The introduction of chestnut cultivation in Galicia is linked to the arrival of Roman legions in the first century AD, at the time of Emperor Augustus. Chestnut groves spread considerably, changing the Galician landscape. The fall of the Empire marked the beginning of a period of decline in their management that lasted until the Reconquista, which ended in the late 15th century with the definitive expulsion of the Moorish governments from the Iberian Peninsula.
The chestnut tree spread in parallel with the expansion of vines on the lands that were being reconquered. Chestnut cultivation reached its peak during this period, partly because of the obligation to allocate the hillsides to vineyards and the upper parts to chestnut trees for timber production. There are numerous documents in the monasteries of the Benedictine and Cistercian orders on the cultivation of the chestnut tree, particularly in Celanova in the lands of A Limia, Verín and Ramirás.
So chestnuts spread widely across Galicia in the 16th and 17th centuries, giving rise to the deveopment of numerous native varieties adapted to the mountain environments. From the 17th century onwards, chestnuts were sold through a network of markets and fairs that spread throughout Europe. Despite the threat of pathogens, chestnut groves today maintain an important presence in inland regions, where natural conditions are less favorable to the development of diseases.
The importance of chestnut groves is reflected in Galician toponymy (place names) and anthroponymy (personal names), as well as in various studies on the Galician agricultural landscape, including Abel Bouhier’s "La Galicia. A geographical essay on the analysis and interpretation of an old agricultural complex" (1973). Alexandre Dumas wrote in his novel Recollections of the Journey from Paris to Cadiz (1847): "France is known for its truffles, Castile for its olives, Catalonia for its plums and Galicia for its chestnuts."
In addition to the abundance of historical references to the crop in Galicia, irrefutable proof of its importance comes from the existence of numerous ancient chestnut trees. These specimens bear witness to the importance of this species throughout history in economic and cultural development. Examples are the chestnut trees of Catasós or the chestnut tree of Verea, in Ourense, which has nine trunks growing from a 10-meter (33-feet) stump. In the parish of San Cristovo de Armariz, in the municipality of Nogueira de Ramuín, grows a chestnut tree over a century old which has a circumference of 16 meters (52 feet).
The local chestnuts have a thin, light-brown, shiny epicarp and a thin episperm that separates easily when the chestnut is peeled. With their sweet flavor and firm texture, they have long been an essential element of Galician mountain cuisine, eaten roasted or cooked in broth or with milk.
The Magosto festival, held in November in Ourense, is a famous celebration marking the change in the agricultural cycle. Chestnuts and wine symbolize death and life in this religious festival.