Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain is one hell of a place. I would go as far as saying that everyone should at least once in their lifetime make the effort to visit it. The energies and power that Compostela exudes are unmatched. Sure, there are other pilgrimage centres, such as Rome or Medina, but Compostela has a strong and very enigmatic pull and positive force which inject new motivation into your life. It’s hard to describe, but Compostela’s energies will carry on with you long after you’ve left the city.
Why does this place hold such strong powers, I hear you ask? Well, having spent a few days in Santiago de Compostela I actively engaged with its history, cultural development and modern identity in the 20th century. Here are 47 random facts about Santiago de Compostela that will interest you and hopefully inspire you to visit it one day.
Random Facts About Santiago de Compostela: 1-13
- Santiago de Compostela was built purely for one purpose: the Camino and pilgrimage to the Apostle’s burial site. Everything about this place is centred on this historical event.
- Compostela is a fairly young place with its first mention in the 9th century.
- It all started with the random discovery of a Roman mausoleum & remains by the hermit Pelayo.
- Bishop Teodomiro identifies the remains as those of the Apostle James.
- King Alfonso II builds then a sanctuary on site. This attracts monks who soon settle there and guard the relics. This marks the beginning of the pilgrimage & the Camino.
- The complex is protected by a small perimeter and outlines a first walled structure.
- 900- 1040 more pilgrims arrive so King Alfonso III builds a larger basilica on site. “Villa burguensis” (borough), which will later develop into the municipal, is born.
- Bishop Sisuando II builds a wall around town to protect its population. Parts of this area are destroyed in 997 by the dictator Almanzor.
- 1150 the town expands exponentially & construction of the cathedral begins.
- Bishop Cresconio builds a second wall enclosing a wider area. This stimulates the economy, creates a stable community and offers protection from diseases (e.g. the plague).
- Pilgrims attract a variety of industries such as jet stone carvers, blacksmiths, silverware makers & merchants.
- Those would later form brotherhoods and guilds to protect their professions in Compostela.
- Compostela used to have 7 entrance gates. Today, only the Mazarelos Gate survived.
Random Facts About Santiago de Compostela: 14-22
- 13th century, the castle “Rocha Forte” is built outside of Compostela. It became double in size because it was used as the Archbishop’s residence and as a defensive enclave from which feudal power was exercised.
- The castle was destroyed in the 15th century during the Irmandina Revolt, but the ruins can still be visited today.
- The name “Compostela” has two stories attached to it. Both are of Roman origins.
- First Story: a monk saw a comet in the night sky and thought it must have been the devil’s work. However, the comet was visible for three weeks, so he interpreted the star as a sign sent by God.
- Therefore, “Compostela” is often referred to as the “field of stars”. This has been picked up by Salvador Dali, Spain’s most popular Surrealist, in one of his drawings. Santiago de Compostela or “the field of stars” is currently on display in Berlin.
- Another star reference fact: the Camino moves parallel to the Milky Way and has therefore a strong spiritual connection to the universe.
- Second Story: Compostela as a “burial ground” and reference to the mausoleum and Roman graves which were discovered in the 9th century.
- The old trade routes Via Romania XXIII and XIX cross in Santiago. Back then there was a small settlement on the crossing that was mostly used to exchange horses. It was also used as a burial site and cemetery for the Romans.
- La Casa Gotica is the last surviving example of 14th-century civil architecture. A style which boomed back then.
Random Facts About Santiago de Compostela: 23-29
- 1492: King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella visit the city and order the construction of a large hospital to attend to the pilgrims and to the sick.
- 1495: university is founded by King Alfonso purely to satisfy the need and high demand for artists and trades for the Camino.
- The hospital is still standing today in Plaza Obradoiro and is a 5* Star Hotel (Hotel Parador).
- “Obradoiro” refers to the masonry workshops that occupied the square during the construction of the Cathedral.
- 17th-century calls for a new style: baroque becomes en vogue.
- The Cathedral receives its iconic facade. Fernando de Casas y Nova creates it between 1738-1750. The Cathedral becomes Galicia’s greatest exponent of Baroque style.
- Architects construct several civil and religious buildings. Streets, squares and facades form a huge theatre set and offer interesting perspectives. The arcades and squares are beloved by locals and tourists today alike.
Random Facts About Santiago de Compostela: 30-37
- 18/19th-century Neoclassical style & the enlightenment take over and leave their mark on the city. Streets get paved and correctly aligned. Lightening and drainage are installed, too.
- 1873 Galicia’s first railway opens between Santiago and Vila Garcia.
- 1879 the rediscovery of the Apostle’s remains revives the worship of the Saint and boosts the socio-economic development of the city.
- 1909 King Alfonso XIII visits Santiago to celebrate the first Holy Year of the 20th-century and inaugurates the Regional Exhibition.
- In the 20th-century, Santiago develops parks and green spaces to become an example of a green sustainable city in Europe.
- There are more than 2 million square metres of public green spaces in Santiago today.
- The plants in Alameda Park are very exotic e.g. Gingko and gum trees. Those were souvenirs from afar by the adventurous and travel-hungry Spanish seafarers.
- The Lovers Gum Tree at Alameda Park is several 100 years old. It offers shade and the best views in town.
Random Facts About Santiago de Compostela: 38-47
- Seven Hills surround Santiago. Most of them are excellent viewpoints today e.g. Monte de Deus or Monte do Gozo. Both are only a 45-minute hike away.
- 1981 Santiago becomes Galicia’s capital.
- 1985 Santiago is declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- The Catholic Church charges you 20 EUR to see the secret parts of The Cathedral, in particular, the Portico da Gloria or the Rooftop. They are worth it though!
- The highlight of any Pilgrim’s Mass is the swinging of the Botafumeiro. It’s filled with incense and its sole purpose is to overrule the odour of the pilgrims.
- The Holy Year of the Catholic Church (Xacabeo 21/22) has been extended to 2022. Pilgrims are allowed to enter the Cathedral through the Holy Door.
- A brand-new bus station was opened in 2021. It connects Santiago long-distance with e.g. Lisbon, Porto and Paris.
- Many Caminos lead to Santiago. The most popular ones are Camino Frances, Camino del Norte and Camino Portuguese.
- Santiago has an airport with frequent services to Madrid, the Canary Islands and the UK.
- Between 700-2000 pilgrims arrive daily in Santiago.
Thank you so much for reading,
Till next time,
Did you enjoy these 47 random facts about Santiago de Compostela? You may also like my other Spain content:
- How To Spend One Day In Madrid
- Two Weeks & Three Locations For Your Solo Holidays in Spain.
- My Camino Frances Itinerary for a 5 Day Hike
- Travel Memories From Granada
Source: Oniricom for Intega S.L. Museum of Pilgrims, City Tour Santiago
Cover Picture: ©Alberto Bandín para Turismo de Santiago