Santiago de Compostela is the jewel in Galicia's crownAnd Galicia has a number of jewels ...
Santiago de Compostela is the jewel of Galicia, with its magnificent Cathedral, wonderful labyrinth of alleyways and ancient arcades, medieval heart, delicious food and extra friendly people.Here are some highlights in the Santiago de Compostela Spain Travel Guide & other interesting places close enough to visit
We arrived to Santiago to be greeted with dramatic, torrential Galician rain, which contrasted to the warm hospitality of its people. Lost in its maze of alleyways, we were rescued by a lovely, courteous man, who regardless of the horrendous weather, got us back on track to see the Cathedral.
Santiago de Compostela Spain-UNESCO World Heritage Site
Santiago de Compostela’s delightful old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact in a report UNESCO described Santiago as:
“an ideal city, which is overflowing with history and timeless as well”
Pedestrianised streets make it especially pleasant to explore. We wandered along its charming alleyways, partially arcaded streets and monumental squares. Even through the sheets of rain, we reached the city’s undisputed highlight – the beautiful Romanesque-Baroque Cathedral.
One of Spain’s most beautiful cities
There’s no doubt that Santiago de Compostela is up there amongst Spain’s Spain most beautiful cities. Mazes of honey-coloured streets bring you on a journey past beautiful convents and monasteries, which take you to the main square, Praza do Obradoiro. Arriving here, you may need a moment to catch your breath, as I did, because no photo can really prepare you for the immense breathtaking effect of the Cathedral.
This beautiful city has won a range of prizes because of how it has balanced its architecture with its green spaces. See all of this from the top of its famous Cathedral.
A magical medieval quarter
Santiago’s medieval streets date to the 11th century, when the old city was entirely rebuilt after the Moors destroyed it during the late 10th century.
Even though you may not wish for rain during your trip to Santiago, weird as it may seem, this city seems to be at its best when it’s raining. Glistening rainwater bounces off the grotesque faces of countless gargoyles, to join the flow that is already rushing down the streets. The façades seem to sparkle with fresh droplets of rainwater.
A buzzing pilgrim & student city
Especially during the summertime, the city buzzes from the elation of pilgrims (including our canine friends), who have arrived there, having completed one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago, on foot or by bike. In the main square, Praza do Obradoiro, pilgrims are popping open champagne, bagpipe players are playing, competing with the other buskers for attention and money.
During the scholarly year, Santiago de Compostela is home to around 33,000 students, giving the city a special vibrant injection. Additionally there’s a great array of cultural events that take place throughout the year here.
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
The famous Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the most outstanding building of Romanesque-Baroque architecture here in Spain. Construction started in 1075, during King Alfonso VI’s reign, but due to historical issues, work slowed down until 1100. From hereonin work progressed during the 12th century. By the early 13th century, in 1211, King Alfonso IX was able to consecrate it.
Down through the numerous centuries of its existence, fundamentally the medieval Cathedral structure has been preserved, however works such as the construction of its annex and cloister changed its physiognomy. This is particularly true of the Baroque period, at which stage work was carried out on the Obradoiro façade, the main chapel and other important developments.
Today the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is a magnificent series of complex spaces, spanning over 10,000 metres or so. It is the crown of this Holy, World Heritage City, with a spiritual pulse that is found only in the most sacred of places.
There is also a museum in the Cathedral, which we feature in the Museums section.
Collegiate Church of Santa María do Sar
This 12th century church, on the River Sar’s banks, has the biggest proportion of its original Romanesque structure, along with the city’s Cathedral.
Church and Monastery of San Martín Pinario/span>
The 16th century Baroque Abbey is located in Plaza de la Inmaculada. Not long after the discover of St. James’ remains, a group of Benedictines founded the Church and Monastery of San Martín Pinario. The substantial wealth they had accumulated enabled them to have Galicia’s second most important Baroque building constructed.
Convent and Church of San Francisco/span>
When St. Francis of Assisi visited Santiago in 1214, he founded this convent, at Val de Dios (Valley of God). Its foundation is shrouded in legend. It is said that the Saint commissioned Cotolay, a coal man, to construct it. Only five Gothic arches remain from the original building, along with Cotolay’s tomb.
The Baroque church that you can visit today was constructed from 1742 to 1749. A later modification introduced the Neo-Classical style into the façade. This includes a sculpture of St. Francis by the sculptor, Ferreiro. Also there’s another sculpture in the porch of St. Francis. This is considered one of Asorei’s best works, and he conceived the Saint as a giant stone cross.
Cathedral’s Museum – Museo da Catedral
The Cathedral’s Museum (Museo da Catedral) is distributed over four floors and comprises of the cathedral’s big, 16th-century old plateresque cloister. Here you’ll find the a fair amount of the Maestro Mateo’s stone carved choir, which was ruined in 1604, but has been restored.
The Museum houses a remarkable collection of religious artwork (like the botafumeiros, in the second-floor catalogue), the lavishly decorated 18th-century Sala Capitular (phase home), a chamber of tapestries stitched from layouts by Goya, together with the cloister, the Panteón de Reyes (Pantheon of Kings), with graves of leaders of ancient León.
Tickets can be purchased in the cathedral’s Customer Reception Centre. The admission also provides access to the Pazo de Xelmírez, the 12th-century Bishop’s Palace where you can also see an extremely rewarding exhibition.
Museo de Pobo Galego – Musuem of the Galician People
The museum is located just outside the walls of the old quarter, in the former Convent of Santo Domingo de Bonaval, right by the road that is used by pilgrims to enter. The permanent collection has a wide scope, which provides a great insight into the Galician people and their lives. Items cover traditional trades, the countryside and life, coastal life, architecture, traditional costumes, painting, archaeology and sculpture.
El Museo de las Peregrinaciones y de Santiago – The Museum of Pilgrimages and Santiago
An impressive museum that explores the universal phenomenon of pilgrimages, the Camino de Santiago in its many dimensions and the city of Santiago de Compostela as the destination of the pilgrimage.
Museo de Arte Sacra – Museum of Sacred Art
The Museum of Sacred Art is situated in San Paio de Antealtares, of the monastic community which can be traced back to the 9th century after the Apostle’s remains were discovered, the work of these monks was to take care of these relics, along with looking after the pilgrims. The museum houses some wonderful pieces such as a 13th century Christ from an old Romanesque church.
Food in Santiago de Compostela
If you have read our introductory travel guide about Galicia, you may remember that I ranted on about the food. As Santiago de Compostela is the capital, you can imagine what that means for the selection of great foodie experiences.
Food and wine are absolutely integral to the Galician culture. Regardless of what your budget is, you will have a decent choice of food here in Santiago, where there is a super choice of restaurants, bars and taverns. Food and wine are both an art form and a religion, to be enjoyed but taken seriously in this city.