Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela


Coat of arms
Location of the municipality of Santiago de Compostela within Galicia
Santiago de Compostela is located in Spain
Santiago de Compostela
Location of Santiago de Compostela within Spain
Coordinates: 42°52′50″N 8°32′47″W / 42.880447°N 8.546303°W / 42.880447; -8.546303Coordinates: 42°52′50″N 8°32′47″W / 42.880447°N 8.546303°W / 42.880447; -8.546303
Country Spain
Region Galicia
Province A Coruña
County Santiago
Parishes Aríns, Bando, A Barciela, Busto, O Carballal, O Castiñeiriño, Cesar, Conxo, O Eixo, A Enfesta, Fecha, Figueiras, Fontiñas, Grixoa, Laraño, Marantes, Marrozos, Nemenzo, A Peregrina, Sabugueira, San Caetano, San Lázaro, San Paio, Santa Cristina de Fecha, Santiago de Compostela, Sar, Verdía, Vidán, Villestro, Vista Alegre
 - Type Mayor-council
 - Body Concello de Santiago
 - Mayor Gerardo Conde Roa (PP)
 - Councillors
 - Total 220 km2 (84.9 sq mi)
Elevation 260 m (853 ft)
Population (2009)INE
 - Total 95,092
 - Density 428.81/km2 (1,110.6/sq mi)
Demonym Santiagan
santiagués (m), santiaguesa (f)
compostelano (m), compostelana (f)
picheleiro (m), picheleira (f)
Time zone CET (GMT +1)
 - Summer (DST) CEST (GMT +2) (UTC)
Area code(s) +34

Santiago de Compostela (Galician pronunciation: [saŋtiˈaɣo ðe komposˈtɛla], Spanish: [sanˈtjaɣo ðe komposˈtela]) is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain.

The city's Cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James. 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". As for Compostela, folk etymology presumes it proceeds from the Latin Campus Stellae (i.e. "Field of the Star"), but it is unlikely that such form could yield the modern Compostela under normal evolution from Latin to Galician-Portuguese. More probable etymologies relate the word with Latin compositum, and local Vulgar Latin Composita Tella meaning "burial ground" as a euphemism, or simply with the hypocoristic compositellam, "the well composed" . Other sites in Galicia share this toponym, akin to Compostilla in León province. Compostela de Santiago or Santiago de Compostela are the same.

The city

Santiago's old Town UNESCO World Heritage Site

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.[1] The shepherd quickly reported his discovery to the bishop of Iria, Bishop Teodomiro.[2] The bishop declared that the remains were those of the apostle James and immediately notified King Alfonso II in Oviedo.[2] To honor 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.[3]

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 pilgrim's 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 apartments 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 center 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, Alcantara and Montesa.

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


Under the Köppen climate classification, Santiago de Compostela lies on the boundary between a Mediterranean (Csb) and oceanic (Cfb) climate.[citation needed] The prevailing winds from the Atlantic and the surrounding mountains combine to give Santiago some of Spain’s highest rainfall: about 1,545 millimetres (60.8 in) annually. The climate is mild: frosts are just common in December, January and February, with an average of just 8 days per year,[4] while snow is rare; temperatures over 35 °C (95 °F) are exceptional.

Climate data for Santiago de Compostela (1931~1960)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 15.7
Average high °C (°F) 10.9
Average low °C (°F) 4.3
Record low °C (°F) −1.3
Rainfall mm (inches) 214.0
Source: Worldwide Bioclimatic Classification System[5]
Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) *
UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Obradoiro façade of the grand Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: an all-but-Gothic composition generated entirely of classical details
Country Spain
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, vi
Reference 347
Region ** Continental Europe
Inscription history
Inscription 1985 (9th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
** Region as classified by UNESCO


The population of the city in 2010 was 94,824 inhabitants, while the metropolitan area reaches 150,000.

In 2010 there were 4,111 foreigners living in the city, representing a 4,3% of the total population. The main nationalities are Brazilians (11%), Portuguese (8%) and Colombians (7%).

