Friday, May 9, 2008

Santiago de Compostela, Spain (May 3-5, 2008)

Santiago de Compostela is an historic pilgrimage town in Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain. It first became a pilgrimage destination during the 9th century, when the tomb of St. James the Apostle (Santiago to Spaniards) was discovered at the site; the number of pilgrims peaked between the 11th and 13th centuries when the church began granting spiritual indulgences. The pilgrimage has seen a revival in the last 50 years - hundreds of thousands of pilgrims now arrive each year on foot, on horseback or by bike - although today's reasons for traveling the Camino de Santiago (St. James' Way) range from spiritual to athletic to touristic.

There are a number of routes, each with a network of hostels, that lead pilgrims to Santiago from starting points in Spain, France and Portugal. Every pilgrim can choose how far he/she wants to journey, but it must be at least 100km on foot or 200km by bike to warrant a "compostela" or certificate of completion from the pilgrim's office. Pilgrims identify themselves by hanging a scallop shell (the symbol of the Camino) from their backpacks.

All roads in Santiago de Compostela's quaint Old Town lead to the Praza do Obradoiro with its massive Baroque and Romanesque cathedral, first built in the 11th and 12th centuries. In addition to the cathedral, there are many impressive examples of Baroque and Romanesque architecture throughout the maze of narrow cobblestone streets.

Aside from its fame as a religious site, Santiago is also the seat of Galicia's regional government and home to one of Spain's oldest universities. The city has a distinct "college town" vibe, with students bustling about in all directions. Along with the university comes an active arts community, and the town is full of museums, theaters and music halls.

Santiago de Compostela's cathedral, built to house the tomb of St. James. This picture shows the Baroque 18th century facade; inside the church, one can see the original 12th century Romanesque facade a few meters behind the Baroque one.
The Pilgrim's Mass is held every day at noon; during the mass, pilgrims who have received their compostela that day are named for the congregation The incredibly ornate interior of the cathedral
Statues of the apostles form part of the original Romanesque facade, or Portico da Gloria. The smiling apostle is Daniel.
A group of pilgrims pose for a photo in front of the cathedral
Walking sticks with scallop shells are Santiago de Compostela's #1 souvenir

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