Historic ensemble of urban areas declared as such. Declared on the 9th of March of 1940. Extended on the 30th of April of 1976.

Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 1985.

Nowadays, when the traveller, pilgrim or tourist arrives in Compostela and looks up to the sight before them of the Obradoiro facade, they can only exclaim, “It’s been worth it”. Such a simple sentence has never meant so much. The city of Santiago possesses an unparalleled series of monuments. Its monasteries, churches, palaces, old streets and typical popular constructions, combined with its spiritual and cultural significance, have given it its deserved inclusion in the list of World Heritage Cities.

The history of Santiago began on the 25th of July, 813, when the Bishop of Iria, Teodomiro, confirmed the discovery of the sepulchre of the Apostle Saint James in the village of  San Fiz de Solovio, which would end up becoming the city of Compostela. News of the discovery spread quickly across the whole of the Christian world, threatened at that time by the Islamic invasions. A grand basilica was built over the Apostle’s sepulchre, and a continual coming and going of travellers and pilgrims was established between Santiago and the rest of Europe. Faith, culture, trade and politics converged along the Road. Santiago de Compostela and its Road became the “Root and Foundation of Europe”.

Four magnificent squares open up before the four doors of the basilica.

The Squares around the Cathedral

Plaza del Obradoiro...

The main one was given the name of Obradoiro, for having had for nearly ten years, between 1738 and 1747, the obradoiro, or workshop, where the stones for the Baroque facade were cut and carved. It was the work of the Galician architect Fernando Casas e Novoa, and it replaced the early Romanesque facade. The towers reach a height of 74 metres. Alongside, the Palacio de Xelmírez,  still survives, built in the XII century at the same time as the early Romanesque cathedral. The canons’ residence, on the opposite side, now houses the Cathedral Museum.

Another three buildings, of diverse periods and styles, close the square. Firstly, the Colexio de San Xerome, ffounded by Bishop Fonseca, with a Romanesque-ogival portal; The Palacio de Raxoi, of XVIII century neo-classical style, which was built as a confessors’ seminary, a choirboys’ residence and town hall for the city. And finally, the Hospital Real, ordered to be built by the Catholic Kings to take in pilgrims and sick people. It is a fantastic example of Plateresque style, quite uncommon in Galicia, and is today a Tourist Parador.

Praza da Acibechería...

The praza da Acibechería is the first square encountered by the traveller entering Santiago by the French Road. It was known as the Puerta del Paraíso, but was replaced by the present neo-classical style square in the XVIII century. The craft of jet working, closely linked to the Pilgrimage, prospered in Santiago from the XV century on. The workshops and stalls were here in the square.

Praza das Praterías...

On the opposite side, the door of the southern arm of the cathedral’s cross aisle preserves all the iconographic richness of the Romanesque art of Compostela’s golden age. It is the Porta das Praterías. Alongside it stands the Torre do Reloxo, (Clock Tower) or the Berenguela, of Baroque style, as are the other buildings surrounding this square, except the building of the old Bank of Spain, that is being nowadays prepared to house the Museo das Peregrinacións (Pilgrimage Museum) and of Santiago.

Praza de A Quintana...

Behind the cathedral is the wide expanse of the Praza da Quintana. The Porta Santa, which faces this square, is only open in the Compostela Holy Year, when the Apostle’s festival, the 25th of July, falls on a Sunday.

Route around the Romanesque, Baroque, Romantic and University buildings of Santiago

Tourist Route

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 is the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art, by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza.

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.

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 gateway of 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.

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, which today contains the offices of the Social Foundation of Caja Madrid. We then enter Cervantes Square, with the neoclassic church of  San Benito 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.

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.

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