Couto Misto Landscape

Couto Misto, the small country that existed between Portugal and Spain

Couto Misto (Couto Mixto in Galician) was a small country that existed for around 800 years, located on the border between Portugal and Spain, between Montalegre in Portugal and Ourense in the Galicia region in Spain.

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The story

With around 27 km2, it was made up of the three villages of Santiago de Rubiás, Rubiás and Meaus, which had a population of around 1000 inhabitants in the XNUMXth century.

The region had its own laws and did not pay allegiance to either crown.

Location of Couto Misto Public Domain Credit via Wikimedia Commons
Location of Couto Misto; Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Couto Mixto (in Galician) had its own history and culture, which gave it an identity different from that of its Portuguese and Spanish neighbors.

Tourem Rio Salas; Credit Correia PM, via Wikimedia Commons
Tourem and Rio Salas; Credit Correia PM via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most notable characteristics of Couto Misto was its government system, based on a popular assembly called Assembly or Men of Agreement, which elected a Judge annually from among the heads of families.

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All decisions were made in the public square by residents.

The Judge of Couto Misto was the maximum representative and had executive, legislative and judicial powers.

He used a staff as a symbol of his authority and could grant asylum to fugitives from Portuguese or Spanish justice.

Couto Misto had a very special relationship with Portugal and Spain, which recognized a certain autonomy, granting several privileges, such as exemption from taxes and fees owed to both Crowns, as well as agricultural or commercial restrictions.

Furthermore, its inhabitants could choose Portuguese, Spanish or both nationalities, or none at all, without losing their rights as mixed peoples.

If they did not have Portuguese or Spanish nationality, they were not obliged to do military service, nor could they be recruited in the event of war.

Couto Misto also had its own flag and anthem, as well as its own postage stamps.

Bandeita Couto Misto Source Cgnk via Wikimedia Commons
Flag of Couto Misto; Credit: Cgnk via Wikimedia Commons

In this small country, the road that connected the three villages of Rubiás, Meaus and Santiago to Torém was called Path of Privilege.

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Path of Privilege Credito Galicia Máxica
Path of Privilege; Credit: Galicia Máxica

Anyone could pass along this road with any type of merchandise, even contraband, especially tobacco, salt, medicines, sugar, cod or soap.

No authority could arrest anyone who carried out this transport.

There were criminals who fled to Couto Misto and, even if they were wanted by Portuguese or Spanish justice, they could not be arrested or deprived of their wealth and rights as long as they resided in Couto Misto, that is, a kind of “offshore” from medieval times. .

The origin of Couto Misto dates back to the XNUMXth century, when the borders between Portugal and Leão were established unclearly.

According to a legend, Couto Misto owed its independence to an exiled princess who took refuge in the region and who was saved by the local inhabitants during a snowstorm. In gratitude, the princess would have granted her rescuers the freedom to govern themselves.

Meaus Village; Credit: Correia PM, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Meaus Village; Credit: Correia PM via Wikimedia Commons

The End of Privileges and Couto Misto (Mixto)

In 1864, Portugal and Spain signed the Treaty of Lisbon, which defined the borders between the two countries, ending the existence of Couto Misto.

The treaty divided the territory of Couto Misto between Spain, which kept the three villages of Rubiás, Meaus and Santiago, leaving Portugal with the uninhabited strip, which, being a smaller area, still got Soutelinho, Lamadarcos and Cambedo as compensation.

The inhabitants then lost all their privileges and had to adapt to the laws of the countries to which they belonged.

Church of Cambedo da Raia Credito Estevoaei via Wikimedia Commons
Cambedo da Raia Church; Credit: Estevoaei via Wikimedia Commons

Couto Misto, a forgotten country between Portugal and Spain, which left a historical and cultural legacy that is still remembered today by its descendants and curious visitors who visit the region.

It was an example of peaceful coexistence, participatory democracy and mixed identity in a Europe marked by conflicts and nationalism.

Commemorative plaque, Santiago de Rubiás Church, Couto Misto Credito Correia PM, via Wikimedia Commons
Commemorative plaque, Santiago de Rubiás Church, Couto Misto; Credit: Correia PM via Wikimedia Commons


Couto Misto, an existence so fascinating and unknown to so many Portuguese and Spanish people, who ignore its history.

Be sure to pay a visit next time.

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