Beautiful Santiago de Compostela is famous world-wide for its Gothic Cathedral, the resting place of the Apostle Saint James and the end of the Camino de Santiago. But inside the old Medieval walls that surround the City there is much more to discover for those who allow themselves to wander and who know what to look for. In this article, we would like to give you a bit more insight on the monuments that make the most stricking and important of the 5 squares of the Cathedral – The Plaza del Obradoiro.
What monuments will you find on the Main Square of the Plaza del Obradoiro
The Portico de la Gloria of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
The main facade of the Cathedral has a style that is unique in the world known as Compostela Baroque. It was built, by the architect Fernando de Casa y Noboa between 1738 and 1750.
The tower that you can see to the left is called “de la Carraca” (of the rattle) which is used during Easter week instead of the traditional bells.
The tower to the right is the bell tower and is almost a century older than the rest of the facade.
In the middle of the two towers on the top is the statue of Saint James with two Spanish kings and on either side kneeling at his feet and angels carrying the cross of Santiago.
Flanking Saint James are his most faithful disciples: Theodore and Athanasius, while half way up the right, those of Santiago the Younger and of Saint Barbara.
The impressive two staircases going up to the Portico de la Gloria date from the middle of the 17th century. There you will find the two Romanesque statues of the Maestro Mateo school of King David and King Solomon.
This facade connects with another, the Palace of Xélmirez, one of the most important Romanesque building in Spain. It was built towards the end of the 12th for the first Archbishop of Santiago Xélmirez. If you visit it, you will feel like you are traveling back in time to the Medieval Ages. In its refectory in particular, look out for the vault supported by arches with corbels depicting scenes of everyday life of those times. Experts on the subject say that these scenes are of either of the wedding of Alfonso IX and Doña Berenguela or the pilgrimage of Don Fernando III and his wife Beatrix de Suabia.
The Museum of the Cathedral of Santiago
The Museum, created in 1930 and enabled in the Renaissance cloister, is accessed through the same Plaza del Obradoiro. Either by the entrance under the steps of the square or by the side of the facade of the Obradoiro. The visit includes the Chapter House, the Chapel of the Relics, the Library, etc. General admission costs 5 euros and 3 euros for groups, retirees and students. For more information we recommend you call 981 56 93 27 or visit www.catedraldesantiago.es.
Visiting times as of 2018:
October 1 to May 31
Monday to Saturday: From 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
June 1 to September 30
Monday to Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
We highly recommend touring the rooftops of the Cathedral and the Palacio de Xelmírez on guided tour for a maximum group of 25 people (unless booked for groups the visit will be in Spanish). This must be booked in advance and might not be available during all the renovation works on the Cathedral.
El Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos – the Parador of Santiago de Compostela
The building was originally built as a hospital for the pilgrims on the instructions of the Reyes Católicos in 1499 and designed by Enrique Agas. The architecture style is known as Plateresque with Gothic influences on its main facade; a masterwork of the two Frenchmen Martin de Blas and Guile Colas dating from 1520.
If you look at the lower part of the facade, you will see a high relief of Adam and Eve, of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Lucia, who is carrying her eyes on a tray, and of John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene.
The six high reliefs that crown the facade are Saint Peter, Saint James the Greater the Saviour, the Virgin Mary, Saint John and Saint Paul. In the medallions, are the faces of the so-called Catholic king and queen, Fernando and Isabel.
El Pazo de Raxoi – palacio de Rajoy
Exactly in front of the Cathedral on the main Square – The Obradoiro. You will find the Palace of Rajoy, a neoclassical building and the most modern of the Obradoiro square. Surprisingly and although it is of a completely different architecture style and period it still works comfortably together with the other monuments while creating a pleasant whole.
This building is now occupied by the “Xunta de Galicia”, by the Santiago council authorities and the “Consello da Cultura Gallega”. But it was originally built as a school, a home for the priests and was later, towards the end of the 18th century also used as a prison – as you can see in the 2003 Galician Movie “El Lápiz del Carpintero”. Its name has nothing to do with the actual Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy but was commissioned by the Archbishop Bartolomé Raxoi to a French military engineer Lemur who finished it in 1766.
Take a good look at the majestic logic columns that support the three pediments. They carry the eyes towards the center and the high relief of the battle of Clavijo with Saint James on a horse as Santiago Matamoros leading the Spanish army to victory, a work by José Ferreiro and Jose Gambino from drawings by Gregorio Ferro.
Every night around 10 pm, this arcade becomes the stage of “la Tuna de Derecho”, a show which existed in major University towns all over Spain since the 13th century as a way for students to pay for their school fees and lodging. So, at night, do not miss a concert by a group of Law students dressed up in traditional costumes who sing those jolly folk songs.
College of San Jerónimo
On the left of the Palacio de Rajoy, you will find another large building, the College of San Xerome or San Jerónimo which adjoins the College of Fonseca, on Rua do Franco. The forth building of the Obradoiro Square is nowadays the seat of the rector of the University of Compostela. Its facade, very similar to that of the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, though less decorated, dates from the end of the 15th century.
Observe the beautiful high relief that adorn the main facade and if possible enter the cloister which is a fine example of the Renaissance style.
San Fructuoso CHurch
From the Obradoiro Square of the Cathedral, look at the stunning Hostel of the Catholic Kings – the 5* Parador of Santiago, on your left. On the side of the hotel, you will find stairs coming down and a sign for the new Pilgrim Office (where you can get your Compostela, the Certificate of Achievement of the Camino). Straight ahead is one of Santiago’s most charming street “rua das Hortas”. A typical Galician street with its white houses and red tiled roods. At number one, you will find Santiago’s only Michelin Star restaurant – Casa Marcelo – and if you continue straight you are on your way to reach Finisterre by the only Camino which originates from Santiago and goes to the coast.
But what we would like you to notice now is the Church of San Fructose just opposite the fountain on the left of the staircase. It was built in the second half of the 18th century and a work by the architect Lucas Ferro Caaveiro.
Possibly the most interesting thing about its exterior are the high reliefs on its facade. These supposedly represent the four virtues: prudence, justice, strength and moderation. But any Compostalano would tell you that they really represent the four suits of a pack of Spanish playing cards, la Baraja Española: gold/coins (oros), cups (copas), swords (espadas) and clubs (bastos). Inside the church is an altarpiece dating from 1769.
Now continue left and you will reach a charming garden with a small maze and beautiful views. This is actually the grounds of a medieval cemetery with a unique particularity – everyone buried here was a Saint!
As we mentioned, the Parador used to be a Hospital for Pilgrims and unfortunately many pilgrims did not manage to leave the City of the Apostle after reaching the Cathedral. Their bodies which had received penance for walking the Camino were buried here so they had not had time to sin afterwards and are considered Saints.
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