Travel tips for Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is a city that draws over 100,000 pilgrims each year to the 1,000 year old shrine of St James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. But you do not have to be a devout Catholic to visit this city and appreciate the architecture and the Cathedral. The old town is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I went to Santiago in the winter when morning and evening fog settles on the city and creates an eerie atmosphere. The winters are very cold and damp so if you visit Santiago in the winter bundle up!
So of course the main thing to see is the Cathedral which is an impressive structure of stone and towers over the old city and creates the unique skyline of Santiago de Compostela. The history of the Cathedral is interesting – find a reader’s digest version at the end of this post. So make sure to see the Cathedral from right in front, inside too (and of course you must see the burial place of Saint James) and afterwards make the trek over to the park Caballeira de Santa Susana just before sunset to see the Cathedral and the old city skyline!
The University of Santiago de Compostela is another impressive site and you can see main campus buildings within the old city – one building in particular that is nice to visit is the Fonseca College building.
After seeing these main sites I suggest wandering around the streets and seeing more of the city – I think one should always wander in a city to see unplanned sites! You might even see a pilgrim who has trekked the entire camino de Santiago! I did and the man I saw looked as if he spent his entire life getting there.
Oh and as a side note, try eating at the Parador in Santiago for an amazing meal served in a dining room that looks like a set for the Tudors or if nothing else at least go into the lobby and you will feel like you entered into medieval times. The Parador is on the same plaza as the Cathedral. Can’t be missed.
Short History of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral:
The legend goes that the Apostle James’ body was carried on a stone ship from Jerusalem and brought to Spain to be buried in Galicia. When the tomb was discovered and reported to King Alfonso II around 814AD he ordered the construction of a chapel. The original church was destroyed and the construction of the present Cathedral began in 1075 and finished in 1122 (additions were made in the 16th and 18th centuries). The Cathedral is based on the Basilica of Saint Sernin in Toulouse, France.
The Cathedral is 97 meters long (about 318 feet) and 22 meters high (about 72 feet) and is the largest Romanesque church in Spain and one of the largest in Europe (the façade is not Romanesque and was added later).
The Cathedral draws thousands of pilgrims every year. The pilgrims travel along the “Way of St. James” or the “Camino de Santiago” which stretches as far as France, Switzerland, Italy and England! The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrimage for many reasons, one of which says that the grooves on the shell come together at a point as do all the routes of the pilgrim.
Useful Links and information about Santiago de Compostela: