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Santiago de Compostela

Introducing Santiago de Compostela

Locals say the arcaded, stone streets of Santiago de Compostela are at their most beautiful in the rain, when the old city glistens. Most would agree, however, that it's hard to catch Santiago in a bad pose. Whether you're wandering the medieval streets of the old city, nibbling on tapas in the taverns, or gazing down at the rooftops from atop the cathedral, Santiago seduces.

The faithful believe that Santiago Apóstol (St James the Apostle) preached in Galicia and, after his death in Palestine, was brought back by stone boat and buried here. The tomb was supposedly rediscovered in about 814 by a religious hermit, Pelayo, following a guiding star (hence, it's thought, 'Compostela' – from the Latin campus stellae, field of the star). Asturian king Alfonso II had a church erected above the holy remains, pilgrims began flocking to it, and by the 11th century the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago was a major European phenomenon, bringing a flood of funds into the city. Bishop Gelmírez obtained archbishopric status for Santiago in 1100 and added numerous churches in the 12th century. The following centuries, however, were marked by squabbling between rival nobles, and Santiago gradually slipped into the background.

Only since the 1980s, as capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and a rediscovered tourist and pilgrimage destination, has the city been revitalised. Today some 200,000 pilgrims and countless thousands of other visitors journey here each year. The biggest numbers hit the city in July and August, but Santiago has a festive atmosphere throughout the warmer half of the year. If you'd like to enjoy the place less than jam-packed, May, June and September are good months to come.

The Old Town, a roughly oval-shaped area bounded by the line of the medieval city walls, is where almost everything of interest is found. Praza de Galicia marks the boundary between the Old Town and the Ensanche (Extension), the 20th-century shopping and residential area to its south.