Things to Do in Santiago de Compostela
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela) is one of the most important shrines in Christendom, believed to be the final resting place of St. James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles. The Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque structure is the terminus of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage routes through Northern Spain.
The Catedral del Apostolo is the main point of interest in Santiago de Compostela, but the surrounding monuments are also worth noting. Each facade of the massive Baroque church faces a plazas; the Catedral's south door opens into the Praza das Praterías (Plaza de Platerías). The centerpiece of this square is a large fountain, La Fuente de los Caballos, a sculpture of four spirited horses with webbed feet.
Fantastic equestrian statuary aside, this plaza is also known as "the silversmith's plaza," and indeed, the arcades on the perimeter are occupied with vendors selling silver goods and trinkets. These little shops are what distinguish the Plaza de las Platerias from the others, but the narrow streets of the Old Quarter (the part of town built around the Catedral) radiate from the Catedral and its plazas, and you can find more shopping and vendors in these charming alleys.
In particular, south of the Cathedral and the Plaza de las Platerías is the old town of Santiago, centered on two parallel streets, Rúa del Villar (with the 18th-century Casa del Deán at its near end, on left) and Rúa Nueva (Galician Nova). On these two streets, you'll find bars, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Located near the southern facade of the Catedral del Apostolo, the Monastery of San Martiño Pinario (Mosteiro de San Martiño Pinario) was once one of the most important monasteries in all of Galicia. The exterior of this Benedictine monastery is baroque and intimidating, carved in scenes of Biblical drama (such as St Mark rending his cloak) and gargoyles. Its interior is no less striking - in addition to its centuries-old sculpture and adornments, the monastery houses an exhibition of large portraits of people living in small villages throughout Italy and Spain. These stirring pictures drive home the plight of these isolated cultures steady decline, making for a moving experience.
The altar, a magnificent piece carved by the monks themselves, is visible from the door, and if you visit this church, it will likely be a focal point of your experience. Indeed, even the facade is designed as an altar, creating a central theme of sacrificial veneration that continues inside.
The monastery's accoutrements and exhibit are not the only draws, however. During the summer, two 17th-century cloisters, normally closed during the rest of the year, provide lodging for visitors and pilgrims.
The pilgrimage route called Camino di Santiago (sometimes translated as Way of St. James) stretches across Europe into northern Spain and down to Santiago di Compostela. This sacred path has been followed since medieval times by faithful Christians who seek to worship at the tomb of St. James, as well as other hikers who are inspired by the spiritual “way.”
Back when the earth was assumed to be flat, Cape Finisterre (derived from the Latin for "land's end") was thought to be the westernmost point of the world. Of course, the world moves on across the Atlantic, but Cape Finisterre (or Cabo Finisterre in Spanish) is the westernmost point in Spain, and it's also the final destination for Catholic pilgrims traveling the Way of Saint James. It's about 90 km (55 miles) west of Santiago de Compostela.
If you're not making a pilgrimage, Cape Finisterre has a number of excellent beaches, including O Rostro, Arnela, Mar de Fora, Langosteira, Riveira, and Corbeiro, many of which are bracketed by breathtaking cliffs. The water isn't too cold here, making it a great destination for swimming and sunbathing.
Pilgrims can walk(!), but you might want to take a bus - a bus runs from Santiago de Compostela twice a day; the drive takes about 90 minutes. Finisterre has several quaint fishing villages to visit, as well as a number of landmarks of both maritime and religious nature. This being the terminus of a major Catholic pilgrimage, traditions abound, and if you visit the lighthouse, you can burn your boots or clothes in the steel bowls set up for this, echoing a ritual dating back to the middle ages.
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