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Santiago de Compostela (also Saint James of Compostela) is the capital of the autonomous community of Galiciamarker and a UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site. Located in the north west of Spainmarker in the Province of A Coru√Īa, it was a "European City of Culture" for the year 2000. The city's Cathedralmarker is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. Jamesmarker (Galician: Cami√Īo de Santiago, Spanish: Camino de Santiago). The Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela hosted one of the Catholic World Youth Day gatherings.

Folk etymology for the name "Compostela" is that it comes from the Latin "Campus Stellae" (i.e. Stars Field), but it is unlikely such a phonetic evolution takes account of normal evolution from Latin to Galician-Portuguese. A more probable etymology relates the word with Latin "compositum", and local Vulgar Latin "Composita Tella", meaning "burial ground" as a euphemism. Many other places through Galicia share this toponym (with identical sense) and there even exists a "Compostilla" in the Leónmarker province.


Santiago de Compostela is served by an airportmarker 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.

The city

The cathedralmarker borders the main plaza of the old and well-preserved city. Across the square is the Pazo de Raxoi (Raxoi's Palace), the town hall and seat of the Galicianmarker Xunta, and on the right from the cathedral steps is the Hostal dos Reis Cat√≥licos, founded in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, as a pilgrim's hospice (now a parador). The Obradoiro fa√ßade of the cathedral, the best known, is depicted on the Spanish euro coins of 1 cent, 2 cents, and 5 cents (‚ā¨0.01, ‚ā¨0.02, and ‚ā¨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 (la zona nueva or ensanche) and the old town (la zona vieja or a zona vella), one can often find a mix of middle-aged residents and younger students running throughout the city until the early hours of the morning. 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.

The prevailing wind from the Atlantic and the surrounding mountains combine to give Santiago some of Europe's highest rainfall: about 1,900 mm (75 inches) annually.

It is one of the most important economic centers in Galicia, being the seat for organizations like Association for Equal and Fair Trade Pangaea, or corporations like BluSens.



Back facade of the catedral.

Santiago de Compostela was originally founded by the Suebi in the early 400s, as part of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Then, in 584 the whole settlement together with the rest of Galicia and northern Portugal was incorporated by Leovigild into the Visigothic kingdom of Spain. Raided from 711 to 739 by the Arabs, Santiago de Compostela was finally recaptured by the Visigothic king of Asturias in 754, about 60 years before the identification of remains as those of Saint James the Great, and their acceptance as such by the Pope and Charlemagne, during the reign of Alfonso II of Asturias. From then on, this settlement was not just a city, but a holy city, and one of the main centers of Christian pilgrimagemarker, rivaled only by Rome itself and the Holy Land. Still, there are some who claim that the remains found here were not those of the apostle James but those of Priscillian. They are also thought by many to be someone else altogether. Christian persecution of Spain's Muslims, following the fall of the Moorish state in 1492, echoes into present time, with local residents evincing antipathy towards those who are visibly Muslim.

Santiago de Compostela was captured by the French during the Napoleonic War and its capture broke the spirits of the many Spanish guerillas who were fighting the mighty invading armies of Marshals' Soult, Victor, Massena and Napoleon's brother, the new King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte. During the war, many attempts were made to recapture it by Spanish partisans, who believed St James would come down on the field and destroy the French if they earned his favour by beating the French out of the holy city, which was St James's city. Many of the attempts to return the holy city to the Spanish failed, and the only one that didn't fail was unsuccessful in retaining its hold on the city, and the combined British and Spanish forces were beaten back, where they retreated with the British, and the city was back in French hands within 48 hours.

History of the Way of St. James Pilgrimagemarker

Way of St. James.
The legend that St James found his way to the Iberian peninsulamarker, 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 Great, while continuing to promote the more general benefits of pilgrimage to the site.According to a tradition that can be traced before the 12th century, the relics were said to have been discovered in 814 by Theodomir, bishop of Iria Flavia in the west of Galicia. Theodomir was 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, "Plain of Stars."

The establishment of the shrine

St. James' shell
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. Jamesmarker 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.

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 Compa√Īa.

Alchemical metaphor

In Fulcanelli's Mystery of the Cathedrals and Dwellings of the Philosophers the pilgrimage to Compostela is decoded as a metaphor for one of the processes for making the Philosopher's Stone.

Main sights

Sister Cities

Plaza de Platerías
the Villar street
These are the official sister cities of Santiago de Compostela:

See also

Saunders, Tracy, Pilgrimage to Heresy: Don't Believe Everything They Tell You (iUniverse 2007), for a somewhat different slant on the occupant of the tomb in Compostela. Though a fictionalised history, it looks at what we know of Bishop Priscillian of Avila, arrested on charges of "heresy and witchcraft" along with eight of his followers, including a noblewoman, Euchrotia, and subsequently decapitated in 385 CE by the Romans with the full knowledge of the newly formed Catholic Church, and whose remains have been suggested (by Prof. Henry Chadwick and others)may be entombed in the sepulchre which is said to contain the remains of St. James.See also: Priscillian, and Priscillianism, and The Way of St. James he is also going to kill any one who read this


  1. The airport code for Santiago de Compostela’s Metropolitan Airport is .

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