This morning half of our group travelled by van, driven my Marcello, to the town of Santiago, Spain, located about a two hours’ drive away. The countryside along the way is mostly rolling hills covered in vineyards, eucalyptus trees, pine trees, corn and other crops. The roads we took were in excellent condition but we did have to stop multiple times to pay tolls of about twenty euros to reach our destination. The weather was very warm and a bit humid, reaching about 92 degrees Fahrenheit. While we were here in April, 2016, it was raining and cold.
Once we arrived in the town of Santiago, we made our way to the main square called Obradoiro Square. Here is a magnificent view of the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela, the Town Hall, the Palace of Saint Jerome and a 15th century Hotel of the Catholic Kings. The square itself is paved in stone with no flowers, no fountain and no ornamentation of any kind. On the other hand, the cathedral and the surrounding buildings more than make up for the lack of ornamentation.
This cathedral is a place of pilgrimage because as the story goes, St James the apostle’s remains are entombed here. The apostle was beheaded in Palestine and some of his disciples brought his body back to Spain where he had once taught the word of God. They thought this was where he wanted to be buried. Over time his remains were lost until one night a farmer found them in the light of the moon known in Spanish as the Compostela. When the Apostle’s bones were found, a small chapel was built in his honor and it was enlarged several times over the years until it became an enormous cathedral. The west face of the cathedral shows the apostle James (Santiago) as a pilgrim, as well as a representation of the urn where the remains of the Apostle appeared. This main entrance was currently undergoing restoration and was mostly hidden behind scaffolding. On the north side of the cathedral is the Plaza de Azabacheria and a neo-classical façade. To the south is the Silversmith’s Square where, during the middle ages, silversmiths had their smithies. This south side of the cathedral is decorated in Romanesque style. On the east side is the Jubilee Door on the La Quintana Square. This door is usually only used during a year when St. James’ birthday falls on a Sunday and this is where pardons are dispensed. During the summer months, many Christians make a pilgrimage to this historic site walking or biking a minimum of 100 kilometers on foot or 200 kilometers on wheels. Others have been known to make the entire journey that St James’ body took walking for up to two and a half months from France, primarily.
Inside this massive church there is a very ornate altar complete with a large bust of St James. There is a rear stairwell where you can climb up to the rear of St James bust in silver and give him a hug. Below the altar you can take another set of stairs down to a crypt where we found a large silver box containing the remains of St James. Around the perimeter of the church there are many small chapels with ornate decorative altars of all types. Most of these are locked behind iron gates to protect them. The alar itself is several stories tall with lots of gold, horses, cherubs and angels. It has so many different things going on with it, that it is hard to make sense of it when you sit and look at it. So much for the old saying that less is more.
After our visit inside the cathedral we wandered the old city and found a small café for a bite to eat. We had one of the local favorites—the clams, tuna empanada and croquets for lunch. Our next stop was at a large park located outside of the old city. The park has beautiful lush tree-lined pathways, statuary, park benches and ice cream carts. We then headed back to the Hotel of the Catholic Kings for a cooling off in the air conditioning. The hotel is a beautiful five-star hotel built during the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand with a blend of Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic styles gracing its rich interior. There is a lovely central courtyard with a fountain filled with fresh rose petals. Wide hallways surround the courtyard, lushly furnished with sofas, chairs, carpets and paintings. A regular room can run you in the neighborhood of 500 Euros or more a night during season.
On our walk, we encountered ladies passing out samples of almond cookies and cakes. We decided, after the samples, that the cookies would be a nice gift and bought a box.
We arrived back at our hotel in Porto about 7:30pm where Kent and Christine awaited our return and treated us to drinks in the hotel bar. We then headed into town for a bite to eat before heading to bed.