Difference between revisions of "Santiago de Compostela"
Revision as of 18:03, 24 September 2010
Santiago de Compostela was originally founded by the Suebi in the early 400s, as part of the collapse of the Roman Empire. In 584 the whole settlement together with the rest of Galicia and northern Portugal was incorporated by Leovigild into the Visigothic kingdom of Spain. Raided from 711 to 739 by the Arabs, Santiago de Compostela was finally conquered by the Visigothic king of Asturias in 754, about 60 years before the identification of remains as those of Saint James the Great, and their acceptance as such by the Pope and Charlemagne, during the reign of Alfonso II of Asturias. Certainly, the remains were found in the small and close town of Iria Flavia, but they were moved to Santiago according to political and religious reasons. From then on, this settlement was not just a city, but a holy city, and one of the main centers of Christian pilgrimage. Still, there are some who claim that the remains found here were not those of the apostle James and one of the most famous theories is that these are the remains of Priscillian. They are also thought by many to be someone else altogether.
Santiago de Compostela was captured by the French during the Napoleonic War and its capture broke the spirits of the many Spanish guerillas who were fighting the mighty invading armies of Marshals' Soult, Victor, Massena and Napoleon's brother, the new King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte (called Pepe Botella by the Spanish resistance). During the war, many attempts were made to recapture it by Spanish partisans, who believed St James would come down on the field and destroy the French if they earned his favour by beating the French out of the holy city, which was St James's city. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Santiago was under the control of the fascists since the very begining and it suffered from a very brutal repression during the inmediate years and the whole Dictatorship. After the Spanish Transition, when the democracy was restored, Santiago de Compostela was declared capital city of Galicia.
Santiago de Compostela today
With a population of about 100,000 inhabitants, it's one of the most important cities of Galicia and the most touristic of them, receiving thousands of visitors every year, many of them attracted to the the ancient history and the religious tradition. It was declared by the UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its cathedral and old city center.
The University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) is one of the oldest Spanish universities and it has more than 40,000 students, becoming Santiago one of the centers of the university education in Spain, with Salamanca and Granada.
The climate of Santiago is typical of the Spanish Atlantic coast: wet winters with frequent rains which, in light or heavy bursts, lasts from September to June. The summers are slightly less rainy than the rest of the Cantabrian coast.
Temperatures remain mild throughtout the whole year with a yearly average of 19ºC. They drop down to about 8ºC in January, the coldest month of the year.
The traditional way of getting to Santiago de Compostela is by walking about 780 km from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France, on the Way of St. James. It is just as traditional to arrive on horseback, though considerably more difficult in terms of facilities. You may be able to stable your horse with a local farmer, but virtually no hostels provide this service. Cycling is also popular.
Other way of getting to Santiago is by bus. The bus station is located in the outskirts of the city, but there you can get a public bus or a taxi to get to the city centre. You can get to Santiago by bus from several places:
If you want to arrive to Santiago by train, you should visit the RENFE webpage . The train station is relatively close to the city centre.
By air, the closest airport is Lavacolla  (ICAO: LEST, IATA: SCQ), about twenty minutes by bus from the city centre. The following companies operate currently at this airport:
Santiago is a relatively small city (about 100,000 inhabitants) and you can get anywhere by walking.
Although this, there are several bus lines that connect every part of the city. These services are offered by the company Tralusa. The ticket costs €0.90 for adults (for people under 18 it costs €0.55). If you are going to take several times the bus, you may buy a bono of 10, 20, or 30 tickets with a price of €0.55 for each one. You can buy these bonos to the bus drivers and you must pay a deposit of €3 that will be payed back to you if you return the card in good condition. The most interesting line for visitors is the number 5, that stops at the bus station and goes to the city center.
Taxis are not very expensive and the taxi drivers are usually kind and willing to help tourists. Taxi from to and from the airport are at a fixed rate of €19 (2010 rates).
In the parts of the city most frequented by tourists, it's easy to find someone that speaks English or even French, Italian or German. Some restaurants even have English menu. It's more difficult, but not impossible to find menus and signs in Japanese and Chinese. Due to the high number of students in Santiago, it's not difficult to find someone with a good level of English in the streets that will be willing to help.
The official languages of the city are Galician and Spanish. Galician is language with great similarities with Portuguese, so speakers of this language will not have a lot of trouble understanding people.
Praza do Obradoiro
Praza do Obradoiro is the heart of the city, and it's named after the workshop of the stonemasons that was established during the construction of the Cathedral (Obradoiro is the Galician word for wordkshop). This is the arrival point of thousands of pilgrims every day and just in the center of this square it's located the kilometer 0 of the Way of St. James. The surrounding buildings are examples of different architectural styles. At the East, the baroque front of the Cathedral with the Museum at its right and the Gelmírez Palace at its left. At the West, the Rajoy Palace, that it's the current city hall. At the North, the Catholic Kings Hostal, a plateresque building destinated to host the pilgrims. At the south, the San Jerónimo College, an old students residence and now the head office of the University of Santiago de Compostela.
Catedral Santiago de Compostela (Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela)
This Cathedral has so many examples of different architectural styles that it would be impossible to reflect here everything. Maybe the most important are the Baroque front of the Praza do Obradoiro and the interior porch, Pórtico da Gloria. For a better idea of what this Cathedral means for the art and the Catholic religion, visit this link of the Wikipedia .
The tomb of Santiago ("Saint James") is located under the Cathedral, and there's the possibility to visit its tomb and even hug the sculpture that represents the saint. On regular occasions the church shows its "Botafumeiro", a huge solid silver incense burner which is swung from the ceiling of the church by a team of energetic men ("tiraboleiros") hauling on ropes.
