Santiago de Compostela has been a travellers’ destination for so long that it boasts the oldest hotel in the world. The city is also the subject of the first guidebook in history, the early 12th-century Codex Calixtinus, part of which details the famous pilgrim route, the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James). The city’s importance in the history of Christianity is such that it is the third holiest site in Christendom, after Jerusalem and Rome. Santiago de Compostela is a national monument, and its artistic and historical importance was confirmed when, in 1993, the entire city was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was further corroborated when it became a European city of culture for the year 2000.
Today, Santiago de Compostela remains an exquisitely preserved medieval cathedral town, centered on the shrine of the apostle James, after whom the city is named. The winding narrow streets of the Old Quarter are built from local granite and on clear days, the warm and golden stone glows in the sunlight. Even on the more frequent rainy days, the facades glisten beguilingly – the Praza do Obradoiro, with the great Baroque faÁ§ade of the Cathedral, is especially glorious. The entire Old Quarter is a honeycomb of architectural charm, perfect for exploring on foot.
Santiago de Compostela is almost entirely Romanesque and Baroque – the city’s 18th-century ecclesiastical patrons lavished so much wealth on this particular architectonic approach that it evolved into a style known as Galician Baroque. Santiago de Compostela’s Old Quarter is often styled a ‘living museum’, with the Cathedral and other jewels placed in a magnificent setting of winding paved and arcaded streets, granite walls and smaller monuments that create a superb ambience. The Cathedral itself is flanked by several celebrated squares – Praza do Obradoiro, Praza das Praterias, Praza da Quintana and Praza da Inmaculada. Picturesque avenues and alleys radiate out from this centre, around which the city developed, to the other squares and sights of the Old Quarter – the Convento de San Francisco, the University and the Praza de Cervantes.
Santiago de Compostela is a university city and the student population dominates the nightlife. Characterful bars and nightclubs can be found in the Old Quarter and along the Rúa do Franco, some converted from coach-houses or the stables of palaces. These mostly were a deliberate attempt to enliven the district in the evenings, because the real student life goes on in the suburbs. The rectangle defined by Rúa de Santiago de Chile and Rúa de San Pedro de Mezonzo is the focus of this, full of raucous bars swarming with students during term time, especially on Thursday and Friday night. Bars on the Rúa Nova de Abaixo are particularly popular with students. Students also make up many of the most dramatic pageants and local festivals.
Information supplied by CheapoAir