On a custom-made hill, as if it were a pedestal, Somao comes to dominate the Asturian landscape with the somewhat strange air of belonging to another time and place. And it was precisely in another time when many of his countrymen achieved their dream of making a fortune in America, using part of his American money to build ostentatious houses in his hometown. Although Indian architecture is present throughout the Asturian geography, Somao, along with towns such as Colombres, is considered the town with the highest concentration of houses in indianos of the entire autonomous community. His extemporaneous «Skyline» attracts us from afar and encourages us to get to know him.
Until the year 2020, this town of just three hundred inhabitants (located just 5 kilometers from Cudillero) went somewhat unnoticed, but your election as Exemplary Town 2020 by the Princess of Asturias Foundation (for the defense and conservation of its natural environment, its historical, cultural and artistic heritage) gave him great notoriety and placed him on the tourist map of Asturias. Now, the interest in his Indian legacy takes on a new value under the gaze of the general public.
Somao Story: The Legacy of Emigrants
The visitor fully faces the beauty of its Indian constructions. A style that is not really a style nor can it be ascribed to a single typology. With their transatlantic fortunes, the Indianos spared no expense to see the house built that only they had in mind. So we talk about an exotic architecture that alludes in the first place to the condition and taste of its promoters and not to a certain current. The Indianos hired the best professionals to carry out their projects; posh architects and builders who were capable of extracting, among all the trends of their time, the archetypes that the promoter of the fifth was looking for. So if there is an Indian style, this is necessarily eclectic, a mix of English, French, Italian and regional models, also an assortment of newer resources from the Modernism and, in some cases, elements and techniques from transoceanic constructions.
American money was used as a means to differentiate themselves from the rest of the population. The high economic status had to be very clear in these buildings. In addition, there was a need to locate the house on exclusive land, on promontories with visual dominance over the immediate surroundings and, if possible, with sea views. And from Somao it is possible to see the sea, since it is a village in the council of Pravia literally hanging on the coast of Muros del Nalón, from which it is barely a kilometer away.
But in addition to its magnificent mansions, other public buildings promoted by the Indianos also enjoy unbeatable views, such as the Schools (1925), the Benefic School Cinema (1920) or the church (1903). They also paid for the bringing of water, fountains, washing places, roads and the local park. Somao was even at the forefront of infrastructure, having been one of the first towns in Asturias to enjoy electricity, thanks, of course, to its benefactors from America.
Indian walk through Somao
Indian houses they distil the romantic, idealistic and generous spirit with which they were conceived, and approaching them is always an aesthetic pleasure. Although each one is different and unique, they all stand out for their gardens, for their access stairs, for the nobility and innovation of their materials (wood, ceramics...), for their towers, their large glass-enclosed galleries, the colorful palette of their facades and the presence of one or several palm trees - an exotic symbol of his fortune on the other side of the pond.
Authentic jewels that we will find In perfect state of conservation but since it is privately owned, we can only admire it from the outside. At the door of each one of them there is a panel detailing the date of construction, the name of its promoter and other information of interest.
In Somao it is possible to undertake a simple indian route and get closer to each of these houses but also to other more traditional buildings and many other places of interest. The tour can be started anywhere, although the most common is leave the car in the park area and take the church of Santa Eulalia itself as the starting point, very close to schools and the old cinema. The first Indiana house that we find in this environment is the marciel, from 1910. Built by Jesús Solís, it has a square plan and French influences, it is tiled with pink tiles. A few meters further on is located the House of the Tower or Yellow House (1912), nicknamed Somao's Eiffel Tower for its height and slenderness. Its silhouette can be recognized from any point near the town and it is, without a doubt, one of the emblems of Indian culture in Asturias. It was commissioned by Fermín Martínez (a resident of Somao who emigrated to the Cuban city of Caibarién at a very young age), and carried out by Manuel del Busto (a renowned architect who signed works such as the Palacio Valdés theater in Avilés, or the Asturian Center in La Havana). It is located on a promontory, which makes it appear even higher than it actually is.
