mainly established in mountainous areas and as a proof we have those remains in practically the whole region: the Bora mountains, in the municipality of Vega de Liébana; the Peña Oviedo and Aliva, in the municipality of Camaleño; Peña Sagra, Pasaneo and Pelea, in Cabezón de Liébana and Cillorigo; and Camponuera, in Pesaguero, are some of the areas with a greater number of these remains.

From the Calcolithic times there are scarcer indications, only existing a flat axe from Pendes (Cillorigo), an axe found in the area of Pico Jano and a javelin tip, in Potes, which could date from the 2,500 BC. From the Iron Age, isolated pieces have appeared, like the fibula of Bárago, or ceramics in the cave of Covarada (Cillorigo).

The Cantabrian wars (29-19 BC) had great importance in Liébana and Picos de Europa. The Jesuit Eutimio Martino studied the possible confrontation sites between Cantabrians and Romans over the land, concluding that Augusto sent a central column through the mountain pass of Pineda to Liébana, whereas the eastern column overcame the course of the river Cea and the upper section of the river Esla, going to Picos de Europa. From Bérgida the defeated Cantabrians escaped to Mons Vindius, which means Picos de Europa. Martino located the main military confrontations in the region of Liébana and identified the Medullius Mount with Peña Sagra. In fact many important remains of Roman roadways, defence walls and moats have been located in the region.

In Liébana several stellas and some inscription remains are preserved, encrusted in walls: Luriezo, Villaverde, Lebeña and Bores are the most significant.

Two rock-work oratories are located in the region; one in Cueva Santa, in the Viorna hill, next to the Monastery of Santo Toribio, where tradition assures that the monk Santo Toribio used to pray. We think this oratory was built between the IX and the X centuries because of its characteristics. The other is the rock-work hermitage of Cambarco (Cabezón de Liébana), recently discovered and dated by the experts between the end of the VIII century and the beginning of the IX.

Liébana is quoted in the Chronicle of Alfonso III giving news about the different settlements. After the battle of Covadonga the surviving Arabs, when they crossed Picos de Europa, and passing near Subiedes (Camaleño), they were buried by a huge landslide. In medieval times the population increased rapidly and the region became an important focus of monasteries: San Salvador de Villeña, San Facundo and Primitivo de Tanarrio, Santa María de Cosgaya, Santiago de Colio, etc. Two monasteries were going to have an extraordinary importance on the region´s valleys: San Martín de Turieno, later well-known as Santo Toribio de Liébana, and Santa María de Piasca. It is possible that the Beato de Liébana wrote the Comments to the Apocalypse in the monastery of Santo Toribio. In the X century Liébana was governed by a count, and from the middle of the XIII century it formed, together with Pernía, one of the limiting kingdoms with the Kingdom of Castilla. Later on we can see that in the Becerro de las Behetrías, from 1353, the local lineages prevail.

Don Tello, son of the king Alfonso XI, who got the dominion of Liébana, by royal concession, obtained the title of Lord over the most important villages in the valleys when the influence of monastic power decreased in the region. It is during the XV century when the district becomes a dominion of the House of La Vega and Marquesado of Santillana. Later on, the Dukes of El Infantado, had a great power in the area until the beginning of the XIX century.

In modern times the "Juntas de la Provincia de Liébana" were formed, which was the government institution in the region, with representatives from every valley who took agreements and approved the ordinances. The Junta was presided by the Corregidor or by his lieutenant who were named annually by the Duke of El Infantado, assuming the civil and military jurisdiction and presiding over the Meetings. In 1785 Potes was a secular dominion, with a mayor also named by the Duke of El Infantado.

During the Independence War, people in Liébana fought for their freedom and deserved those praises from the general Mahy, who called them "illustrious inhabitants of Liébana". In 1838, during the First Carlist War, a cruel battle took place near the village of Vendejo (Pesaguero). Then in this century the region has suffered the terrible effects of the Spanish Civil War and the village of Potes was burned when the republican troops retired, and some years later its buildings were reconstructed.



Liébana is a region where traditions and customs have always been present among its people. In those long winter evenings, when snow covered the fields and villages, the family used to meet in the kitchen around the fireplace. It was these moments when the elder ones; who had picked up many traditions from their parents, passed on this particular legacy to the rest of the family; including myths, legends, stories and romances, which, vocally, where transmitted to the new generations.

