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Published: September 8th 2019
Flagship Parador and 500 years old
And so, after the dismal Ferrol, we came to Santiago de Compostela, the last stop on our Ruta de Paradores, the focus of religious pilgrimage since the early 9th century and the prime focus of our trip.
Having got to Santiago fairly early and driven right into the main square we dropped our bags and the car...valet parking! Then set off to explore... Saturday morning and plenty going on... we found an excellent market, enjoyed a beer in the sunshine and then stumbled upon a festival of local culture. There were bands, drums, dancers, bears, wolves and many exotic costumes...great colourful noisy fun. We saw one lad who was drumming so hard that his knuckles were bloody..see the picture - and he was one of many suffering for their art.
Santiago - St James the Apostle - was said to have been preaching in Hispania when he died. According to myths that arose in the 6th century, saints were buried where they fell. So when an early 9th century bishop in Galicia discovered a skeleton in a 1st/2nd century Roman mausoleum it was an astute piece of political and economic nous to realise that it was in fact the
Note the blacked up face...☹️ evidently not racist in Spain.
remains of Sant’Iago (who had died 800 or so years earlier).The publication of this remarkable realisation led to an immediate recognition of the site as a major focus of pilgrimage, which led in turn to power, riches, the development of towns and cities along the several access routes, improved communications, a sharp rise in the demand for artisans, higher employment and thus more taxes, hence more power and more riches ... Or maybe I’m just being a tad cynical. (Interestingly Santiago is often depicted in Spain as killer of the invader Moors. He was introduced to South America when the Spanish forcibly converted the natives to Catholicism ... and over there is often depicted as killer of the invading Spaniards!).
The huge cathedral of Santiago replaced a number of earlier versions that had proved inadequate to meet demand. And King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella funded the building of the original Hostal de Los Reis Catholicos as a resting place for weary and infirm pilgrims - it opened in 1499. One of the major architectural sights of Santiago, it was eventually turned into a parador - and its where we’ve been staying these two days. Said to be the oldest
And a bloody drum...sounded great though
hotel in the world - it’s been taking in guests, paying or otherwise, ever since it first opened its doors - it is the jewel in the crown for the Paradores. And it maintains some ancient traditions: the space occupied by the kitchen today is the same as the original kitchen - so has been used to prepare food for guests for over 500 years. Today, and every day, the first 10 pilgrims to arrive fully certified as having walked the full distance to Santiago get three free meals a day for 3 days.
Santiago is a beautiful city: medieval and Gothic architecture overlaid by Baroque, and very walkable. Although it has a reputation for rain, it has been wonderfully sunny and hot whilst we’ve been here.
The cathedral is magnificent from the outside and front but it soon became clear that major renovation works are ongoing. We visited inside late on Saturday after the queue had subsided but we disappointed. Inside we found a building site, and another infeasibly long queue to have a close encounter with a statue.... religious we are not.
Sunday was glorious and hot again and we simply took it easy and
enjoyed the city and the sight of hundreds of modern day pilgrims arriving on foot in various states of disrepair... a museum on the whole phenomenon of pilgrimage was very interesting...almost a history of tourism!
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