One of the most important cities of Galicia and the most touristic
Receiving thousands of visitors every year, many of them attracted to the ancient history and the religious tradition. Santiago is the capital city of Galicia, Spain, and one of the most important places in Catholicism because it is reputed to be the place where St. James, one of the twelve Apostles of Christ, is buried. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its cathedral and old city center.
If you are one of the hundreds pilgrims that arrive following the Way of St. James you can get a diploma certifying that you completed the pilgrimage.
Santiago is a relatively small city (about 100,000 inhabitants) and you can get anywhere by walking. In the parts of the city most frequented by tourists, it’s easy to find someone that speaks English or even French, Italian or German. Some restaurants even have English menu. Due to the high number of students in Santiago, it’s not difficult to find someone with a good level of English in the streets that will be willing to help.
To See & Do
The town is now a very important center for pilgrims. You can find all sorts of souvenirs related to “the camino”: walking sticks, the typical water-bottles, and the shells that are typical for the camino. Also you can buy typical sweets and drinks in many shops at the Zona Vella (Old District). If you want to buy an original gift, visit the Sargadelos shop at Rúa Nova and see the modernist ceramics of this old and legendary factory in the province of Lugo. Also in the Old District you can find many jewellery shops where to buy typical jewels made of silver and jet, many of them of celtic inspiration.
Praza do Obradoiro – is the heart of the city, and it’s named after the workshop of the stonemasons that was established during the construction of the Cathedral (Obradoiro is the Galician word for workshop). This is the arrival point of thousands of pilgrims every day and kilometer 0 of the Way of St. James is located just in the center of this square. The surrounding buildings are examples of different architectural styles. At the East, the baroque front of the Cathedral with the Museum at its right and the Gelmírez Palace at its left. At the West, the Rajoy Palace, which serves as the current city hall. At the North, the Catholic Kings Hostal, a plateresque building destinated to host the pilgrims. At the south, the San Jerónimo College, an old students residence and now the head office of the University of Santiago de Compostela.
Catedral Santiago de Compostela – This Cathedral has so many examples of different architectural styles that it would be impossible to reflect here everything. Maybe the most important are the Baroque front of the Praza do Obradoiro and the interior porch, Pórtico da Gloria. For a better idea of what this Cathedral means for the art and the Catholic religion, visit this link of the Wikipedia.
The tomb of Santiago (“Saint James”) is located under the Cathedral, and there’s the possibility to visit its tomb and even hug the sculpture that represents the saint. On regular occasions the church shows its “Botafumeiro”, a huge solid silver incense burner which is swung from the ceiling of the church by a team of energetic men (“tiraboleiros”) hauling on ropes.
Hostal dos Reis Católicos (Catholic Kings Hostal) – Originally it was a hospital built after the visit of the catholic Kings to Santiago in 1486, to attend the pilgrims. With the years, the Catholic Kings ordered the built of a big hostel with the money they had earned with the conquest of Granada. Its style is Plateresque. At its front, two coats of arms of Castilla can be seen.
Palacio de Raxoi (Rajoy palace) – Building of the XVIII century, it was built to host the city council, a jail, a seminary and the residence for the children of the choir. It was built under the classic canons. At the top, there’s a sculpture of St. James riding his horse and fighting with the Arabs.
Palacio de Xelmírez (Gelmírez Palace) – Built in the XII and XIII centuries, it’s the current home of the archbishop of Santiago. It’s a great example of the Romanesque civil architecture.
Praza da Quintana (Quintana Square) – This is the square situated at the other side of the Cathedral. It’s divided in two, Quintana dos Mortos, just until the staircase and Quintana dos Vivos, the upper side. In the past it served as cementery and market. There’s a legend that tells that if you’re at this square alone at midnight, you will be able to see all the deads there buried.
Praza de Praterías (Silversmith’s Square) – Close to the Quintana, it has a well-known fountain and it offers one of the best sights of the Cathedral.
Monasterio de San Martiño Pinario (San Martín Pinario Monastery) – Benedictine monastery of the XI century. The current building is baroque. It’s one of the most emblematic buildings of all the city. It’s situated in the Praza da Inmaculada.
Casa da Parra (Parra House) – Situated at the Quintana dos Vivos, this building has the typical chimney of the XVIII century.
Praza de Abastos (City Market) – The second most visited monument. This market is the typical Galician market and one of the biggest all over Spain. It’s the perfect place to buy some fresh seafood, vegetables and meat.
Cidade da Cultura (City of Culture) – Eisenman’s ambitious project in the outskirts of Santiago. Yet to be finished, but impressing especially for those interested in architecture. It consists of a museum, a library, cafeteria and archives, which are all open and functioning at present. Buses run every hour (line 9) from the centre of the city. Guided tours are available for free.
Camino de Santiago • Locations & Activities