Hostal dos Reis Católicos (Catholic Kings Hostal)
Originally it was a hospital built after the visit of the catholic Kings to Santiago in 1486, to attend the pilgrims. With the years, the Catholic Kings ordered the built of a big hostel with the money they had earned with the conquest of Granada. Its style is Plateresque. At its front, two coats of arms of Castilla can be seen.
Palacio de Raxoi (Rajoy palace)
Building of the XVIII century, it was built to host the city council, a jail, a seminary and the residence for the children of the choir. It was built under the classic canons. At the top, there's a sculpture of St. James riding his horse and fighting with the Arabs.
Colexio de San Xerome (San Jerónimo College)
It was founded by the archbishop Alonso III de Fonseca to host poor students. Its front has a Romanesque style.
Palacio de Xelmírez (Gelmírez Palace)
Built in the XII and XIII centuries, it's the current home of the archbishop of Santiago. It's a great example of the Romanesque civil architecture.
Praza da Quintana (Quintana Square)
This is the square situated at the other side of the Cathedral. It's divided in two, Quintana dos Mortos, just until the staircase and Quintana dos Vivos, the upper side. In the past it served as cementery and market. There's a legend that tells that if you're at this square alone at midnight, you will be able to see all the deads there buried.
Praza de Praterías (Silversmith's Square)
Close to the Quintana, it has a well-known fountain and it offers one of the best sights of the Cathedral.
Monasterio de San Martín Pinario (San Martín Pinario Monastery)
Benedictine monastery of the XI century. The current building is baroque. It's one of the most emblematic buildings of all the city. It's situated in the Praza da Inmaculada.
Casa da Parra (Parra House)
Situated at the Quintana dos Vivos, this building has the typical chimney of the XVIII century.
Praza de Abastos (City Market)
The second most visited monument. This market is the typical Galician market and one of the biggest all over Spain. It's the perfect place to buy some fresh seafood, vegetables and meat.
The city has also several museums that are worth the visit. Some of them are:
The town is now a very important center for pilgrims. You can find all sorts of souvenirs related to "the camino": walking sticks, the typical water-bottles, and the shells that are typical for the camino. Also you can buy typical sweets and drinks in many shops at the Zona Vella (Old District). If you want to buy an original gift, visit the Sargadelos  shop at Rúa Nova and see the modernist ceramics of this old and legendary factory in the province of Lugo. Also in the Old District you can find many jewellery shops where to buy typical jewels made of silver and jet, many of them of celtic inspiration.
If you want to buy clothes, move to the Zona Nova (New District) and visit the stores that are all over these district. Here you can find Zara, Bershka, Pepe Jeans... and other famous brands. Maybe the most original brand you could find is Rei Zentolo at Rúa Santiago de Chile, a Galician brand with original and really funny T-shirts and other clothes.
There are two shopping centers in the city. The first one, Área Central, is located at the district of Fontiñas (you can get there by taking the bus number 11 in the City Centre) and it has fashion shops, fast food restaurants and one big supermarket. The other one, Hipercor, at Rúa do Restollal, is a typical department store.
Galicia is known for "Pulpo" or cooked octopus. In general there are a lot of restaurants selling fish and seafood suitable for all budgets. The local cheeses should also be sampled, as well as delicious cakes like the "Tarta de Santiago". Expect long queues at popular pilgrim eating places. Also try pimientos de padrón. The saying goes, "los pimientos de padrón, unos pican y otros no" meaning that in a single serving, some are spicy while others are not.
Try the Albariño wine, a white wine from the south of Galicia. Other popular drinks are:
For a quiet beer and a couple of tapas on the Old District there are several places where you can sit in terraces when the weather is nice or inside where it's rainy or cold. Some of these places are for example, Tokio or Alameda at Porta Faxeira or the terraces at the Quintana Square. It's specially well-known the Rúa do Franco, one of the main streets, full of places where you can drink and eat something. One really famous is Bar Orense (Rúa do Franco), where you can have cuncas (cups) of wine and licor café for a very low price. If you like coffees, ice-creams and pastries, try Pastelería Mercedes Mora (Rúa do Vilar). On the New District there are bars full of university students, such as Central Perk (Rúa Nova de Abaixo), Luis (Rúa Santiago del Estero) or the multiple terraces at Praza Roxa.
Later in the evening, there are several places to go because Santiago de Compostela is a city with a very interesting nightlife.
If you want some beers or cocktails to begin the night, try Nido del Cuco or Momo, both at Virxe da Cerca. The last one, Momo, during the summer season has a big and nice garden and during the winter it has performances of singer-songwriters. Other interesting places are Casa das Crechas (Vía Sacra, very close to Praza da Quintana), where you can hear some folk music, A Calderería (Rúa da Calderería), spot where many foreigners get together and sometimes there are music performances or Modus Vivendi (Praza Feixoó).
To continue the night, Santiago has many pubs where drink and dance different kinds of music. The following ones are only examples of the great variety you can find in Santiago. On the Old District:
Going to the New District:
Just outside of Santiago is a small town called "Monte do Gozo". Some Pilgrims stop there before entering the city. It's a huge center and has almost 2000 beds. There is a frequent bus line that will take you to walking distance of the town center.
There is a 3 stars hotel near the cathedral, called Hesperia Gelmirez with very good rates.
For the budget traveler you can try Hostal R Mexico located at Republica Argentina 33. It's just a few blocks away from the train station. Another budget option is Hostal Pazo de Agra on Rúa Calderería 37. It is an easy two-minute walk from the cathedral.
70km out of Santiago is the town called Finisterre. Before the Americas were discovered, people believed this was the end of the world (finis = end; terra = earth)