Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia in northwestern Spain, with a “Mayor-Council” government body and with a population of 95,671 in 2012 and was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985
- Santiago is this Spanish region’s most famous and illustrious city and is regarded as one of the world’s great cities
- The city is also the resting place of the apostle Saint James whose connection with both the cathedral and town has led to Santiago’s significance as the third most important place in Christendom.
- The old town is full of dazzling examples of Gothic, Neo-classical, Romanesque and Baroque design and nearly all are on a grand or monumental scale.
- The cathedral itself is the final destination for thousands of Christian pilgrims who walk the “Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago)” pilgrimage across Galicia in order to reach this impressive city and visit the tomb of the saint himself.
- These pilgrims, usually catholics, travel to Santiago from all over the world although the majority originate from Spain, France and Italy.
- It is the route, or routes, that they follow that are known as “El Camino” and the oldest one starts in France some 900km (650 miles) from its ultimate destination. The serious pilgrims, who walk the entire route, can expect a journey of approximately one months duration, with the added bonus of very sore feet
- The objective of the “el Camino de Santiago” pilgrimage is to reach the large cathedral at Santiago de Compostela and visit the shrine of the apostle whose tomb rests there. Over the years however two other rituals have evolved. One is the touching of the statue of St. James behind the main altar, for which there is normally a long queue and a significant wait. The other is the tapping three times of the pilgrims head on a large column just inside the “Portico de la Gloria” (arched entrance to the cathedral). The pilgrim (or visitor) also places their hand on a designated spot on the column during this ritual.
- Galicia has a culture which is both unique and distinct from that of the rest of Spain and the core of this difference is centred upon Galicia’s perceived identity as a “Celtic”, rather than a “Latino” or “Hispanic”, sub nation.
- The two most obvious traits of Galicia’s culture are its language, “gallego” and the way in which it demonstrates and celebrates its heritage through dress and music.
- How the Galicians dress, sing and dance (e.g. during a festival) is different to, not just the rest of Spain, but also its neighbors. Bagpipes are the traditional instrument and the bright and flamboyant colours of “Flamenco” are replaced by a more dour style which perhaps represents the cooler weather, tougher lifestyle and economic strife that Galicia has suffered in the past
- A special pilgrims’ Mass is usually celebrated at noon daily, with other Masses usually at 9.30am or 10am daily, 1.15pm Sunday, 6pm Saturday and Sunday, and 7.30pm daily. Touristic visits are discouraged during these services.
Courtesy Wikipedia, Galica Guide, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and Santiagoturismo