By language, according to 2008 data, 21% of the population speak always in Galician, 15% speak always in Spanish and the rest use both interchangeably. Santiago is the Galician city with most monolingual population in Galician language.


Portico da Groria, old façade of the Romanesque cathedral, 13th century
Sepulcher of king Ferdinand II (d. 1187), in the Royal Pantheon of the cathedral

The area of Santiago de Compostela was a Roman cemetery by the 4th century,[6] 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.

Maybe raided from 711 to 739 by the Arabs, 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,[7] bishop Theodemar of Iria (d. 847), 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— would have had an important role in the discovery and acceptance of this find. Around the place of the discovery emerged a new settlement and center of pilgrimage, which was already known by Usuard in 865,[8] and that was called Compostella at least from the 10th century.

From this same 10th century on, Compostela became a politically relevant site, 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,[9] Bermudo II in 982, and Alfonso VII in 1111, so Compostela becoming capital of the Kingdom of Galicia. Later 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.

In the 11th and 12th century the site became a pan-European place of peregrination,[10] second only to Rome and Jerusalem. In 999 it was assaulted and partially destroyed by the Muslims under the command of Al Mansur, and assaulted by Viking riders in several occasions in the next century. As a result, bishop Cresconio fortified the place, building a wall and defensive towers. 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, have been sometimes attributed to Priscillian, although without further proof.[11]


Santiago's economy, although still heavily dependent in public administration (headquarters of the autonomous government of Galicia), cultural tourism and industry, an in its university, is becoming diversified in various sectors, most notably timber transformation (FINSA), automotive industry (UROVESA), and telecommunications and electronics (Blusens and Televés). Banco Gallego, a banking institution owned by Novacaixagalicia, has its headquarters in downtown rúa do Hórreo.

Tourism is very important thanks to the Way of St. James, particularly in Holy Compostelan Years (when July 25 falls on a Sunday). Following the Xunta's considerable investment and hugely successful advertising campaign for the Holy Year of 1993, the number of pilgrims completing the route has been steadily rising. Following the Holy Year of 2010, the next Holy Year will not be for another 11 years. More than 272,000 pilgrims made the trip during the course of 2010.

Editorial Compostela owns daily newspaper El Correo Gallego, a local TV, and a radio station. Galician language online news portal Galicia Hoxe is also based in the city. Televisión de Galicia, the public broadcaster corporation of Galicia, has its headquarters in Santiago.

Way of St. James

Way of St. James
A partial view of Santiago de Compostela, with the Pico Sagro in the background

The legend that St James found his way to the Iberian peninsula, and had preached there is one of a number of early traditions concerning the missionary activities and final resting places of the apostles of Jesus. Although the 1884 Bull of Pope Leo XIII Omnipotens Deus accepted the authenticity of the relics at Compostela, the Vatican remains uncommitted as to whether the relics are those of Saint James the Greater, while continuing to promote the more general benefits of pilgrimage to the site.

The legends

According to a tradition that can be traced back at least to the 12th century, when it was recorded in the recently stolen Codex Calixtinus, Saint James decided to return to Holy Land after preaching in Galicia. There he was beheaded, but his disciples managed to get his body to Jaffa, where they found a marvelous stone ship, which miraculously conduced the apostle's body and the disciples to Iria Flavia, back in Galicia. There, the disciples asked for permission to earthen the body to the local pagan queen, Lupa ('She-wolf'); she, annoyed with the newcomers, decided to the deceive them, sending them to pick a pair of oxes she allegedly had by the Pico Sacro, a local sacred mountain where a dragon dwelt, hoping that the dragon would kill the Christians. But at the sing of the cross, the dragon exploded. Them, the disciples marched to pick the oxes, which were really raging bulls which the queen used to punish her enemies; but at the sign of the cross the bulls calmed down, and subjected to a yoke, carried the apostle's body to what now is Compostela. The legend was again referred in the 15th century by the Czech traveler Jaroslav Lev of Rožmitál.[12]

The relics were said to have been later rediscovered in the 9th century by a hermit named Pelagius, who after observing strange lights in a local forest, went for help after the local bishop, Theodemar of Iria Flavia, in the west of Galicia. Theodemar was them guided to the spot by a star, the legend affirmed, drawing upon a familiar myth-element, hence "Compostela" was given an etymology as a corruption of Campus Stellae, "Field of Stars."

