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.
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Also, in the city centre, the tree-lined avenue (alameda) with its camellia trees and the Paseo de la Herradura promenade that offers a wonderful view of the cathedral. And at the edge of the Sar river, the church Colegiata de Santa María and its imposing inclined columns. Santiago is wonderful. And that is how it makes you feel.
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 gatewayof 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.
Santiago offers a wide range of excellent eateries. Restaurants offer an extensive menu of shellfish and seafood, usually including the popular dish of octopus á feira style, with olive oil and hot paprika. Other typical fare includes excellent meat, soups and vegetables, empanadas or stuffed pies, and delicious bread. To accompany your meal, choose from amongst the numerous delicious Galician wines, with their own protected geographical indication. Grape spirit (also known as caña) is renowned for its digestive properties, especially its coffee and herb scented varieties. Amongst the pastries on offer, Santiago cake (made of almonds), filloas or pancakes and tetilla cheese from the Arzúa-Ulloa protected geographical indication are the most traditional, as well as the hand made almond chocolates known as Pedras de Santiago.
There are a large number of restaurants throughout the city, although the best area in terms of the number of eateries with prices to suit all types of pockets is the area around the cathedral, particularly in Franco and Raíña streets, where virtually every door is a restaurant. Other great options may be found in Troia Street and the surrounding lanes. In the area of San Roque and As Penas Square there are several restaurants with great menus. In turn, San Clemente and Carretas streets also have renowned restaurants.
Santiago is not only famous for its historic monuments, but also the works of contemporary architecture constructed in recent years that are well worth a visit. These have mainly been developed by the Local Council (either from its own funds or from other private and public investments), and the University.
As a place for convergence and international projection, the City of Culture of Galicia shall revitalize in the 21st century the twofold vocation -voyager and hospitable- of Galician people, contributing from a cultural standpoint to the social and economic development of the land. Its unique buildings, interconnected by streets and plazas equipped with state-of-the-art technology, make up a space of excellence for reflection, debate and actions orientated towards Galicia's future and internationalization.
INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY THEATRE FESTIVAL Held during the month of March. University theatre groups from Europe and South America offer performances incorporating the latest tendencies in the field of drama.
"VÍA STELLAE" MUSIC FESTIVAL During the first fortnight of July the most renowned musicians and singers in the world are brought together in Compostela, offering concerts of classical and ancient music, chamber music, Zarzuela light opera, opera, gospel and ethnic music.
FESTIVAL OF THE APOSTLE Declared as a festival of International Tourist Interest, held between 15-31 July. Includes religious ceremonies culminating with the National Offering on 25 July, with High Mass and the swinging of the Botafumeiro incense burner in the Cathedral. A wide range of events are held at the same time, including a spectacular fireworks display on the night of 24 July (in the Obradoiro Square, accompanied by the traditional 'burning' of the old 'Mudéjar' style façade of the cathedral), and on 31 July a Folklore Festival, homage to Bands of Music, concerts, theatre, sports events and much more.
CINEUROPA Held during the whole month of November. Now a well-established tradition, the event is a cinema enthusiast's delight, offering the best non-commercial films of the season.