We don’t know whether or not Marco Polo brought some camellias as a keepsake from China but if he did, he opened the way, unknowingly, for the first peregrine camellias which, centuries later, illuminate the Galician winter and landscape, as well as the Galician soul, on a route from pazo to pazo, from one garden to another.
The Portuguese were the first ones to introduce into Galicia the Orient’s enigmatic beauty in the form of these subtle and delicate tea flowers, which were known as camellias after 1735. The Chinese used them to try to trick the English because their buds, as beautiful as they are, can’ t be used for adding flavour to boiling water.
The Chinese, who had a 2000-year advantage as far as tea was concerned, were prepared to protect the secret of the infusion process at any price, so they would offer them the flowers, and keep the leaves for themselves.
However, the English didn’t yield an inch; they had discoveredthat there was considerably less risk of scurvy on the ships in which tea was consumed, -in the course of time it became clear that this phenomenon was the result of vitamin C in the leaves- something which Chinese sailors had known about for centuries. And while the English and Dutch devoted themselves enthusiastically to the study of the properties of the leaves, the discarded flowers travelled aboard their ships to London and Lisbon. It was from these places that the “tea flowers” found their way into Galicia, having been re-named camellias in honour of a Jesuit missionary.
Later, Chanel chose them as the epitome of elegance, as a reminder perhaps of those camellias which might very well have travelled with Marco Polo along the silk route -could there be any other way? And in this way Galicia came to own the only route in Europe which is specifically devoted to the contemplation of more than 8.000 varieties of camellias which flourish in the streets, plazas, and villages.
Camellias came from the Orient; but they are Galician.
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