The rooftop tour of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela has been high on our list of, ‘must do tours’ for quite some time. Ever since guests to our holiday rental property left a glowing recommendation in the visitors book. A favourable weather forecast and a return trip to Santiago airport were the only excuses we needed to book.
The online booking procedure and 12 euros per person payment couldn’t have been simpler. We printed out our ticket and away we went. At the weekend, guided tours are conducted hourly from 10:00 until 1:00 in the morning and 4:00 until 7:00 in the afternoon. We booked the 6:00 p.m. tour. This gave us plenty of time to drop my sister and brother-in-law off at the airport before making our way into the city.
Being a Sunday afternoon the streets were busy with weekend tourists as we made our way to Plaza del Obradoiro, location of the cathedral in the heart of the old town. Unfortunately, the building is undergoing extensive restoration work to its iconic façade. A muraled tarpaulin of the north tower is not quite the same as seeing the real thing. We consoled ourselves in the knowledge that we were witnesses to this once in a lifetime event.
The meeting point for the start of the tour was the visitors centre situated directly below the main entrance. After a short wait we were introduced to Fabiana, our tour guide for the afternoon. She began by telling us that there were over 100 steps to the roof.
‘Call out if you’re struggling’ she added, before ushering us towards a door at the back of the centre.
She led our party of thirty or so through the door and up a narrow stone staircase to the first floor nave. We paused for breath while she instructed us in the cathedral’s architectural history. Five or six metres below us, visitors to the cathedral went about their business. Tourists snapped photos and the devoted knelt quietly in prayer. Her hushed tones made listening difficult but we managed to get the gist of things.
Construction of the current building began in 1075. Records show that the final stone was laid in 1122 although it’s universally accepted that the building had not been completed by then. In 1495 a university was added and further additions were made in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. All very interesting but we were keen to get onto the roof.
From the nave she led us through another door and up another flight of stone steps. Without warning, bright daylight angled into the narrow staircase as Fabiana pushed open a door. A cool gust of wind whistled past us as one by one we stepped out onto the roof. The thick granite roof tiles formed a natural staircase as we climbed to the ridge of the roof. Just as I turned to look over the city, a gust of wind threw me off balance. My heart skipped a beat as I steadied myself.
‘Take a seat,’ instructed Fabiana.
We were happy to follow her suggestion as she continued with the narrative. A combination of a stiff breeze and her quiet voice made hearing impossible but it really didn’t matter. We were here to take full advantage of this unique view of the city.
The tour of the roof continued for almost an hour, taking in every aspect of the amazing views. Finally we made our way back down, emerging in the corner of the cathedral.
If you’re ever in Santiago and have an hour or so to spare, I can highly recommend this unique and interesting tour – with or without the painted tarpaulin.
Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs
Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit our website getaway-galicia
Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.