Walking a few minutes along the road we arrive at The Noceus, the germ of Somao's Indian architecture. José Menéndez Viña, its owner, left in the middle of the 14th century and at the age of XNUMX, first to Madrid, then to Paris, and from there to Cuba. He returned to Asturias still young, with a considerable fortune, and began expanding what was his birthplace: the Noceo, reforming his family's original home with colonial elements. Also located in the upper part of Somao, it still preserves the furniture and many original objects and documents of the time. Its gardens preserve plants and shrubs from the times when the house was built and its emblematic granary is one of the greatest attractions of Somadense. This mansion is followed by La Cochera, the old house of the servants of El Noceo and converted into tourist accommodation, La Marroquina and La Casina, which once housed a school. And in front of the latter we come across The big house, an impressive palace protected by a giant sequoia. Its façade facing the sea has an imposing staircase and a large gallery on cast iron columns. It was built in 1900 by Gabino Álvarez, nephew of Menéndez Viña. On his farm there is also the outstanding Chapel-Pantheon, one of the most recognizable enclaves of the town for its beautiful modernist style and its striking blue dome. A jewel of funerary architecture from the beginning of the XNUMXth century. On the ground floor is the chapel and in the basement the tombs, where its owner, among others, is buried.
The list of Indian houses in Somao is extensive, and others were added to the first ones founded, such as La Generala, Villa Radis (house with gardens and spectacular views), the House of Doña Basilisa, the House of the Columns, the House of La Peña… they were all built with Indian capital and we will find them on our tour.
But in addition to the Indian Somao, we will enjoy at the same time the Somao genuinely Asturian, that of rural architecture, with its granaries, haystacks and bread baskets, its laundry rooms or its fountains, some of which predate the Indian legacy, which are called "regueiro" or spring, which even today have a great tradition of use. One of the best known is the Las Abedules fountain, located in a beautiful setting that invites us to a new walk.
A museum on the way
In the gardens of the aforementioned tourist accommodation La Cochera is The Cuadrona, one of the most interesting private collections of contemporary asturian art, exposed in a large, welcoming and open-plan space.
Toto Castañón, one of its owners, was director of the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias. His eagerness for collecting and an excellent knowledge of Asturian painting have managed to form this wonderful art gallery. Although they are mostly paintings, it is also possible to approach other collections of posters, ceramics, gramophones, books, typewriters, and ethnographic objects. In the garden, iron sculptures are exhibited that pay homage to the work of well-known artists, such as Las Meninas by Velázquez.
What to see in Somao?
Somao gives a lot of himself and his attractions are numerous. In the first place, because the town itself is a great vantage point with incredible views, both to the Cantabrian Sea and to the mouth of the Nalón River between the towns of San Esteban de Pravia and San Juan de la Arena.
In the surroundings of Somao there are also two fabulous viewpoints from which we can obtain an even higher panoramic view of the entire area: the Monteagudo viewpoint and the Alto de La Peñona viewpoint (near the latter, and with prior reservation, we can visit the La Peñona artisanal cheese factory, specialized in the elaboration of afuega'l pitu cheese). Both viewpoints can be accessed by car (although the last meters from Monteagudo, uphill, must be done on foot) and both have recreational areas.
If we go to the town at the end of August, coinciding with the festival of Santa Eulalia, we can also admire the stupendous salt mats and floral decorations with which the residents decorate the streets.
Guided tours of Somao
During the summer (September included), there are free guided tours of this rich Indian heritage that begin at mid-morning. The visit is free and the meeting point is the parking lot of the town park. Both for this exterior visit and to access the Cuadrona museum, a prior reservation is necessary:
Phone: 985 82 12 04 (Tourist Office)
The rest of the year, out of high season, free guided tours of the architectural complex continue to take place, also under prior reservation.