Guide to Santiago de Compostela – Galicia, Basque Country (Pais Vasco), Spain
Santiago de Compostela is Galicia’s most famous city with a documented history dating back to the ninth century.
Its fame initially spread after the discovery of the tomb of the apostle Saint James and the establishment of a series of pilgrimages to visit his remains, the most noteworthy of which commences in France. From that time on, Santiago expanded and developed and is now the region’s foremost city with an internationally famous old town, at the centre of which is its intricate and monumental cathedral, dedicated to Saint James.
Old and awe-inspiring buildings really do abound in Santiago, but the cathedral takes centre stage and can be seen from any point in the town. Situated on the large Obradoiro square, the cathedral has two slender and highly ornate towers pointing skyward above a largely elevated portico which you can reach by climbing one of two flights of granite stairs. Either side of its impressive entrance are the cathedral’s large four-storey wings which extend outwards and demand attention through their size alone.
On entering the cathedral very few tourists will be disappointed. The detailing and masonry work that was evident on the building’s main facade continues within.
A large number of visitors enter the cathedral with the aim of seeing the apostle’s crypt and touching a religious artefact behind the main altar. If you wish to do this then expect to queue, but if all you want to do is admire the grandiose cloisters and chapels, you can walk around at your leisure.
Impressive though the cathedral is, it has its rivals, both in scale and architectural detailing and three of those rivals are also situated on the Obradoiro square.
Places to see in Santiago de Compostela
Hostal dos Reis Catolicos
Claims to be the oldest hotel in the world. Today it is a luxury state-run Parador and sits on the square to the right of the cathedral. Guided tours of this building are available.
Directly facing the cathedral is the Rajoy palace. This building equals the span of Santiago’s cathedral and has a multi-arched colonnade that runs the length of the palace’s frontal facade. In the past, this building acted as a home to the cathedral employees and priests as well as being the town hall and even the local prison. Today it is the centre of the Galician parliament but still retains its town hall status.
To the left of the square lies the college of St. Jerome which connects into the sixteenth-century college of Fonseca. If you want the best possible view of all these buildings you need to buy a museum pass to the cathedral. This pass gives you access to the crypt and also a cloistered balcony that looks out over the main square affording great views of its buildings and also the old town to the cathedral’s left.
Several other historic buildings are also worth a look and nearly all are within an easy walking distance of the cathedral. Of particular note are two further iconic examples of religious architecture, the Convent de San Paio de Antealtares and the equally grand Monastery of St Martino Pinario, but in truth, every corner you turn in this old town throws up another spectacular example of Gothic or Romanesque architectural design.
This guide was kindly provided by Martin Lambert, author of the Galicia Guide. If you would like to see more information about Santiago de Compostela please visit his web page at www.galiciaguide.com/Santiago-index.html