Old Town

This famous pilgrimage site in north-west Spain became a symbol in the Spanish Christians’ struggle against Islam. Destroyed by the Muslims at the end of the 10th century, it was completely rebuilt in the following century. With its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, the Old Town of Santiago is one of the world’s most beautiful urban areas. The oldest monuments are grouped around the tomb of St James and the cathedral, which contains the remarkable Pórtico de la Gloria.

Santiago de Compostela Botafumiero

Santiago de Compostela is associated with one of the major themes of medieval history. From the shores of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea thousands of pilgrims carrying the scallop shell and the pilgrim’s staff for centuries walked to the Galician sanctuary along the paths of Santiago, veritable roads of faith. Around its cathedral, a masterpiece of Romanesque art, Santiago de Compostela conserves a valuable historic centre worthy of one of Christianity’s greatest holy cities. During the Romanesque and Baroque periods the sanctuary of Santiago exerted a decisive influence on the development of architecture and art, not only in Galicia but also in the north of the Iberian peninsula.

On the miraculously discovered spot where the bones of the Apostle had been buried, a basilica was erected in approximately 818 during the reign of Alfonso II, king of Asturias. The Galician tomb thereafter became the symbol of the resistance of Spanish Christians against Islam. At the battle of Clavijo (844) the victory over the forces of Abd ar Rahman II was attributed to Santiago. Taken and laid waste in 997 by Al Mansour, the city was rebuilt during the 11th century around the Apostle’s tomb, which had not been violated.

At the Plaza de España, one of the world’s most beautiful urban areas, there is an intermingling of the Romanesque and Gothic forms in the Palace of Diego Gelmírez and San Jerónimo, of the Baroque facade of the Hospital Reál with its inset Plateresque portal by Enrique de Egas (1505-11) and the neoclassical theme of the Rajoy Palace.

Elsewhere in ensembles whose composition is less forceful, civil and religious architectural elements from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are also integrated into a high-quality urban fabric where 17th- and 18th-century themes prevail.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The massive cathedral in the heart of Santiago’s old district has become the unofficial symbol of the capital and its two slender towers dominate the cityscape from all directions. The original church that once occupied this spot had small and humble beginnings, but today the giant edifice that is Santiago cathedral attracts visitors and pilgrims from all over the world.

Admission to the cathedral and the passageway that allows you to view the tomb of saint James are free, but there is an additional pass that you can purchase which allows you an “all access” look around the crypt, cloisters and other museum areas.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The main facade of Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral faces the Obradoiro square and is in fact named after that plaza, “El Obradoiro”. To the majority of sightseers thiselevation is the most splendid and it is also the one that adorns many tour guides, web sites and photographs depicting both cathedral and city. Directly opposite this elevation lies the Rajoy palace, now Galicia’s parliament building.

Standing in front of the “El Obradoiro” facade it is obvious that this fronting has a highly detailed and ornate central section with too considerably less elaborate wings on either side. It is actually only the central section that bears the plaza’s name although this is not the original facade, but an eighteenth century replacement. Left, a close up of the Obradoiro facade with the towers on either side. See the inside of the cathedral.

Most of the “El Obradoiro” was constructed in the first half of the eighteenth century and was designed by architect, Fernando de Casas y Nova in the Galician baroque style. Some older sections do however remain and these include the two converging flights of stairs leading to the main entrance. These stairs date back nearly a hundred years earlier to the seventeenth century and connect to the even older twelfth century structure that is referred to as the original or old cathedral. You can see the stairs and entrance in the photo below.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral back side

Looking at Santiago cathedral from the square, its most striking feature is the pair of towers called the “Torre de la Carraca” and “Torre de la Campanas”. Like many parts of the building these towers claim a heritage from several different eras. The lower and more original levels date back as far as the twelfth century whilst the upper and more recent additions are from the period of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. These towers, which ascend to seventy metres in height, also combine the baroque and Romanesque styles and demonstrate a level of masonry work unsurpassed in the whole of Spain.

The less visually impressive wings of the cathedral are the cloister to the right and the Archbishop’s palace to the left. Because of their shear size many assume, from a first glance, that these large side structures are completely symetrical, but they are not. Both are quite different in design, from the colonnaded top level of the cloister section to the buttress like projection jutting out from the palace’s wing portion.

Most tourists enter the cathedral from the large Obradoiro square and climb the granite stairs, entering the building through its famous “Portico de la Gloria” archway. Coming into the cathedral through this opening has the decorative altar appearing at the cavernous chamber’s opposite end. There is also an entrance through the northern facade of the cathedral situated in the “Azabacheria” plaza, which brings you into the building from the rear.

Benedictine monastery of San Xulián de Samos

Samos is a small village in heart of Galicia and has a large and famous monastery.

The monastery at Samos is best known for being on one of the many pilgrim’s routes (the “way of St. James”) to Santiago de Compostela cathedral, but it is a highly impressive and massive structure in its own right. It is also still active and additionally offers lodgings for those on religious retreats or connected with the pilgrimage.

