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Santiago de Compostela: the Cathedral

Detail of the Obradoiro façade and front gate (Photo: Helen Bunting).
Detail of the Obradoiro façade and front gate (Photo: Helen Bunting).

The "Fachada da Obradoiro" (Photo: Helen Bunting).

Out of all the cathedrals in
I’ve seen, the Obradoiro façade of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is my favorite. Despite visible signs of the centuries’ wear and tear, it still somehow riotously joyful. Biblical images adorn the two towers that rise up from the roof; saints and kings and symbols spill down to the front steps. Highly decorated wrought iron gates guard the entrance. It is as if the Host of Heaven are running down the cathedral walls to welcome pilgrims inside.

There is a palpable sense of joy in Santiago de Compostela. For hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year, it is the end of a long, wearying journey across northern
. What a glorious sight that first glimpse of the cathedral must be for them!
The city has been a site of religious pilgrimage for over 1,000 years, and construction of the cathedral first began in the year 1075. The cathedral actually has four façades (and four adjoining plazas): the Obradoiro façade, completed between the 16th and 18th centuries; the Platerías façade, which is the cathedral’s only surviving façade from the Romanesque period; the Cabecera, or the front of the cathedral during the Romaneseque period, which is now enclosed by a wall; and the Neoclassical Azabachería façade, completed in 1769 as a replacement for another façade that was destroyed eleven years earlier.
The Obradoiro façade might be my favorite exterior part of the building itself, but my favorite plaza is the one that adjoins the Cabacera—the Praza da Quintana, in the Galician dialect (Gallego). With cafés at one end and a giant set of stone steps at the other, it’s bursting with opportunities for people watching. Street performers frequently treat the stone staircase as their own auditorium, and stage shows at the bottom of the steps. At night, the plaza’s cafés set up rows of open air tables, much to the delight of both foreigners and locals.
In fact, nighttime is when the cathedral is at its best, with its illuminated towers soaring into the dark sky. People gather in front of the Obradoiro façade just to gaze up in wonder for a while. After a few silent moments, they leave, arm in arm with their companions.
On my last night in
, I stood in that plaza. I let my eyes run over the lit up cathedral, taking it in, stone by stone. I cried because it was too beautiful to leave. But when I finally walked away, I felt at peace.

For more information on the cathedral, visit .


  • Michael 5 years ago

    What a beautiful cathedral. The description and great slideshow really make me want to put it on my Spanish itinerary