When a priest of any village "sang" his first mass, the religious event was well celebrated. With the purpose of accompanying the new "misacantano" (mass singer) to the church, the village lasses sang songs and carried a decorated arch with flowers and ribbons, under which the new priest walked. Equally, the bishop´s arrival to the parishes, was a great reason for satisfaction for all the neighbours.

When spring came, every Sunday afternoon, except for those atEaster, under the sound of drums and tambourines, there was a dance in the villages. Also, the "novenas" were carried out in the churchess or hermitages and, during the month of May, after concluding work, the neighbours met to pray the rosary in the church and the lasses sang "flowers to María".

After carnivals, time of processions, Easter arrived, and was always celebrated with great religious fervour. Bedoya is the valley where these traditions are best conserved; the Calvary, the Rosary of the Good Death, the songs of Resurrection, and the procession with the stations of the Calvary, are some of those manifestations of popular reverence.

In Vega de Liébana a procession takes place on Easter Sunday, from the parochial church of La Vega to the parochial church of Vada, carrying the Virgin of La Piedad on their shoulders, greatly worshipped in the municipality. During the procession the "viacrucis" of the Calvary stations takes place.

Liébana has been the place of origin of many popular dances, which various folklore groups in the region have promoted, like the "Trepeletré", the "Pericote", and the "Silly Bird".

Without any doubt the most ingenious and representative verses of traditional and folkloric feeling about the region, have been those interpreted when any member of the rural community got married. From very old times the tradition of "request of rights" exists. This was the name given to the gift that a lad from another village or valley had to give to the lads from that village where the lass he wanted to marry was from. Generally the gift consisted in a large wine pitcher or a lamb. The day of the religious ceremony the songs where prepared by lads, lasses and all the wedding guests, and sang in a spontaneous way.

When summer came, hay harvesting started in all the villages. Traditional activities were postponed until the pilgrimages and festivals started in villages and hermitages. San Juan, in the Virgen de la Luz; San Pedro, in Tresviso; San Pedro de Toja, in Bedoya; Valmayor, in Potes; San Tirso, in Ojedo; La Salud, in Aliva; San Bartolomé, in Frama; the Corazón de Jesus, in the Peak of San Carlos, and the Cruz, in Potes, are among the most populous festivals.

Summer passed by and autumn began, with the vintage time. After the grape-picking, they were taken to the vats, stepped on, and the family and neighbours met around the still where the "orujo" (hard spirit) was elaborated.

The annual cycle which rotated around the life of a "lebaniego" concluded with the arrival of winter, when the carols, the "Ramo de Navidad" and, the songs of Christmas Gifts, sounded with great strength in all the district´s villages.



It is characterised by the good use of wood and stone since the old days, which, together with tiling, were the most important elements in the building of such constructions.

The traditional buildings, are generally composed by two floors, with facades made of masonry and house corners made of rubble-work. The noblest buildings, have a masonry facade, with the presence of representative coats of arms from the house owner´s lineage.

In these buildings, the ground floor was mainly destined as a stable and the first floor was the housing, where, besides the bedrooms, the basic room, where family life rotated, was the kitchen, where the old "llares" (cooking chairs) hung from the ceiling, and where the bread ovens gave food to all the family members. The beams, the rest of the pillars, as well as the cover, were made of wood.

The doorways and sun lounges, are not very representative samples of popular architecture in Liébana. The "hórreo" was a wooden construction sustained by four pillars, stone or wooden, and with two or four slopes on the roof It was used as a pantry or warehouse; mainly of nuts and fruit, and was located near the houses.

The popular architecture in Liébana contemplates a series of common characters, mostly found in the villages still conserving many features of their traditional quaintness. For example:The Romanesque arch with big voussoir, in the most prestigious houses; tree trunks as lintels, on the doors of the eldest and most humble houses; wooden mixed with adobe; netted hazel-wood for interior partitions; steeple in the churches; the "hórreos"; the bread ovens; the access stairways to the house; the eaves, carved in the noblest houses; garden and field closings, etc. All of this makes traditional architecture in the villages of Liébana specially charming.

Bread oven outside a house.

Rests of an ancient Lagar in Rases (Potes).