The monastery is huge and constructed of large light coloured granite stone, precisely cut by masons from another age. The actual town of Samos, if you can call it that, has nothing but the monastery and a few bar to offer, but it is this religious icon that attracts visitors and rightly so.

The church facade is reached by walking around the main structure and then descending down some steps. It is only the church and cloisters that are open to the public, although you can circum navigate the entire campus on a foot path. There is also a river-come-stream that runs behind Samos monastery. The complete area is serene and picturesque.

Located at 1,000 m of altitude, where the Os Ancares and O Courel mountain ranges converge.

Declared National Historical Heritage Site, it is one of the few hamlets that preserves its Pre-romanesque “pallozas” (traditional thatched houses), one of which is the “Ethnographic museum of O Cebreiro”.

Santa María do Cebreiro Sanctuary 

Built in mid-9th century, it is a beautiful example of high mountain Pre-Romanesque architecture. It is the oldest temple preserved along the Way of St, James, it keeps some interesting pieces such as a crucifix, a chalice and one paten from the 12th century and the Reliquary donated by the Catholic Monarchs.

Villafranca del Bierzo

This village is located in the comarca of El Bierzo, in the province of León, Castile and León, Spain.

In the Middle Ages, the town is first mentioned in 791. The origin of the modern town are connected to the Way of St. James, as a rest place for the pilgrims which started to reach Santiago de Compostela from the 9th century. In the Codix Calixtinus Villafranca is mentioned as an intermediate stage between Rabornal and Triacastela. In 1070, during the reign of Alfonso VI of León, a Cluniac monastery was founded here to cultivate vine, and a borough of French pilgrim rose around it, from which the town’s name (meaning “French Town”) stems. The town later received numerous hotels and hospitals for the pilgrims.

In the late 12th century Alfonso VII of León gave the lordship of Villafranca to his sister Sancha. Later it went to Urraca, wife of King Ferdinand IIand then to Teresa, wife of Alfonso IX, and then to numerous other noble people. In 1486 the lordship became a marquisate assigned to Luis Pimentel y Pacego: his daughter married Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, whose family thenceforth held the marquisate for centuries.

Villafranca del Bierzo Cathedral

During the Peninsular War Villafranca was the headquarters of the Galician army and was sacked three times by the English troops, and was later occupied by the French troops. The Spanish general Antonio Filangieri died here. The town was freed in 1810.

Although Molinaseca is another church (the Sanctuary Angustias), this is the church used for worship and religious celebrations, and on its back is the Cemetery Molinasca. It is located on a hill, right on top of the Roman bridge, which is accessed by a narrow staircase or through the steep road that surrounds it. It ‘a neoclassical temple-plan of a basilica, which stands out in its high bell tower, decorated with a clock centenary and the image of the bishop St. Nicholas da Bari in a niche. It has three naves and was built in the seventeenth century. Inside there are several Baroque altars, among which stands out the more gothic and an image of a crucified Christ and a Renaissance tabernacle in the aisles.

In addition to the famous sausages, Molinaseca is also famous for the Camino de Santiago and in particular for the first sanctuary, which is located along the route, opposite the Church of St. Nicholas of Bari and the other side of the Roman bridge. This is a rather large, baroque and season with the bell tower that stands in front of the main entrance and in which both sides are arcades with arches. The current sanctuary dates back to 1705 as it was rebuilt after a fire, but there was already the eleventh century. Both inside and outside is the image of the Pietà and to visit, you must chidere Tourist Office which is located in the municipality. In honor of the Virgin of distress, we also celebrate the local festivals on 15 and 16 August, with the nickname “water fight”.

Castillo de los Templarios

Ponferrada is famousof its Castillo de los Templarios, a Templar castle which covers approximately 16,000 square meters. In 1178, Ferdinand II of León donated the city to the Templar order for protecting the pilgrims on the Way of St. James who passed through El Bierzo in their road to Santiago de Compostela.

The castle hosted the Knights Templar’s Grand Master of Castille. However, the Templars were only able to enjoy the use of their fortress for about twenty years before the order was disbanded and its properties confiscated in 1311. Several noble houses fought over the assets until Alfonso XI alloted them to the Count of Lemos in 1340. Finally the Catholic Monarchs incorporated Ponferrada and its castle into the Crown in 1486. As with many other historical sites in Europe, many of the blocks that at one point formed the walls of the castle were removed and used in local construction projects. Extensive restoration works are ongoing.

Foncebadón – the most mystical village of the camino francés – like so many other villages has been linked directly to the fortunes of the Camino de Santiago. The village grew during the Camino’s height in the 12th century even having its own pilgrim hospital, hospice and church built by the hermit Gaucelmo, the remains of which you will pass on your way out of the village. However the village very nearly disappeared altogether, at one point only having 2 inhabitants. With the resurgence of the Camino de Santiago over the last few years the village is slowly but surely coming back to life and some people who have passed through on their way to Santiago have loved it so much that they have come back and settled here.

Foncebadón albergue  


La Cruz de Ferro is a huge iron cross on the Camino de Santiago and is located between the towns of Foncebadón and Manjarín on Section 6 of the French Way.

