Places of interest in Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985 by UNESCO, whose urban beauty and monumental integrity were complemented by the profound echoes of its spiritual significance as an apostolic sanctuary and the destination of the most important religious and cultural movement of the Middle Ages: the pilgrimage along the Way of St James, also known as the Camino de Santiago in Spanish.

Cathedral of Santiago

In the 9th century, Bishop Teodomiro de Iría Flavia identified a Roman temple as the tomb of St James the Greater. Due to the discovery, King Alfonso II “the Chaste” ordered to build a modest temple around said Pagan construction. The increase of pilgrimages and a certain stability after the Islamic attacks drove towards a new construction in the year 1075, during the reign of Alfonso VI and under the archiepiscopal direction of Diego de Peláez. The construction lasted during the archbishopric of Diego Gelmírez and did not stop until it became the great temple that we can witness today.

The cathedral was built in granite ashlar, with covers of flagstones made from the same material; it was constructed in Romanesque style with a Latin-cross plan, a longitudinal arm and a three-aisle transept, an ambulatory at the head and a gallery around the perimeter. It also has lateral chapels that are laid out in orderly fashion around the whole temple and have a space with its own individuality. From Romanesque times only some are preserved in the ambulatory.

The lateral naves are covered by a groin vault, the central nave with a barrel vault secured by transverse arches and a triforium with a quarter cannon.

The facade of Da Acibechería is Neoclassic (Ventura Rodríguez and Lois Monteagudo); The facade of Das Platerías is Romanesque and a paradigm of Medieval iconography; The Holy Gate is Baroque (1611) and only open on holy years. The Obradoiro (Fernando Casas y Novoa, 1738-1750) combines stone and glass, distinguishing the great window of the main body. The facade of Obradoiro was declared a Historical-Artistic Monument in 1986.

Cathedral roofs:

A unique experience that, accompanied by a guide, will allow us to see both the rooms of Palacio de Gelmírez, a gem of Civil Romanesque, and walk up and see the granite roofs that cover the naves, being able to see the towers that look to the Obradoiro from up close; the Berenguela, which tells the time in the city; or the so-called Cross Dos Farrapos, moved here from its original location where pilgrims used to leave their old clothes and the canonry used to give them new ones. You can also have a look inside the cathedral through the rose windows that open towards the north and south and, with a bit of luck, see the Botafumeiro “fly”.

The tour will offer us a completely new perspective of the squares that surround the cathedral and the roofs of the buildings that make up the old town of the city, from the impressive ones of San Martiño and San Paio de Antealtares to the more modest ones but nonetheless rich, since their chimneys, of which we will see lots of, indicated the wealth of the house. On a larger scale, a better kitchen and, therefore, less hunger was experienced inside.

As well as the urban landscape, the roofs also offer the green horizon of the mountains that surround Compostela, such as El Pedroso, a magnificent natural viewpoint in the region, easily accessible on foot from the Cathedral.

Portico da Gloria:

Made by Master Mateo, finished in 1188, it is a masterwork of Romanesque sculpture, which unfolds in a porch with three arches. The central arch represents Heaven, the final destination of the just, presided by a large resuscitated Christ. On the left arch, there is the Jewish people awaiting the arrival of Christ in the Limbo of the Just; whilst in the right arch we see the Judgement Day, to which all human beings will be subjected to.

Also, in the different pillars of the ensemble, we can see the prophets and the apostles while in the mullion the Tree of Jesse and the statue of St James the Greater.

Gelmírez Palace:

The palace of Archibshop Gelmírez began to be built in the early 12th century adjoined to the Cathedral of Santiago itself. The palace had to be reconstructed after the revolts of 1117 against Gelmírez himself, resuming three years later in 1120.

In the 13th century (1260 AD), the palace was enlarged by Archbishop Juan arias and posterior archbishops Lope de Mendoza and Alonso de Fonseca did likewise in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 18th century, the Romanesque facade was covered by a Baroque one and a third floor was added. The building has a T-shape and its two floors are those of most interest.

Arch of Mazarelos:

The military expedition of Almanzor on Compostela in 997 AD, took Bishop Cresconio (1037-1066) to rebuild the defensive system created by Sisnando II ( 968 AD). On the second defensive ring (the first one protected the Locus Sancti Iacobi) that surrounded the city (deep trenches and fences), they built another wall with square-shape fortified towers with an inner ring. During the 16th and 17th centuries, they made important reparations and reforms in the defensive system.

