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Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

The old town of Santiago de Compostela is considered a World Heritage Site with its beautiful urban areas and Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings.

In the ninth century, in the Galician forest, a hermit named Pelayo came across the remains of a mysterious ancient tomb. He informed the local religious authorities who decided to forward the message on to the King of Asturias, Alfonso II, who ruled over Galicia. The king and his bishops identified the tomb as belonging to the Apostle James who, according to legend, had preached in Spain. By order of the King, a sanctuary was founded that would eventually grow into a city that is now the destination of an important pilgrimage route known as St. James Way.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The original sanctuary, shrine and surrounding city were destroyed by a Almanzor Muslim attack in 997.  When the inhabitants of the city returned, Bishop Cresconius had city walls and moats built around the city for protection. By 1075 Bishop Diego Peláez began construction on a new cathedral in Romanesque style. Today, Santiago de Compostela cathedral is one of the most majestic Romanesque cathedrals that remain in the world. A main highlight of the Santiago cathedral is the Portico de la Gloria, a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture in the principal entrance archway. During the 17th Century, after the Apostle James (called Santiago in Spanish) was declared the patron saint of Spain by Kink Philip IV, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was expanded to include the façade of the Plaza del Obradoiro, the iconic place where Santiago pilgrims end their journey, receive the Compostela (official document showing that they completed the pilgrimage) and enter the cathedral to pay homage to the saint. During Holy Jacobean Years, in which the St. James feast falls on Sunday, Santiago pilgrims get the great privileged of entering the cathedral through the Holy Door where they can witness the Botafumeiro dance (a thurible whose name literally means “smoke expeller”) and receive the Apostolic Blessing.

The Old Town of Santiago de Compostela

The old town of Santiago de Compostela has remained largely impervious to modernity and today is considered one of Spain's most beautiful and well conserved historic centers. The Santiago city center features examples of Romanesque architecture with its Baroque facade, Renaissance architecture with the Catholic Kings' Hostel (Catholic King Hostal which today is a national Parador Hotel) and Neoclassical with the Rajoy Palace, where the city hall is now located. These three historic buildings are all found within a 50 meter radius, all around the Plaza del Obradoiro. The city is also full of traditional urban Galician architecture with is granite grey buildings, arcaded streets, where one can escape the rain, and charming plazas such as the Quintana dos Mortos or Platería, both located next to the cathedral. By taking a tour of the area surrounding the cathedral you will find at least a dozen palaces, schools, convents and churches that showcase the splendor of the city; a collection of buildings that can collectively be considered a monument in its own sense.

Santiago de Compostela has been, for centuries, an important university city that has provided a vibrant atmosphere to the town even during slow pilgrimage periods which has also contributed to the preservation of the ancient city center. In fact, the University of Santiago has more than 33,000 students and, along with the cathedral, is one of the economic and cultural motors of the city.

Due to the magnificent conservation and great cultural significance of the city, in 1985 UNESCO declared the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) a World Heritage Site.