Thursday, February 4, 2016

Santiago de Compostela

executive summary by darmansjah

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia in northwestern Spain.

The city has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the city's cathedral, as destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route originated in the 9th century. In 1985 the city's Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sanctu Iacobu "Saint James". According to legend, Compostela derives from the Latin Campus Stellae (i.e., "field of the star"); it seems unlikely however that this could yield the modern Compostela under normal evolution from Latin to Medieval Galician. Other etymologies derive the name from Latin compositum, local Vulgar Latin Composita Tella, meaning "burial ground"; or simply from Latin compositellam, meaning "the well-composed one". Other sites in Galicia share this toponym, akin to Compostilla in the province of León.

The city

The cathedral borders the main plaza of the old and well-preserved city. Legend has it that the remains of the apostle James were brought to Galicia for burial. In 813, according to medieval legend, the light of a bright star guided a shepherd who was watching his flock at night to the burial site in Santiago de Compostela. The shepherd quickly reported his discovery to the bishop of Iria, Bishop Teodomiro. The bishop declared that the remains were those of the apostle James and immediately notified King Alfonso II in Oviedo. To honour St. James, the cathedral was built on the spot where his remains were said to have been found. The legend, which included numerous miraculous events, enabled the Catholic faithful to not only maintain their stronghold in northern Spain during the Christian crusades against the Moors, but also led to the growth and development of the city.

Along the western side of the Praza do Obradoiro is the elegant 18th century Pazo de Raxoi, now the city hall. Across the square is the Pazo de Raxoi (Raxoi's Palace), the town hall and seat of the Galician Xunta, and on the right from the cathedral steps is the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, founded in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon, as a pilgrims' hospice (now a parador). The Obradoiro façade of the cathedral, the best known, is depicted on the Spanish euro coins of 1 cent, 2 cents, and 5 cents (€0.01, €0.02, and €0.05).

Santiago is the site of the University of Santiago de Compostela, established in the early 16th century. The main campus can be seen best from an alcove in the large municipal park in the centre of the city.

Within the old town there are many narrow winding streets full of historic buildings. The new town all around it has less character though some of the older parts of the new town have some big flats in them.

Santiago de Compostela has a substantial nightlife. Divided between the new town (a zona nova in Galician, la zona nueva in Spanish or ensanche) and the old town (a zona vella in Galician or la zona vieja in Spanish, trade-branded as zona monumental), a mix of middle-aged residents and younger students running throughout the city until the early hours of the morning can often be found. Radiating from the centre of the city, the historic cathedral is surrounded by paved granite streets, tucked away in the old town, and separated from the newer part of the city by the largest of many parks throughout the city, Parque da Alameda. Whether in the old town or the new town, party-goers will often find themselves following their tapas by dancing the night away.

Santiago gives its name to one of the four military orders of Spain: Santiago, Calatrava, Alcántara and Montesa.

One of the most important economic centres in Galicia, Santiago is the seat for organisations like Association for Equal and Fair Trade Pangaea.


The area of Santiago de Compostela was a Roman cemetery by the 4th century, being occupied by the Suebi in the early 400s, during the initial collapse of the Roman Empire when they settled in Galicia and Portugal. The area was later attributed to the bishopric of Iria Flavia in the 6th century, in the partition usually known as Parochiale Suevorum, ordered by king Theodemar. In 585 the whole settlement together with the rest of Suebi Kingdom was annexed by Leovigild into the Visigothic kingdom of Spain as the sixth province of the realm.

Possibly raided from 711 to 739 by the Arabs,[citation needed] the bishopric of Iria was incorporated into the Kingdom of Asturias c. 750; some tens of years later. At some point between 818 and 842, bishop Theodemar of Iria (d. 847) claimed to have found some remains which were attributed to Saint James the Greater, during the reign of Alfonso II of Asturias. Allegedly, the Pope and Charlemagne—who anyway was dead by 814—may have had an important role in the discovery and acceptance of this finding. It was actually these political and religious figures who acknowledged Alfonso II's reign and Asturias as a kingdom altogether, besides starting close political and ecclesiastic ties Around the place of the discovery emerged a new settlement and centre of pilgrimage, which was already known by Usuard in 865, and that was called Compostella at least from the 10th century.

