Year after year, thousands of people decide to make the world-famous pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. As we have already mentioned, many people do sections every year to complete it little by little. The most awaited moment is to arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago where the Way comes to an end. This city in the northeast of Spain will conquer you as you walk through its streets, discovering its churches, palaces and monasteries. Without a doubt, visiting Santiago de Compostela is to relive in first person the history of one of the most important cities in Spain. In previous articles we have talked to you about the Camino de Santiago and some of its sections.
In this article, we will focus on the main points of cultural interest that you should not miss when visiting the capital of Galicia.
Santiago de Compostela, a World Heritage city
In 1985, Santiago was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Among the reasons for this distinction are its urban beauty and the incredible work for the conservation of its monuments. In addition, this city is famous for being the sanctuary of the apostle Saint James and for being the end of the Way of Saint James.
The starting point to visit the city is the Plaza de Obradoiro. This has always been the epicenter of the city’s activity, since over the years it has maintained its privilege as a cultural and monumental center to receive and welcome the pilgrims who make the Way.
The Obradoiro Square owes part of its charm to the buildings that surround it, which represent religion, administration, education and hospitality to the pilgrim. These represent the fundamental pillars of the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The building that represents the religion is the Cathedral. The Santa Apostólica y Metropolitana Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela owes its fame to being the tomb of the Apostle Santiago. Therefore, pilgrims from all over the world visit it to pay their respects to the Saint.
As impressive for its facade as for the interior, entering through the Puerta de Platerías you will reach the interior. Inside is one of the most representative symbols of the city, the Botafumeiro. This is located in the upper part of the High Altar, where you can admire its great dimension: 1.5 meters high and 62 kilos in weight. This silver-plated vessel is anchored to a sixty-meter rope in the central part of the cathedral.
Driven by a group of eight men called tiraboleiros, the Botafumeiro moves like a pendulum around the Cathedral until it reaches speeds of almost 70 kilometers per hour. During this journey, it releases 400 grams of charcoal and burned incense, filling the cathedral with a deep and warm smell, representative of the temples.
Before leaving the Cathedral, it is typical to go to embrace the statue of the Apostle. This is how the joy of being in the Cathedral is expressed. In addition, due to the strategic elevated point where the Saint is located, you will be able to enjoy incredible panoramic views of the entire nave.
When you leave the interior of the Cathedral, observe the clock of the tower. On the large marble sphere, you will only see a hand that marks the minutes. The bells are in charge of telling the hour. As a curiosity, the original bell is on display in the Cathedral museum and weighs no less than 14 tons.
It is said that this tower was like a lighthouse for the pilgrims who were approaching Santiago, since from the darkness of the night it guided them to the northern city. You can take a night walk to the Parque de la Herradura and enjoy the incredible views of the Cathedral as the protagonist of the city.
Another building that we will find in the Obradoiro square is the Raxoi Palace. This building from 1766 was built by Archbishop Raxoi to give shelter to the young people who will study at the seminary. Curiously, years later it became a prison.
The Pazo de San Xerome is located in the same square and represents the pillar of education. That is why if you look at its wall you will see the Tree of Science. This curious tree is visited by students who are not clear about which academic branch they want to focus their university career. According to the story, those who are undecided should turn their backs on the tree and point their finger at random. In this way, the tree will tell them their vocation.
The last building that frames the square is the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos. Currently, it is one of the most exclusive and well preserved Paradors in Spain, but in its time it was a place to give shelter to the pilgrims of the Camino. In Galiwonders, we offer superior alternatives for pilgrims who want to spend the night in this wonderful place.
Walking down the streets and leaving the Plaza de Obradoiro in the background, you will find the Monastery of San Martiño. Founded in the 10th century, it houses great treasures such as the vault or the main altarpiece.
Another stop we recommend is the Plaza de la Quintana, which is divided into Quintan dos Mortos and Quintana dos vivos. Clearly you can see the division in the square due to its two separate heights of stairs. As you may have guessed, the nomenclature is due to the fact that hundreds of years ago, the lower part was a cemetery.
This square is also known as “Plaza de los Literarios”, commemorating the students who defended their city against Napoleon in the War of Independence. Without a doubt, this square is home to magic and stories worth knowing.
On one of the side walls that close the square, you will find the Monastery of San Paio. This Baroque building from the 9th century was founded by Alfonso II together with twelve Benedictine monks to care for and worship the tomb of the Apostle.
A few minutes away, you will find the Plaza de Cervantes. This square has been very versatile over the years, but perhaps its darkest side was when the Spanish Inquisition was administering justice in its center. If you like these kinds of stories, don’t hesitate to take a free tour of Santiago de Compostela and learn about all its mysteries from a local guide.
Don’t forget the local gastronomy
An obligatory stop to give a whim to our palate is the historical Mercado de Abastos. Considered among the five best markets in Spain, it will surprise you with its variety of fresh local seafood. Don’t leave without buying oysters, clams or barnacles, as well as the products sold by the “pimenteiras”.
If you decide to stop and eat at the market, you will have to go to aisle number five, where we recommend you also try a good Galician wine accompanied by octopus and oysters. In these small stalls, you will find great Galician chefs of recognition who will surprise you with their technique and the best raw materials.
Santiago de Compostela offers history, culture, art and gastronomy in the same city, which has always been famous for the hospitality of its people over the years. Whether you are walking the Camino or planning to visit Galicia, this city is a must see. Galiwonders is waiting for you so that you too can get to know this wonderful city. Contact us to ask for your tailor-made itinerary. Buen Camino!