History of Ons Island

Prehistory

The first evidence of settlers in Ons coincides with the Castro culture settlements during the Bronze Age. The most popular of these, which is yet to be excavated, is located over the Canexol neighbourhood and it is known as “Castelo dos Mouros”.

Recent archaeological works have brought the existence of several graphic representations or petroglyphs to light. They belong to a historical time between the 4th century BC and the 2nd century AD, which is almost unprecedented in other insular territories.

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Ancient History

Given that Romans used to settle in the already existent Celtic settlements, the lack of research regarding the Castro located in Canexol means that there are no records of Roman occupation on the Island either. However, Roman presence has been virtually confirmed by the recent discovery of an archaeological site in the area surrounding Canexol. Its location, structures and materials are linked to the exploitation of marine resources during Roman times.

Edad Media

La ocupación sueva y visigoda en Galicia no dejó rastro en Ons, pero los indicios existentes hacen intuir una despoblación total de territorio por culpa de los ataques de estos. La Isla de Ons aparece por primera vez en un documento en el año 899, cuando el rey Alfonso III dona la “Isla Aones” al Cabildo Compostelano.

A pesar de los ataques vikingos durante la Baja Edad Media, se conoció en la Isla un monasterio durante el siglo XV del que ya no queda evidencia y del que se desconoce si albergaba órdenes religiosas de forma estable o si sólo hicieron uso del mismo monjes del interior de la costa para retiros y meditación. Su situación se asocia a un sepulcro antropomorfo que se conserva en un islote en la playa de Area dos Cans, conocido como “Laxe do Crego”, datado en esta época y aunque ya no conserva la tapa, es visible en marea baja. Todo este conjunto histórico fue origen de leyendas populares entre los isleños.

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Contemporary Era

In the 16th century, the Church had given the Island as a feudal grant to the Montenegros, but the constant corsair and pirate attacks during the Middle Ages ¨meant that the Island became uninhabited in the 18th century. In 1819, the Armament and Defence Provincial Board decided to fortify the Island, so that the Montenegro’s property was safer.

The Pereiró fortresses, from which only some stones remain, and the one surrounding the “Castelo de Roda”, located near the dock, are the most relevant remains from this period. The increase of security allowed for the repopulation of the island. The land was parcelled up and the government ceded these plots for the islanders to farm on them in exchange for a tax.

In 1929, Manuel Riobó bought the Island and installed a company for drying and trading octopus and conger eel, which meant that the islanders specialised in these species. In 1940, the State expropriated the Island for national defence. Three years later, un 1943, the Ministry of Defence undertook it, intending to install a submarine base that was never built. During the 1940s and 1950s, Ons Island lived its most thriving period, with almost 500 inhabitants. Its progressive depopulation over 20 years’ time was caused by the lack of improvement of the life conditions for the islanders. This is similar to what happened on Cíes Islands. This came hand in hand with the tourism boom, especially relevant from the 1970s onwards. Today, Ons is the only Atlantic Island that still has a stable population, although there are fewer than 20 people living on the island.

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