Legend dictates that the apostle James took Jesus’s request to “go forth and spread the Word” literally and ended up in Finisterre (end of the world) having past through this area preaching and gathering followers. He returned to Jerusalem in 44AC where he was killed, but his disciples stole his body and brought his remains back to this area in a stone boat. A mausoleum was erected and the remains buried in a secret hilltop location. In the 9th century a bright star shining on the field (“field of the star” = campus stella – later renamed Compostela) led to the discovery of the tomb. The local Bishop received notice of the event and alerted the King (AlfonsoII) who declared that a church be built on the site and St. James be the patron. (St. James is one of the patron saints of Spain). In the 13th century, the Pope named Santiago de Compostela a holy town, third in importance after Rome and Jerusalem and a cathedral was erected over the original chapel which housed the tomb of St. James.
To this day pilgrimages are made and we observed a small group of backpackers arriving via Camino Franco to the Cathedral Square (Praza Do Obradoiro). According to our guide, if a pilgrim walks 100km (or cycles 200km) to Santiago de Compostela, they are awarded a special certificate, however, many pilgrims make shorter pilgrimages on one of the seven main routes, all of which have clam shells directing the way. (Note the clamshell on the pilgrims backpack!)
Obviously the city is steeped in history, and one feels it and witnesses it when walking the paved streets.
Once again, there are many opportunities to sample and see the local food specialties. We enjoyed tapas and the local wine and beer at some of the many eating establishments.
And then there are the “two Marias” – two eccentric sisters who dressed flamboyantly, wore a lot of make-up and enjoyed promenading through Alameda park and flirting with university students at 2 o’clock every day! A statue to commemorate the two women was made by sculptor Cesar Lambera in 1994.
We spent several hours in the late afternoon and early evening relaxing and watching young families, children, students, dogs and their walkers in a park overlooking the city.
Our hotel San Bieito is a modern filing with a very old shell! A great find which is tucked away in the old town.