It consists of a wooden pole about five feet high surmounted by an iron cross, a replica of the original preserved in the Museo de los Caminos in Astorga. At its base there has been a mound forming over the years. A legend says that when the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was being built, pilgrims were asked to contribute by bringing a stone. The tradition is to throw a stone here, brought from the place of origin of the pilgrim, symbolizing what the pilgrim want to leave behind and get ready for rebirth on the last part of the Camino.

There are several theories as to the origin of the cross: It may have been erected to mark the road when it snows, as it becomes frequently hidden from view; Others believe thers it is just a pile of stones called Montes de Mercurio, erected since Celtic times to mark the strategic locations of the roads and then Christianized with crosses. In this case, the cross was placed there in the early eleventh century by Gaucelmo, abbot of the lodgings at Foncebadón and Manjarín. Later Galician crop reapers would be on this path on the way to the farmlands of Castile and León, where they went to work. Those who continued the tradition by placing a stone along path, then called it Cruz de Ferro.

In 1982 a chapel dedicated to St. James was built by the Cross, and for some years the Centro Gallego de Ponferrada celebrates the feast of Santiago with a pilgrimage to the place that brings together hundreds of people and attracts different personalities.

This village is indelibly linked with the Camino de Santiago due in part to its location on the pass through the mountains.

In the Middle Ages this was an important stop for pilgrims before they walked through the mountains and the village was much bigger as can be seen by the number of churches here. There is a new order of Benedictine monks living in the Monasterio de San Salvador del Monte Irago. The monastery was started in 2001 by monks who came from Santo Domingo de Silos near Burgos but now the monastery is affiliated with the abbey at St Otilien in Germany. They, like their 12th century predecessors administer to the spiritual needs of the pilgrims.


Cathedral de Santa María

This is one of the most representative buildings of the maragata capital, a noble, loyal and bimillennial town in the province of León, a crossroads and melting pot of cultures. It is part of the dioceses of Astorga, one of the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula. The church incorporates and synthesises all the artistic currents, from late Gothic to Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism and all the languages that over the years have reflected the history, art, tradition and faith of all the centuries.

Construction started in 1741, on the site of previous Romanesque cathedrals of the 11th – 13th centuries. Its two twin towers, the belfry and an older tower that has been restored are the building’s most characteristic features from outside, together with the characteristic red hue of the stone. Not to forget the statute of the maragato Pedro Mato, which looms over the town from the top of the building. Inside, the visitor is surprised by the numerous works of art in styles ranging from Bytantine-Romanesque to Hispanic-Flemish and Renaissance.

A second Romanesque structure was erected, which was reformed in the 12th and 13th centuries, was erected upon the original cathedral of the 11th century. The present structure is late Gothic and was declared of Cultural Interest in 1931. It has a rectangular ground plan, with three naves, the central one prolonging itself upon the original Romanesque plan, thus preserving the original concept. The original Gothic style leads to the Baroque style of the main gate, incorporating some Renaissance elements, since the building was not completed until 1704.

Gaspar López built the Neoclassical cloister in 1772. The head of the building consists of thee polygonal chapels (the central chapel has seven sides, the others, flanking it, have five). In the presbytery stands the main altarpiece of 1560, made by Gaspar Becerra and recently restored. It is a five-section altarpiece showing scenes of the life of the Virgin (the Assumption in the centre, with the Life and Passion of Christ).

Perpendicular to the nave, there are two Renaissance side chapels. The structure consists of pillars without capitals. In the main nave stands the Flemish choir, with wooden seats and literary ornaments.

The Renaissance southern door has two attached columns framed by a round arch over the main access to the church: above the arch is the image of the Assumption. We must not forget that the western front has two twin towers topped off with spires.

Episcopal Palace

When the original Episcopal Palace was destroyed by a fire in the 19th century, bishop Grau decided to assign the design of the new building to his friend Antoni Gaudí. The two had become friends when Grau was general vicar in the archdiocese of Tarragona and had inaugurated a church for which the architect had designed the high altar.

When Gaudí received the commission, he was still working at the Palau Güell in Barcelona, and thus he could not move to Astorga to study the terrain and the area of the new construction. He therefore asked the bishop to send him photographs to begin the new project. Gaudí sent his design, and it was approved in February 1889. The first stone was placed in June the following year.

Astorga Episcopal Palace

The edifice, built in gray granite from El Bierzo, is in a neo-medieval style harmonizing with its location, including the cathedral in particular. It does, however, also feature some of the elements typical of the later Gaudí, such as the arches of the entrance with buttresses and the chimneys integrated in the side façades. Gaudí had devised a five-meter tall angel to crown the façade, but it was never mounted. The façade has four cylindrical towers and is surrounded by a ditch.

In 1893, after the death of Bishop Grau, Gaudí resigned over disagreements with the council, halting the construction for several years. The palace was completed between 1907 and 1915 by Ricardo Garcia Guereta. During the Civil War the building served as the local headquarters of the Falange. In 1956 Julià Castelltort, a Catalan, began restoration works to adapt the building as a bishop’s residence. Later bishop Marcelo González Martín promoted the conversion to the current role of the palace, a museum of religious art called Museo de los Caminos, dedicated to the Way of Santiago.