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Santiago de Compostela

 Compostela, the Capital of the West 

santiago turismogalicia

More than 1000 years ago, people from all over the old world began to travel towards far away Finisterre... Their goal lay there in a verdant country of rain, fog and granite where round St James the apostle’s tomb the capital of the West was founded, the third of Christendom’s holy cities: Compostela.

At the beginning of the ninth century, the hermit Pelayo saw in a wood near the present - day Church of San Fiz de Solovio mysterious lights and music. He called on the bishop Teodomiro, who found in the place St James the apostle’s tomb, whose body had been brought to Galicia by his disciples.

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Alfonso the second, the Chaste, ordered a church to be built round the apostle’s tomb. Since then people, irrelevant of origin or nature, arrived in Santiago to kneel before the apostle bringing with them as gift language and culture from far away places, the source of ideas, inventions and history.

Santiago, today capital of Galicia, dwelling place of the Patron Saint of Spain, is capital of Europe too and here - like in Rome - all roads converge.

By one of these roads, the Old French Road, the famous road to Santiago, we arrived in Santiago. And if the pilgrim had as his immediate objective the great Cathedral of St James we will go there after having visited the most important monuments that grew up around the cathedral through its influence and fruit of a faith than made mountains of stone rise up in a land situated at the edge of the known world.

Let’s begin to discover the Jacobean capital, the capital of the land of St James, round the old centre of the walls, whose fortress is nowadays only a memory.

We will pay a special attention to:

santiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciaThe Collegiate of the Sar, one of the most wonderful monuments of the Galicia Romanesque with side buttresses added in the eighteenth century to avoid the collapse of the temple because of the height of the naves and the poor foundations.

santiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciaBonaval, was founded by St Domingo in 1220. The baroque façade and the original spiral staircase were designed by the architect Domingo de Andrade. Inside, the museum of the Galician people is to be found and in the church the burial place of famous Galicians.

santiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogalicia

santiago turismogaliciaSan Francisco was founded by Poverello of Asis at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

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And the Herradura, a beautiful place for surveying the old part of Santiago.


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santiago turismogaliciaThe Faxeira gate used to be the main entrance into Santiago. The Porta do Camiño (Entrance Gate) or Francígena, the entrance for pilgrims... we get into the old Compostela by the only one of the seven doors that have resisted the pass of time: Mazarelos. According to the Code of Calixtus the wonderful Bacchus, the wine from the Ribeiro and Ulla, entered the city from this door.

santiago turismogalicia

The University of Santiago dates from the beginning of the sixteenth century. The style of university city is given by the old buildings that existed a long time ago that still today function as the offices of the University and the thousands of young men and women that give Santiago a different character by the contrast of their youth and the stone severity of the environment.

The traveller can have a clear idea that the city is waiting for him. Its big or small shops, its hotels... its administrative and political role as the capital of a two-million people community, its wonderful gastronomy... is cosmopolitan aspect and the unchangeable character of the old city.

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The Rúa Nueva (New Street) was already called like that in the twelfth century... Rúa Nueva and Villar are the most characteristic streets in Santiago... both of them meet at the Plaza del Toral (Toral square) through the Palacio de los Marqueses de Bendaña where there is a statue of Atlas on top holding the world.

santiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciaThis is the great square of Santiago, called Obradoiro. Everything in Santiago and also Galicia itself revolves round this magnificent square. And what is more, Europe is tied to Galicia by the Compostela Pilgrims way, which ends here in Santiago in the stone of Obradoiro.

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On the northern side of the square is the Royal Hospital, founded by the Catholic Kings as a hospice for the pilgrims.

Today it is one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe. Gothic, Renaissance and baroque appear in the magnificent building known today as the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos. Four patios with two fountains surprise the traveller.

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To the West the Palace built on the orders of Archbishop Raxoy for Seminary of Confessors. Today it is the City Council of Santiago and the Presidency of the autonomic government of Galicia.

To the South we can find St Jerónimo, today the University Rectorship.

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And to the East, the great Cathedral, with its façade of the Obradoiro. But before stopping at the Obradoiro, let’s see the immediate setting of the first monument of the capital of Occident.





santiago turismogaliciaThe Plaza de Platerías (Platerías Square) gets its name from the silversmiths that work here. Casa del Deán, Casa del Cabildo, Fuente de los Caballos (Fountain of the Horses) close the square that meets at the only Romanic façade that the Cathedral preserves, although deeply modified throughout the centuries.

santiago turismogaliciaWe follow our route along the Quintana, divided into Quintana of the living and Quintana of the dead, which is limited by the Casa de los Canónigos de Compostela, the famous Casa de la Parra, the monastery of St Payo de Antealtares. The Cathedral opens its Saint Door or Pardon Door to the Quintana. This door dates from the beginning of the seventeenth century and can only be crossed in holy years.

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In memory of the artisans of jet, the street and the square still keep the name Azabachería.

santiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciaThe façade of the cathedral towards this square, neo - classic, from the middle of the eighteenth century was the first view the pilgrims had of the temple of the apostle.

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In front of the Cathedral is St Martin Pinario, the second church in Compostela.



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This arch forms part of the palace ordered to be built by the archbishop of Santiago in 1120 after it had been destroyed by an armed peasants’ uprising.

Jewel of the Romanesque, Santiago Cathedral was begun in the eleventh century by Bishop Diego Peláez. A central axis of 97 metres and a transverse one of 65 metres form a Latin cross in one of the most important basilicas in Christendom.

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Facing West, the Cathedral shows the Obradoiro façade completed in 1750. The baroque whole is considered one of the most important in the world. Under the flight of steps which give access to the main part of the Great Cathedral we find the Old Cathedral. Here Master Mateo had to do some important works of infrastructure so that it could withstand the weight of the Porch of Glory (Pórtico de la Gloria).

santiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciaAt the end of the twelfth century Master Mateo built for the Glory of God the most beautiful of his porches which is called The Porch of Glory. It is believed to represent the Last Judgement. At the centre of the porch is the figure of Christ the King. Around him are the four Evangelists, and at the base of the tympanum are eight angels carrying instruments.

santiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciaIn the archivolt are the twenty - four elders of the Apocalypse with musical instruments talking among themselves. On the central column are the tree of David and the image of the apostle St James (Santiago). There are also the prints of five fingers left by millions of pilgrims’ hands throughout 800 years of pilgrimages.

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In the interior of the Cathedral everything is surprising...

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the burial place of the kings... the chapel of the relics... Archive... Museum... The main chapel is a collection of gold, silver, marble and precious woods whose main focal point is a canopy with a staircase where it is traditional to go to embrace the apostle. We descend a narrow staircase to the crypt (the lower part of a Roman mausoleum from the first century A. D.) where the remains of the apostle are to be found.

santiago turismogaliciasantiago turismogaliciaBelow the dome is the mechanical device from which hangs the famous botafumeiro, a giant incense burner one and a half metres high. It has been used since the early twelfth century for the worship of the apostle but also to purify and perfume the cathedral as it was visited by hundreds of travellers and pilgrims.

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For this page the botafumeiro swung through the naves of the Galicians’ cathedral, the Great Cathedral of the West. And as on any other day, just like a thousand years ago, emotion overcomes the pilgrim and the onlooker, the devout and the unbeliever, he is overcome by the great monument that is Compostela, by the faith turned into stone by the cathedral.

We have been to Santiago. We have walked through the monumental city. We have visited he Cathedral of the Capital of the West. Now we are leaving. And we do so with the conviction that the author Cunqueiro gave us:

  ‘The pilgrim knows that the Saint follows him with his soft, comforting gaze’.