The goal of the streams of pilgrims that arrive in Santiago de Compostela is the Plaza de España, or Plaza del Obradoiro – which means the square of goldwork. Stately buildings surround the Plaza, including the superb façade of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral: one of the most beautiful churches on the Iberian peninsula, and the end of El Camino de Santiago.

Visitor guide - Santiago Cathedral

Recommended tour to enjoy the cathedral

A visit to the cathedral is a must for anyone in Santiago de Compostela. This is one of the top 3 centers for catholic pilgrims in the world.
Is a guided tour a must? Not really but we believe it is an excellent option to make the most out of your time at the Cathedral. The following tour is a great option to enjoy the Cathedral. Great reviews and real value for money!

History of Santiago de Compostela cathedral

Excavations have proved that Alfonso II, the Chaste, had a church built here. Alfonso III, the great, built a basilica on the same site on 899. But in 997 the Moors, led by Almanzor, destroyed the basilica. Reconstruction began in 1078, the choir and transept were completed in 1112 and the whole building was consecrated in 1211.
In the following centuries, a number of extensions and alterations were undertaken: the chapels, the clock tower (1325), the dome (1448), the cloister and finally the baroque façade.

3d plan Santiago Cathedral

Outside Santiago Cathedral

Western façade, Obradoiro

This splendid façade, also called Obradoiro, was built in 1738-50 by the architect Fernando Casas y Novoa along with a monumental altarpiece, and is the most famous baroque façade in Spain.

The bell tower, Torre de las Campanas (on the right) is partly from the 11 century; it was reworked from 1448-1675 and completed in 1725. The Torre de la Carraca (on the left) has the rattle, with which the faithful are called to prayer and dates from the 17C.

The tympanum with the Adoration of the Magi is 14C; the wooden doors leading to the Pórtico de la Gloria are from 1610. Portico de la Gloria: The portico, in fact the Romanesque façade of the church, is now screened (and also protected) by the baroque-Churrigueresque Western front.

Maestro Mateo as master of the works was commissioned with the building in 1168 when he created the three doorways which lead into the nave. The carving on the three doorways is among the finest of the entire Spanish Romanesque.

A clustered column in the middle of the main doorway bears the tympanum. In front of this column and enthroned upon his own column (lavishly carved with the Tree of Jesse, the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity in the capital) is St.James the Great, the church’s patron.

The tympanum has Christ in Glory as Saviour of the World; he is surrounded by four angels with the symbols of the Evangelists, two angels wafting incense and eight angels carrying the symbols of the Passion in their hands. The angels are framed by 40 heavenly hosts and the righteous, those redeemed by Christ. In the archivolts, playing instruments, are the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse. The pillars on the left and right are surrounded by richly carved columns, upon which stand the Prophets and Apostles from the Old and New Testaments.

Southern façade and Portico de las Platerías

The cathedral’s oldest façade can be seen from the Plaza de las Platerías (Gold- and Sil- versmiths’ Square) with its horse fountain and 18C flight of steps. On the left is the Eastern end of the plateresque cloister, and in the middle the splendid Southern façade. To the right of the portal on the Southeast corner of the cathedral is the massive clock tower, started as early as 1316 and built in its present form 1676-80. The tympanum (on the right) shows scenes from the life of Christ, Flagellation and Crowning with Thorns, with the Adoration of the Magi in between. The left tympanum (W.) shows the Temptation of Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery.

Plaza de la Quintana:

Eastern and Northern façades: The Plaza de la Quintana is one of the most impressive squares in the world. It offers a view of the clock tower, the Royal Portico  and the Puerta Santa, the Holy Door (also called the Door of Pardon), which is only opened in jubilee years.

The butefumeiro in action

Interior of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

In this section we will describe the most interesting elements to enjoy during your visit to the Santiago cathedral. 

The cathedral has a nave and two aisles and a Latin cross ground plan.

How big is the cathedral of Santiago? The nave and aisles are 325 ft. long, the transept 218 ft. The nave is 28 ft. 6 in. wide and 80 ft. high. The interior is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. The broad, very tall nave and aisles, with Romanesque round arches and gallery, and the transept make a superb impression. Around the nave and aisles there is a string of chapels, which are mostly Romanesque and have richly decorated altars, tombs and sculptures.

Capilla mayor

The centrepiece is the baroque Capilla Mayor with the reliquary of the Apostle.  Adjoining this is the Gothic Capilla de San Fernando, which is now a treasury. In particular note the monstrance by Antonio de Arfe (1539 -44), a triptych of the Flemish school (15C) and the candelabra (cornucopias) by the German J.Jäger (1683).

To the right of the Capilla Mayor is the Capilla del Pilar from the early 18C, in Galician baroque style. A further series of chapels radiates off the apse (Capilla de San Bartolomé, Capilla de la Concepción, Capilla de Santa Cruz…

Cimborio tower

In front of the Capilla Mayor is the octagonal lantern-tower (cimborio), which displays Romanesque, Gothic (drum) and Renaissance elements (attic, dome and lantern); the lantern provides the cathedral with light in front of the high altar.

Where is Santiago apostle buried?

The crypt beneath the high altar, where the apostle is reputed to have been buried in a silver shrine (1896), has relics of the saint and his disciples, St.Theodore and St.Athanasius.

The cloister, one of the largest (inner court 100 ft. x 100 ft.) and most beautiful in Spain, was designed by a whole team of architects and built in a mixture of Castilian late Gothic and Renaissance styles in 1521-46. From the cloister you proceed to the museum section with the archive and library , whose valuable treasures include the Tumbos Catedralicios and the Codex Calixtino with miniatures, incunabula, and also tapestries designed by David Teniers.

The Botafumeiro

What is the butafumeiro? It is a vast silver censer, which is swung like a bell through the transept of the Cathedral during services is also kept here.

The Tapestry Museum,

It contains the “Pennant of Lepanto’, was founded in 1571 by Don Juan of Austria. Of particular interest are the 8 tapestries of the Life of Achilles by Jan Raës (to designs by Rubens), the 12 made to Goya’s designs and 25 carpets to the designs of David Teniers. The Archaeological Museum contains interesting sarcophagi, tombstones, capitals, reliefs and sculptures

Crypt/Old Cathedral

The entrance to the crypt-like lower church is on the Plaza de España. It lies with the apse below the Western bay of the cathedral nave; the rest extends in front of the cathedral. It is not clear whether the Old Cathedral was simply taken over in 1168 or whether it had been in existence for longer. The Romanesque building (with Gothic architectural elements) contains a 13C statue of the wife of Alfonso X.

Hotels and flats near Santiago Cathedral

Restaurants near Santiago Cathedral

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