In the 15th century still it was preserved in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela the banner which guided the Galician armies to battle, red, in the centre Saint James riding a white horse and wearing a white cloak, sword in hand.[13] The legend of the miraculous armed intervention of Saint James, disguised as a white knight to help the Christians when battling the Muslims, was a recurrent myth during the High Middle Ages.

The establishment of the shrine

The Scallop Shell, emblem of St James, worn by pilgrims

As suggested already, it is probably impossible to know whose bones were actually found, and precisely when and how. Perhaps it does not matter. What the history of the pilgrimage requires, but what the meagre sources fail to reveal, is how the local Galician cult associated with the saint was transformed into an international cult drawing pilgrims from distant parts of the world.

The 1000 year old pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is known in English as the Way of St. James and in Spanish as the Camino de Santiago. Over 100,000 pilgrims travel to the city each year from points all over Europe and other parts of the world. The pilgrimage has been the subject of many books and television programmes, notably Brian Sewell's The Naked Pilgrim produced for UK's Five. The pilgrimage has also been the subject of several paintings by the artist Brian Whelan.

Pilgrims' Way by Brian Whelan
The Way by Brian Whelan

Pre-Christian legends

As the lowest-lying land on that stretch of coast, the city's site took on added significance. Legends supposed of Celtic origin made it the place where the souls of the dead gathered to follow the sun across the sea. Those unworthy of going to the Land of the Dead haunted Galicia as the Santa Compaña or Estadea.

Main sights


Santiago de Compostela is served by Santiago de Compostela Airport[14] and rail service. There are also plans to provide access to Santiago de Compostela by the Spanish High Speed Railway Network, a project under construction.

Sister cities

Santiago de Compostela is twinned with:

See also


  1. ^ Marilyn Stokstad,Santiago de Compostela In the Age of the Great Pilgrimages.(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978), 7.
  2. ^ a b Stokstad, Santiago de Compostela, 8.
  3. ^ Stokstad, Santiago de Compostela, 6.
  4. ^ In the five years 2006-2010, cf. Meteogalicia.
  5. ^ "ESP LA CORUÑA - SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA". Centro de Investigaciones Fitosociológicas. Retrieved 2011-10-07. 
  6. ^ Fletcher, R.A. (1984). Saint James's catapult: the life and times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press. pp. 57–59. ISBN 978-0198225812. 
  7. ^ Fletcher, R.A. (1984). Saint James's catapult : the life and times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0198225812. 
  8. ^ Fletcher, R.A. (1984). Saint James's catapult: the life and times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0198225812. 
  9. ^ Portela Silva, Ermelindo (2001). García II de Galicia, el rey y el reino (1065-1090). Burgos: La Olmeda. pp. 165. ISBN 84-89915-16-4. 
  10. ^ Fletcher, R.A. (1984). Saint James's catapult : the life and times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0198225812. 
  11. ^ Fletcher, R.A. (1984). Saint James's catapult: the life and times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-0198225812. 
  12. ^ Garrido Bugarín, Gustavo A. (1994). Aventureiros e curiosos : relatos de viaxeiros estranxeiros por Galicia, séculos XV - XX. Vigo: Ed. Galaxia. pp. 35–37. ISBN 8471549093. 
  13. ^ Garrido Bugarín, Gustavo A. (1994). Aventureiros e curiosos : relatos de viaxeiros estranxeiros por Galicia, séculos XV - XX. Vigo: Ed. Galaxia. pp. 40. ISBN 8471549093. 
  14. ^ The airport code for Santiago de Compostela’s Metropolitan Airport is (IATA: SCQICAO: LEST).
  15. ^ Prefeitura.Sp - Descentralized Cooperation[dead link]
  16. ^ "International Relations - São Paulo City Hall - Official Sister Cities". Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  17. ^ Hispaniola was under the rule of the Dominican Order and Order of Alcántara, therefore, the name of Santiago as a city in the Dominican Republic could be applied later

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