However, during the 10 and 11th centuries, the cult of Saint James of Compostela was but one of many arising at the time in different political regions of northern Iberia, whose rulers didn´t doubt to encourage their own region-specific cults—Saint Eulalia in Oviedo, Saint Aemilian in Castile. Since the early 10th century, Compostela started to become a politically more relevant site after the centre of Asturian political power moved from Oviedo to León, and several kings of Galicia and of León were acclaimed by the Galician noblemen, and crowned and anointed by the local bishop at the cathedral, among them Ordoño IV in 958, Bermudo II in 982, and Alfonso VII in 1111, so Compostela becoming capital of the Kingdom of Galicia. Later, 12th-century kings were also sepulchered in the cathedral, namely Fernando II and Alfonso IX, last of the Kings of León and Galicia before both kingdoms were united with the Kingdom of Castile.

During this same 10th century and in the first years of the 11th century Viking raiders tried to assault it—Galicia is known in the Nordic sagas as Jackobsland or Gallizaland—and bishop Sisenand II, who was killed in battle against them in 968, ordered the construction of a walled fortress to protect the sacred place. In 997 Compostela was assaulted and partially destroyed by Ibn Abi Aamir (known as al-Mansur), Andalusian leader accompanied in his raid by Christian lords, who all received a share of the loot. However, the Andalusian commander showed no interest for the alleged relics of St James. In response to these challenges bishop Cresconio, in the mid11th century, fortified the entire town, building walls and defensive towers.

According to some authors, by the middle years of the 11th century the site became a pan-European place of peregrination, second only to Rome and Jerusalem, and others make it clear that the cult to Saint James was before 11-12th centuries an essentially Galician affair, supported by Asturian and Leonese kings to earn faltering Galician loyalties. In the 12th century, under the impulse of bishop Diego Gelmírez, Compostela became an archbishopric, attracting a large and multinational population. Under the rule of this prelate, the townspeople rebelled, headed by the local council, beginning a secular tradition of confrontation of the people of the city—who fought for self-government—with the local bishop, the secular and jurisdictional lord of the city and of its fief, the semi-independent Terra de Santiago ("land of Saint James"). The peak of this confrontation was reached in the 14th century, when the new prelate, the Frenchman Bérenger de Landore, treacherously executed the counselors of the city in his castle of A Rocha Forte ("the strong rock, castle"), after attracting them for talks.

Santiago de Compostela was captured and sacked by the French during the Napoleonic Wars; as a result, the remains attributed to the apostle were lost for near a century, hidden inside a cist in the crypts of the cathedral of the city.

The excavations conducted in the cathedral during the 19th and 20th centuries uncovered a Roman cella memoriae or martyrium, around which grew a small cemetery in Roman and Suevi times which was later abandoned. This martyrium, which proves the existence of an old Christian holy place, has been sometimes attributed to Priscillian, although without further proof.

Main sights

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

12th century Colegiata de Santa María del Sar

16th century Baroque Abbey of San Martín Pinario

University of Santiago de Compostela

Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea (Galician Center for Contemporary Art), designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira

Parque de San Domingos de Bonaval, redesigned by Eduardo Chillida and Alvaro Siza Vieira

City of Culture of Galicia (will be completed in 2012), designed by Peter Eisenman


Santiago de Compostela is served by Santiago de Compostela Airport and a rail service. The town is linked to the Spanish High Speed Railway Network. On 24 July 2013 there was a serious rail accident near the city in which 79 people died and at least 130 were injured when a train derailed on a bend as it approached Compostela station

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