Santiago de Compostela is a monumental city. Its historic centre is one of the best preserved in Europe, a fact recognized in the declaration of World Heritage by UNESCO in 1985, achieved by its beauty, monumental integrity and spiritual significance.
In many of its streets (rúas, in Galician) you can still hear the echo of the Middle Ages. A strict planning has guaranteed the survival of its urban structure and of the buildings. Some sections with arcades are also conserved, those that survived the municipal edicts ordering their demolition to avoid the propagation of the fires. Practically all of the old town is paved with large granite stone slabs that provide the feeling of going back in history. A night walk under the light of the multiple forge lamps that illuminate the area, easily transports the visitor to the golden age of pilgrimages, ecclesiastical processions, bourgeois struggles against the Cathedral Chapter or the hubbub of the students of his University , founded in 1495.
If you have several days, in Santiago you can visit the history of art in its entirety, from the prehistoric petroglyphs preserved in the surroundings to the remains of the largest medieval castle in Galicia, A Rocha Forte, the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia, by Peter Eisenman or the interventions of Álvaro de Siza. In between, centuries of stone constructions of all styles and times, promoted by archbishops and kings who wanted to leave their mark on the city.
Archbishop Gelmírez and Maestro Mateo were the architects of one of the most beautiful works of Romanesque art in Europe, the Portico of Glory, a true open book for medieval pilgrims that still maintains its magic and mystery.
After them, Fernando de Casas Novoa, author of the baroque facade of the Cathedral; Enrique Egas, who materialized the plateresque of the old Royal Hospital, today Hostal de los Reyes Católicos; Archbishop Fonseca, who ordered the construction of the Old Study for poor students (now at the College of San Xerome, headquarters of the Rector of the University of Compostela); and Archbishop Rajoy Losada, who commissioned the Pazo de Raxoi from the French engineer Carlos Lemaur and Burriel, turned the Obradoiro into one of the most beautiful squares in the world. The ecclesiastical, political, university and hospital powers coexisted in that sqare for several centuries. Today only the hospitable one is missing, after the conversion in hotel of the Royal Hospital, a building ordered by Isabel the Catholic to welcome the pilgrims. On the north side of the Cathedral, another emblematic work, the Romanesque Pazo de Xelmírez, gives more value, if possible, to the square.
Recommendations in Santiago
The Pórtico of Glory (currently under restoration), the hug to the Apostle Santiago, a visit to the Sepulcher and the representation of Santiago Matamoros on his white horse (now covered with flowers in its lower part) is essential. With time, it is worth visiting the roof, with extraordinary panoramic of the Cathedral and the city; and the Museum, which keeps, among other treasures, the flag of the captain ship in the Battle of Lepanto, donated by Don Juan de Austria.
Access to the Santo dos Croques (Master Mateo, against whose head students were struck to acquire wisdom) or to the Parteluz (where the print of a hand is clearly seen after centuries of pilgrims leaning there to pray) is no longer allowed. Difficult but not impossible is to see the flight of the Botafumeiro, giant incense holder used to purify the air of the Cathedral when hundreds of pilgrims slept inside on arrival in the city.
In the surroundings of the Cathedral, the streets Nova and Vilar, today headquarters of numerous institutions and formerly the place of residence of the bourgeoisie and clergy of Compostela. They maintain stretches with arcades, some of them medieval. Other streets that are worth visiting are the Rúa do Franco (so called by the French), traditional street of wines; O Preguntoiro and the two Algalias, parallel streets that led to the edge of the city walls. In Algalia de Abaixo you will see the oldest house in Santiago (nº 29). In the Algalia de Arriba, the medieval tower of Don Pedro still stands and, towards San Miguel dos Agros, the Gothic House.
Plaza de A Quintana.
It is the second largest square of the old town of Compostela, after the Obradoiro. It is identified by the Holy Door, which on each HOly Year opens and for the great wall of the Monastery of San Paio. The lower part was the old cemetery of the Cathedral, from which comes the differentiation of the Quintana de Mortos (dead), for the lower area; and Quintana de Vivos (alive), the upper part. On the wall of San Paio an inscription reminds the Literary Battalion in memory of the university students who in 1808 fought against the troops of Napoleon.
Collegiate Church of Santa Mª la Real de Sar.
Outside de former walls, about 15 minutes walking from the historic centre. Built on the banks of the river Sar in the twelfth century, it stands out for the robust buttresses of its exterior, built in the XVII century to avoid the collapse of the walls. Its interior is well known for the surprising inclination of the columns towards the side aisles.
Very famous for its size and colour. A tour around its shops guarantees to be able to see all kinds of fresh products from the sea and the land, as well as other products such as cheeses or traditional pastries. It is common to see women from nearby farms selling products from the garden. At the opposite end of the Market you can see the Romanesque church of San Fiz de Solovio, directly related to the oldest history of Compostela, since here was the small temple of Pelayo, the hermit who in the year 813 rediscovered the remains of the Apostle Santiago after centuries of darkness.
Park of A Alameda.
It has its origin in the sixteenth century, on land ceded by the Counts of Altamira. Since the nineteenth century it is the place of recreation of the city, with 56,000 m². It has two of the best views of the city, the Cathedral from the Paseo da Ferradura and the Mirador on the South Campus. It’s worth stopping at the music kiosk and the acoustic bench. At the entrance to Porta Faxeira is the famous statue of Las Dos Marías, the most photographed in Santiago, in memory of two real women well known in the city. In the Alameda you can enjoy fountains, promenades, modernist buildings, stairways and granite benches with wrought iron backs. There more than 50 different species, among them the fir of the Caucasus, chestnut of India, camellios, cedars of the Himalayas, cypress of Lawson, holly, juniper, maple and magnolia.
It has its access through a passageway between the Galician Center for Contemporary Art (CGAC) and the Museo do Pobo Galego. With an extension of 37,000 m², the Bonaval Park was rehabilitated in 1994 as an urban green area by the architect Álvaro Siza and the landscape architect Isabel Aguirre. The park is located in the neighborhood of San Pedro, very close to the Camino. It is located on the old orchard and the cemetery of the convent of San Domingos de Bonaval. The peculiarity is that it is shown as an example of adaptation of the natural environment to the history of the place. The organization respects the ancient disposition of the Dominicans, who divided this land into vegetable garden, carballeira (oak grove) and cemetery. Water has a special role, with multiple sources, channels and reservoirs along the route.