In Galicia, in the municipality of Lugo and in some rural villages in the province of Pontevedra, there is a unique and characteristic type of architecture that has been preserved: the old ‘albarizas’ or ‘oseiras’. The albarizas are rural constructions that beehives are placed inside of, these building are oval, circular and every now and again even quadrangular in shape. The high dry-stone walls protect the hives and make it difficult for animals to enter, especially bears. They are built with rocks that are gathered from the surrounding mountains, mainly slate and schist, the same rocks were used to build houses in the area.
The enclosure, which is made from dry-stones, reaches a height of two metres. In circular albarizas the entire structure itself is 6 metres in diameter, and 12 metres in the oval ones. The inner area is laid out in long, narrow terraces, where no more than 35 hives are placed, so that wild pollinators are able to coexistence. To access the interior, there is a narrow entrance with a small wooden door.
The albarizas are located in the communal forest, 1-2 km from the towns. They are built on very steep terrain, with slopes of around 30 degrees, on the sunny slopes of the mountains. Because the temperatures are so low, the sunlight must be used to its full potential: it must illuminate the structure completely and there should be no shady areas. Furthermore, the enclosure provides protection from the harsh winds that descend from the mountain slopes.
The position of the albarizas is also carefully selected. As well as being oriented towards the south and sheltered from the north winds, the structures are close to a body of water and far from each other.
Some of these rural constructions are still used to produce honey, particularly in the eastern mountain ranges of Ancares and Sierra do Courel. In Galicia, the villages near the coast begin to harvest honey from August onwards whereas inland areas begin in September.
The honey that is obtained is a mixed-flower mountain honey (Erica australis, Erica arborea, Erica cinerea, Calluna vulgaris, Castanea sativa, Rubius ulmifolius, Quercus robur and Tilia cordata) produced by the Iberian black bee Apis mellifera mellifera. It has a sweet flavour with acidic and salty notes; it has a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is a raw honey with a grainy consistency.
The relative abundance of these old buildings in the Galician region – dating from the 15th to 17th centuries – reveals the importance of beekeeping in these areas in the past, which is also reflected in the names of the places. Honey production in Galicia reached its peak before sugar was introduced, back when it was considered a foodstuff of great interest for its sweetening power and proven medicinal properties. In the past, most beekeepers shared ownership: each albariza could be owned by up to four people.
Some albarizas are still in use today, but in general terms the majority are in a state of serious disrepair, both because of the difficulty of comfortably accessing them and because of changes in the production of the honey. It is therefore important to encourage the preservation and recovery of these rural constructions. The "Asociación Galega de Apicultura" has presented a project called "Apiturismo Xacobeo 2021", whose main objective is to enhance and reuse the albarizas in Galicia.
However, albarizas are not exclusive to Galicia: they are also found in Asturias, where they are known as “cortinas”. Similar structures can be found in the Valle Roja, on the border between France and Italy. The honey made from “ca d’arbin” is also a product of the Ark of Taste.