Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Santiago de Compostela
Panoramic view of Santiago de Compostela, with the towers of the great cathedral on the right. Photo Creative Commons License José Manuel.

Santiago de Compostela is a city of about 90,000 people in Galicia, northwestern Spain. Santiago's name and fame both derive from Saint James the Apostle (Sant Iago), whose holy relics are believed to be enshrined under the cathedral's altar. Legend has it that James preached in Spain before being martyred in Jerusalem in 44 AD and his body was brought back to Spain after his death. The tomb of St. James was discovered here in 819 AD and a small church was soon built over the shrine by the king.

The present Santiago Cathedral, an impressive Romanesque structure with a Baroque facade, was begun in 1078 after the previous church was destroyed by Moorish invaders. A thriving town soon developed around the cathedral and Santiago became a major pilgrimage destination, surpassed only by Jerusalem and Rome. Devout pilgrims traveled long distances along the Camino de Santiago ("Route of St. James"), a series of pilgrimage roads throughout France and Spain, to pray at the tomb of St. James and gain religious merit.

Over the last century, newer pilgrimage sites like Fatima and Lourdes have surpassed Santiago in popularity, but many devout Catholics still make the trek to pay their respects to St. James. In addition, Santiago's magnificent cathedral, medieval buildings, and charming streets draw thousands of tourists each year. Many modern travelers to Santiago, both religious and nonreligious, choose to reach the holy city by walking, biking, or riding horseback on the paths of the historic Camino de Santiago.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Medieval pilgrims walked for months to Santiago Cathedral, home of the relics of St. James. It has a Baroque facade and magnificent Romanesque portals.
Camino de Santiago
The Way of St. James is a medieval pilgrimage route across northern Spain that is still walked by millions of pilgrims and adventurers today.