World Heritage Site since 1985, for centuries Santiago de Compostela has attracted visitors and pilgrims from all over the world. It is Galicia’s most cosmopolitan city, but it takes it in a matter-of-fact way, which is why from the very beginning you feel like you are a part of it. Here you have everything.
In the history quarter, the Cathedral and Pórtico de la Gloria. Symbolic squares such the Obradoiro, Quintana and O Toural. Dozens of churches, convents and palaces. Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. And stores, bars, restaurants and a lovely food market overflowing with fresh goods.
Visitors to Santiago should not miss the opportunity to explore the roof of the Cathedral. This visit was already recommended in the mediaeval Calixtine Codex as the best way of appreciating its splendid beauty. We are also offered magnificent views over most of the historic centre and new part of the city, as well as the surrounding area, from Mount Pedroso to Mount O Gozo, making it an exceptional lookout point.
From above, Santiago becomes easier to understand, becoming at once more true to life and more mythical. On the roof we may see the Cruz dos Farrapos, under which mediaeval pilgrims burned their old walking clothes, in a type of ritual of purification. It is also the perfect location to see the different constructive stages of the cathedral and the different architectural styles used until achieving the exquisite final result.
We start our route from the Park of San Domingos de Bonaval, a former farm and cemetery belonging to a Dominican convent. It offers surprising views to the east, over the roofs of the monumental zone. Next to the park is the Pantheon of Illustrious Galicians (with the tombs of Rosalía de Castro, Brañas, Astorey, Cabanillas, Fontán and Castelao), and the Ethnographic Museum of the Galician People, which includes an exceptional Baroque spiral staircase. Next to these buildings are the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art, by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza.
Through the Zona Vella…
We continue along Valle Inclán Street, until reaching San Roque Street, site of the old Baroque Hospital, with a beautiful porch and cloister, next to the old Porta da Pena, through where we enter the old town. We then walk down Algalia de Arriba Street, which once contained most of the student residences until well into the twentieth century. On reaching number 27 we find a thirteenthcentury Gothic tower on four floors with a majestic air, which includes decorative elements in some of its windows. We then turn left into the alleyway known as the Calella dos Truques, and then onto Algalia de Abaixo Street, an area with a lively nightlife together with the neighbouring streets. At number 29 we find the oldest house in the whole city, dating from the eleventh or twelfth century, a fine example of mediaeval architecture with overhanging floors. In front of it is the Baroque Amarante mansion. We are now traversing the most traditional part of Compostela: Entremuros, Oliveira Street and the Irmáns Gómez Square, finally arriving at the doors of the church of Santo Agostiño, missing a tower that was demolished by lightning in the eighteenth century.
From City’s Marketplace to Belvís…
Next to it is the City’s Marketplace, vibrant and full of typical local products well worth a visit, particularly on Thursdays and Saturdays. Here is where farmers from the surrounding areas bring the items they cultivate and produce. It also sells the freshest fish and magnificent meat and fruits. Alongside the market is the church of San Fiz de Solovio, with a glorious Romanesque portal, where the hermit lived who discovered the Apostle’s tomb. In front is the building of the Literary University today the Geography and History faculty. Walking around it we reach the Mazarelos Square, which contains the only remaining gateway of the old city walls, where wine was brought in to the city. Crossing through the arch we reach the streets of Patio de Madres and Castrón Douro, and then on to the traditional neighbourhood of Sar to visit the Collegiate Church of Santa María de Sar, a Romanesque church with a thirteenth-century cloister. It features surprising walls and inclined pillars that support the naves, strengthened from the outside by solid buttresses. We return through the streets of Camiño da Ameixaga and Andújar, offering an extensive panorama over the old town, to then reach the Baroque convent of Belvís and the park of the same name, a large open space next to the monumental zone, which includes a number of allotments.
Entering through the Camino de Santiago…
We then walk up the alleyway of A Tafona, which leads to the street of Virxe da Cerca, close to the Porta do Camiño, where pilgrims enter the city from the French Way, which continues within the old town along the street of Casas Reais or ‘Royal Houses’, which received this name after Juana the Mad and Felipe the Handsome spent a night there in 1512. Other interesting features in this street are the neoclassic church of As Ánimas and the eighteenth-century Fondevila mansion. We then enter Cervantes Square, with the neoclassic church of San Bieito and two Baroque mansions, one of which once contained the Town Hall. We then take the lane known as the Calella de Xerusalén and come out into the Square of San Martiño Pinario, with the magnificent façade of the convent of the same name, next to which is a magnificent Baroque twin staircase. We then continue along Moeda Vella Street and then arrive at the Inmaculada Square, containing the main façade of the convent, the largest in Galicia, and northern façade of the Cathedral, in neoclassic style. From here we enter the Quintana Square, which contains the Holy Door. Its staircase is perfect for a rest and to observe the busy to and fro of the city.
Around the Cathedral…
We enter the cathedral through the façade in the Praterías Square, with the fountain of Os Cabalos and the twelfth century doorway, and inside discover the Romanesque splendour of its naves and ambulatory. We may then visit the Apostle’s crypt, embrace the saint under the central canopy, and then visit the different chapels. Before leaving the cathedral we should visit the majestic doorway of the Pórtico da Gloria and then walk down the steps into the Obradoiro Square. This contains a number of architectural wonderes, such as the Royal Hospital (today the Parador hotel known as the Hostal dos Reis Católicos) in ‘Plateresque’ style; the neoclassic Raxoi Palace, with a hint of Versailles in its design, shared by the local council and the regional government or Xunta; the mansion of San Xerome, with a fifteenth century doorway, today the rector’s offices of the university of Santiago de Compostela; and the Baroque façade of the cathedral itself, designed by Fernando de Casas.
We then leave the square and head towards the Alameda park, along Fonseca and Rodrigo de Padrón streets, where we end our route. This is the best spot in the city to photograph the cathedral and the old town, from the walkway known as the Paseo dos Leóns, and further on an excellent panorama of the university campus, built in the 1930’s, from the lookout point in the Paseo da Ferradura.