Old Town of Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela is associated with one of the major themes of medieval history. From the shores of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea thousands of pilgrims carrying the scallop shell and the pilgrim's staff for centuries walked to the Galician sanctuary along the paths of Santiago, veritable roads of faith. Around its cathedral, a masterpiece of Romanesque art, Santiago de Compostela conserves a valuable historic centre worthy of one of Christianity's greatest holy cities. During the Romanesque and Baroque periods the sanctuary of Santiago exerted a decisive influence on the development of architecture and art, not only in Galicia but also in the north of the Iberian peninsula.

This is an extraordinary ensemble of distinguished monuments grouped around the tomb of St James the Greater, the destination of all the roads of Christianity's greatest pilgrimage from the 11th to the 18th century. Santiago de Compostela, owing to its monumental integrity, enshrines both specific and universal values. To the irreplaceable uniqueness of Romanesque and Baroque masterpieces is added the transcendental aesthetic contribution which makes use of diachronic and disparate elements in the construction of an ideal city which is overflowing with history. The exemplary nature of this city of Christian pilgrimage which is enriched by the ideological connotations of the Reconquista is echoed by the great spiritual significance of one of the few places that are so deeply imbued with faith as to become sacred for the tile of humanity.

On the miraculously discovered spot where the bones of the Apostle had been buried, a basilica was erected in approximately 818 during the reign of Alfonso II, king of Asturias. The Galician tomb thereafter became the symbol of the resistance of Spanish Christians against Islam. At the battle of Clavijo (844) the victory over the forces of Abd ar Rahman II was attributed to Santiago. Taken and laid waste in 997 by Al Mansour, the city was rebuilt during the 11th century around the Apostle's tomb, which had not been violated.

The oldest monuments date back to this period - the main body of the cathedral, consecrated in 1211, with its admirable Romanesque structure (plan in the form of a Latin cross, choir and deambulatory and radiating chapels, interior space magnified by the great number of galleries) and its sculpted array (Puerta de las Platerías at the southern arm of the transept). Building continued throughout the 12th century and drew to a triumphal close in 1188 with the erection of the Portico de la Gloria in the main facade.

The continuous embellishment process which characterizes the life of this edifice, to which were added Gothic chapels at the choir and transept, the cupola in 1448, the 16th-century cloister and finally the immense Churrigueresque casket of the Obradoiro (1738-50) is symbolic of the future of the entire medieval city, which has been profoundly transformed over the centuries yet respect for its monumental quality has always been maintained.

At the Plaza de España, one of the world's most beautiful urban areas, there is an intermingling of the Romanesque and Gothic forms in the Palace of Diego Gelmírez and San Jerónimo, of the Baroque facade of the Hospital Reál with its inset Plateresque portal by Enrique de Egas (1505-11) and the neoclassical theme of the Rajoy Palace.

Elsewhere in ensembles whose composition is less forceful, civil and religious architectural elements from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are also integrated into a high-quality urban fabric where 17th- and 18th-century themes prevail.

Copyright © UNESCO World Heritage Centre 1992-2012. All rights reserved.
Show lessRead more

Discover this place

Google apps