Domingo Fontán and the ‘Geometric Map of Galicia’

Domingo Fontán was responsible for the first concrete, scientific and realistic image of Galicia through cartography. Before the publication of his famous topographic map in the mid-nineteenth century, the territory occupied by the Community had been drawn on multiple occasions, but never with that degree of detail and accuracy. The task took Fontán many years to complete, but it secured him a place of honour in Galician cultural memory and a spot in the Pantheon of Illustrious Galicians.

In fact, Fontán’s remains (Portas, 1788-Cuntis, 1866) were buried in this place, located in the church of the San Domingos de Bonaval monastery in Compostela, in 1988. This illustrious man from Pontevedra shares this space, therefore, with the most famous of Galician intellectuals: Rosalía de Castro, Alfredo Brañas, Francisco Asorey, Castelao or Ramón Cabanillas also have their resting place within these rooms, a place of remembrance for the achievements of the most prominent Galicians.

Domingo Fontán was born in the fertile valley of Portas¸ very close to Caldas de Reis (Pontevedra), to a well-off family. After studying Philosophy, Science and Theology in Santiago, he became a professor at what was the only university in existence in Galicia. In 1817 he began working on what would be his masterpiece: measuring and stamping the entirety of the Galician territory in what would come to be known as the Geometric Chart of Galicia. He would not finish it until 1834.

It takes some effort to recreate the hardship of the works that the enlightened Fontán had to go through to carry out the project. He travelled Galicia from north to south, from east to west, for nearly two decades, often on foot, on horseback or by car at times, reaching territories that are still difficult to access nowadays, armed with the measuring tools of the time and facing, on occasion, the reluctance of countrymen.

“Drawn up and built on a scale of one-hundred-thousandth by Dr. Domingo Fontán”, as its title reads, the Chart would still have to go through more vicissitudes before becoming the symbol it is today. After the author presented it in 1834 to the then queen regent María Cristina de Borbón-Dos Sicilias, the print would still take a decade to be completed. It was only in 1845 that it left Paris ready to enlighten the minds of at least a few citizens who had curiosity and money enough. Today there are copies in several Galician institutions and regarding them is a feast for the eyes thanks to the detail that the author achieved in his day.

Fontán, who died in the spa in the town of Cuntis, was just about everything in the last stretch of his life: liberal deputy of Pontevedra in Madrid, owner of one of the first paper factories in Galicia, developer of the railway track between Compostela and Carril, the first one to connect the territory… In what was once his house, in Porta do Conde, in Portas, you can still see a large marble plate which recalls the contributions he made to the progress of the land he lived in.

 

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