The Arch of Mazarelos was one of the gates of access to the city. The semicircular canted arch has a building adjoined on its south face that preserves the base of the fortified tower that flanked the gate. Both architectures are built in granite ashlar.

There were also six other points of entrance, of which only their names remain: Porta da Pena, Porta do Camiño (entrance of the French Way), Porta da Mámoa, Porta Faxeira, Porta da Trinidade or de A Mahía and Porta de Sofrades.

Monastery of San Martin Pinario:

It is one of the largest constructions of its type that exist in Spain, occupying a total of 5 acres. It currently holds the Major Seminary and a hospitality establishment. Also, it has a museum and a permanent exhibition, including the church with its altarpieces and the choir chairs.

The church and the monastery took over a century to built, from 1590 until 1747 which is when one of the interior cloisters was finished.

The origins of the community are unknown but it is assumed that they are linked to the appearance of the remains of St James the Greater. However, we do know that there used to be a primitive Romanesque building in its place of which barely anything remains. The scarce architectonic elements that survived through time were used to build the current construction and can be seen in some of the exterior walls.

The church of San Martiño Pinario gathers elements from the late-Renaissance and Baroque, very common around the city. The plant is of a single nave, with lateral chapels inscribed within a rectangle. The immense central nave is covered with a barrel vault with false panels and the three lateral chapels with panelled vaults. The large ribbed dome, supported by shells, gives an impressive aerial sensation. Inside, we distinguish the chapels, made mostly in the 18th century as well as the three altarpieces of the same time, to which we can add the splendid 17th-centurylow choir, with representations of scenes of the Virgin’s life. The three altarpieces were designed by Fernando de Casas.

Throughout the years, also, the monks have added images, mostly ordered to the sculptor José Ferreiro.

The church’s facade, which you access through a Baroque staircase of great beauty, is structures in three vertical bodies that correspond with the internal division of the temple and that represent a decorative profusion that is absent in the remainder of the walls. It is covered with many figures of saints and crowned, in the upper part, with the scene of San Martiño.

The Monatery contains two cloisters: Offices and Gatehouse, made in the 18th century. We distinguish its main facade, designed by Fray Gabriel de las Casas, who began its construction in 1697. It is made up of three bodies: Front and two lateral towers of square plant. The main gate is framed by four large doric columns and, on top of it, an alcove that shows the image of St Benedictine. The ensemble is completed with a sculptural group of San Martiño, slicing his cape with a poor man.

Collegiate of Sar:

A sacred art museum located in the monkish construction, next to the Collegiate of Sar, a unique example of Romanesque art. It keeps valuable historical items, such as the foundational parchment of the collegiate that dates from the year 1136, signed by Diego Gelmírez, as well as archaeological items and the old Romanesque cloister, made by Master Mateo.

The museum tour goes around 5 rooms, through which the visitor can understand more about the history of this Augustine community, from its foundation as a priory to its transformation into a collegiate and a parish of the Archdiocese of Santiago. It also holds a small exhibition of traditional costumes and the awards won by the folkloric group Colexiata do Sar.

City of Culture (Ciudad de la Cultura):

Currently under construction, it is a miniature city, a giant work of 35 acres that is born as the great future cultural reference of Galicia.

The competition for this ambitious work was won by the American architect Peter Eisenman, who was inspired by the shape of a scallop shell to develop his project. It forms a new topology on Mount Gaiás, taking the design of the historical city of Compostela as his reference.

The complex has 6 volumes that are articulated as a city on a small scale, communicated by pedestrian streets. Due to its layout at the top of the hill, even with the modified terrain, the city becomes a magnificent viewpoint of the historical city that inspired it.

The work belongs to an ambitious programme of cultural spaces: a newspaper library, a library, a museum, social services, a theatre and a new-technology centre. All of these will have the latest technology in cataloguing, storage, exhibition systems, etc. The project is complemented with a forest-like park of great landscape and environmental interest.

The shapes, which fold and warp, have a great organic style. The roofs are curved following inspiration from natural shapes of great plasticity; the volume of the library, for example, is a large piece where the curve of the roof modifies its height in each point, varying the perception of the building as you walk around it on the outside. It reconciles the monumental aspect of its scale with a humanised design carried out to the measurement of the users.

The complex is covered in quartzite stone, which defines the exterior and continuous skin of the ensemble, excepting the large glassed parameters that will flood the buildings with light.

The architect included the towers by John Hejduk in the project, designed at first for another spot in the city but that will now become part of the complex as a tribute to their creator, who sadly passed away recently.