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The Galo de Barcelos: Why Is Portugal’s Symbol a Rooster?

Updated: February 18, 2023

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Clay figures are the strongest artistic expression in the city of Barcelos, but it is, in fact, the Galo de Barcelos Rooster that stands out among the others. Here, local artist Luísa Barbosa shares the story behind this symbol you’ll spot throughout the country.

A legendary object based on a great Miracle story, it all started in Medieval times. 

There was a crime, and the situation shook all the city’s dwellers because the criminal could not be found. One day, a pilgrim passing through Barcelos was considered a suspect because no one believed that he was heading to Santiago de Compostela on a religious promise. Despite his oaths of innocence, the man was found guilty, and his sentence was to be hanged.

Knowing his verdict, he requested to be taken to the judge to speak one last time. They took the man to the magistrate’s house, who was at a banquet that night.

Asserting his innocence again, the pilgrim pointed to the Roast Rooster that was on the table and said, “It is as certain that I am innocent as this Rooster will crow again at the moment when I will be hanged”.

Besides this disbelief with such nonsense, those present did not eat the Rooster because this situation created a lot of laughter and comments, and who knows if the animal may come back to life.

Such was the incredulity the Rooster got up and began to crow. The judge quickly goes to the gallows to change his verdict, and the pilgrim is saved.

Galo de Barcelos
Galo de Barcelos / Canva

Nowadays, in Praça dos Condes de Barcelos near the emblematic castle, there is a monument with reference to this legend, with a tribute to Santiago and the Virgin Mary.

An easily understood legend that inspired a craftsman in the village of Galegos Santa Maria, the first rooster was created, and easily everyone identified with him. A symbol of simplicity and honesty for those whose faith always guides life.

The Rooster was quickly exposed at the Thursday fair, an event with more than 600 years where all kinds of things are found, from handicrafts, clothes and products from the countryside. Thousands of people easily visit this great and open stage, and from year to year, the Rooster grows in importance in the tourist sector.

Thus, its popularity grew from city to city, reaching various corners of the world and quickly becoming a Portuguese symbol. Any good Portuguese takes their Rooster from Barcelos in their suitcase, either to remember their homeland or simply to give as a gift to those around the world which warm our hearts.

Learn more: Discover the Black Pottery of Bisalhães with our introduction to the crafts and culture of Northern Portugal

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