Cycle the Dordogne
Discover the picturesque Dordogne region by bike
For unforgettable bird's-eye views of the cathedral interior, and of the city from the cathedral roof, take the rooftop tour, which...
The Cathedral Museum, entered to the right of the cathedral's Obradoiro facade, spreads over four floors and includes the cathedral's...
The grand heart of Santiago, the cathedral soars above the city centre in a splendid jumble of moss-covered spires and statues. Built piecemeal over several centuries, its beauty is a mix of Romanesque with baroque and Gothic flourishes. What you see today is actually the fourth church to stand on this spot. The bulk of it was built between 1075 and 1211, in Romanesque style, with a traditional Latin-cross layout and three naves. Much of the 'bunting' (the domes, statues and endless trimmings) came later. The lavish baroque facade facing Praza do Obradoiro was erected in the 18th century partly to protect the original Romanesque entrance, the Pórtico de la Gloria.
The Obradoiro facade is also the cathedral's main entrance, but owing to restoration work inside, it is likely to be closed until at least 2014. In the meantime, most people enter through the south door on Praza das Praterías (beneath the only facade that conserves its original Romanesque structure).
The artistically unparalleled Pórtico de la Gloria (Galician: Porta da Gloria), just inside the Obradoiro entrance, features 200 Romanesque sculptures by Maestro Mateo, who was placed in charge of the cathedral-building program in the late 12th century. The exact meaning of all these detailed and inspired sculptures is much debated, but they add up to a comprehensive review of major figures from the Bible, with the Old Testament on the left (looking from the Obradoiro doorway), the New Testament on the right, and glory and resurrection depicted in the central archway. The restoration work means, unfortunately, that you may well find the Pórtico partly shrouded in scaffolding.
The main figure in the portico's central archway is a throned, resurrected Christ, surrounded by the four Evangelists plus angels and symbols of Jesus' passion. In an arc above are the 24 musicians said in Revelation to sit around the heavenly throne. Below Christ's feet is Santiago, and below him Hercules (holding open the mouths of two lions). On the other side of the central pillar is Maestro Mateo. For centuries, tradition called for visitors to bump heads with the maestro to acquire some of his genius. But countless knocks led to Mateo's notably flat nose, and he is now blocked off behind a metal barrier. Another tradition called for a brief prayer as visitors placed their fingers in the five holes above Hercules' head, created by the repetition of this very act by millions of faithful over the centuries. Hercules too is now blocked off.
The large, remarkably lifelike figures on the right-hand pillars of the portico are apostles, while those on the left-hand pillars are Old Testament prophets. The very bright smile on the prophet Daniel's face is, in popular belief, reckoned to be caused by the tightly tuniced figure of Queen Esther opposite him. Local lore also has it that Esther's stone breasts were originally much larger, but were filed down on orders of a disapproving bishop – to which cheeky townspeople responded by inventing Galicia's cone-shaped tetilla (nipple) cheese in Esther's honour.
Towards the far (west) end of the cathedral's main nave, to the right of the fantastically elaborate, Churrigueresque Altar Mayor (Main Altar), a small staircase leads up to a 13th-century statue of Santiago , which the faithful queue up to kiss or embrace. From here you emerge on the left side, then descend some steps to contemplate the Cripta Apostólica , which we are assured is Santiago's tomb. Behind the Altar Mayor is the Puerta Santa , which opens onto Praza da Quintana and is cracked open only in holy years (next in 2021).
A special pilgrims' Mass is usually celebrated at noon daily, with other Masses usually at 9.30am or 10am daily, 1.15pm Sunday, 6pm Saturday and Sunday, and 7.30pm daily. Touristic visits are not allowed during these services.
Discover the picturesque Dordogne region by bike
Follow an enticing trail of delicious tapas, avant-garde art, architectural triumphs and centuries-old culture on this incredible tour through Spain and Portugal. Travel the scenic route from Madrid to Barcelona, visiting cosmopolitan metropolises, sleepy seaside villages, quaint towns set amid rolling green hills and atmospheric medieval citadels along the way.
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