Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Santiago de Compostela

A very fast road took us past multiple wind farms towards Santiago, where we dropped the car at the station and took a taxi to our hotel; a good thing too as the hotel was once this huge convent with massive front steps and only a tiny path leading to the front door. I think we may have never found it. Quite swish, with even an indoor swimming pool, though we didn’t manage to get to see that. Our room was fine, but up several small flights of stairs and then set up as a room for people with disabilities. Turns out there was lift access by taking 2 separate lifts and a long corridor. We are beginning to wonder if they will offer a zimmer frame at the next place as they seem keen to give us accessible rooms. I might add that the bath was equipped with a wide shelf on the lip presumably to assist transfer to the bath. It made the shower access one of the more treacherous I have encountered. (Geeze I am getting pernickety in my old age!)
wind turbines
Wind turbines
Santiago, hotel N
The Monumental Hotel of San Francisco lived up to its name
Santiago has a medieval core of cathedrals, monasteries, shops etc, mostly in granite, and then large outer suburbs with many apartment buildings, all apparently with their backs turned to the roads or with enclosed verandahs across the front. It all gave the city a rather unwelcoming look at first glance, especially after the airiness of places like Segovia and Salamanca. Our first wander around in the afternoon didn’t do much to dispel the feeling. However, a rest and then out for dinner at a suitably Spanish time of 8.30 had us sitting in the end of a small alley trying several delicious Albarina white wines and eating some really excellent food. First a shared carpaccio of scallops with olive oil, then I had rice cooked in cuttlefish ink with prawns and Nick little parcels of chicken, then choc fondant for dessert. A fabulous and helpful waiter and we were feeling warmer towards the town.
Santiago, cafe
Nice find down the end of an alley
Santiago,  black rice
My black rice with cuttlefish and prawns. Yum!
The next morning we caught part of the mass at the main altar of the cathedral before taking an audioguide tour. There were crowds of pilgrims, many still carrying pack and staff and adorned with their cockle shell. You can only be a true pilgrim if you walk at least 100km I think, so that is still quite an effort, though by no means like one of the longer routes of over 1000km.In the cathedral it is traditional to walk up some steps behind the figure of St James on the high altar and embrace him. The lady in front of me became very emotional and needed to be comforted by a friend so I am sure she found it a very spiritual experience. One then visits the silver box beneath the altar said to hold the bones of St James.
The cathedral itself differed a bit from the usual Spanish ones we have seen. It is granite and growing lichen, so rather forbidding in appearance and is approached by a huge plaza and then several sets of stairs leading up the the entrance. Inside, the Glory Portico was covered for repairs so we couldn’t see it. It is supposed to be very beautiful.
Santiago, cathedral N
Cathedral facade with steps up in front
Santiago, facade
Detail of the lichened facade; just a tad overdone
Santiago,  plaza N_edited-1
Another cathedral entrance and bell tower
Santiago, plaza
Massive plaza fronting the cathedral
Santiago, horse fountain
Pretty horse fountain
Santiago, stepped spire
Cloister and stepped tower of the cathedra
The main altar is so encrusted with gold it is difficult to make out the individual features. However, there was no grille across the front and no choir stalls at all. We later found that an original stone choir had been removed (now reconstructed in part in the museum of the cathedral) and also a wooden one, now preserved in another museum in town. In front of the altar was a huge censer, one in gold on a chain and another not so ornate on a rope and pulley. On occasions eight strong men swing the censer so it flies high into the transepts; apparently not just to the glory of God, but to drown the smells of hundreds of sweaty pilgrims. Alas, we didn’t see it in action.
Santiago, altar
A rather poor photo of the gold altar, taken down the main nave
and through the trumpets of the organ
Santaigo, censer
The lesser censer
Sunday morning we encountered a procession, maybe for Our Lady of Sorrows, with many parishioners following the statue and fireworks being set off at intervals. From the sounds we judge they walked at least half way around the old city. We love these unexpected little episodes.
Santiago, procession
Our goal today was St Martin Pinero, a vast building incorporating a church, a double sided main altar with the monks chairs one side and the congregations the other, then a museum, parts of the old school including a pharmacy and science equipment and then the beautiful old wooden choir stalls from the cathedral, so close we could have touched them. It took us several hours. In our visit we saw several smaller museums as well, so that by the end we were church and “museumed” out.
Santiago, entry st martin N
Museum and church entry
Santiago, St Martin N
Formal entry to the monastery
Santiago, S martin, organ
The grand organ
Santiago, s martin, main altar
The altar seen through the screen above
Santiago, double altar N
The unusual double altar. The monks sat behind
Santiago, S Martin, choir stalls
The rescued wooden stalls from the cathedral choir
Santiago, s martin, choir stall
Carving of the Magdalene on one of the choir stalls
Santaigo, sun face
A sun decoration on one altar
A charming small museum of Pilgrimages traced the history of pilgrimages across the world. The images and relics it contained were a reminder of how often man has sought some spiritual dimension through travelling to a far holy place.
Santiago,  museum of pilgrimages N
Pretty door to the museum
Santiago, pilgrimage museum, St Iago himself
St Iago himself
Santiago, museum of pilgrims N
Figures of the legendary “Three Maries” who supposedly travelled to France after the death of Christ
As a change of pace we took a taxi to the giant City of Culture being built on one of the hillsides of Santiago. Of many different types of stone, it mimics the hillsides and will eventually house performing art spaces, workshops, galleries, a library, archives, museums and so on. At first we seemed to be the only ones there and the buildings looked closed (continuing the theme of Santiago perhaps) but the place was open and we were able to wander around taking photos of the curved rooflines and a rather spectacular sky, visited a gallery and so on.
Santiago, city of arts 1
City of Arts entrance
Santiago,  city of arts Santiago,  city of arts 2
Roof of one building
Santiago, city of arts 4
People walking and sitting on the slope of the roof
Santiago, city of arts 3
Beautiful stonework
Santiago, city of arts 5
Beautiful sky
Santiago,  pink marble N
Pink marble bust in the stone exhibit
Santiago, stone exhibit N
A rather older madonna in the exhibit
Santiago, city of arts sarcophagus
One of a series of huge sarcophagi; a modern installation in stone. Looks like it is ready to eat you, which is what sarcophagus means, flesh eater.
A taxi to the airport in fog the next morning presaged a delay in flights to Madrid, so we saw a bit more of the interior of Santiago airport as we waited for the weather. But all was well and we left about an hour and a half late.
We did warm to Santiago somewhat, but it still had a grandiosity that we found less appealing than the other Spanish cathedral towns we had visited. I guess if we had walked the Camino it would have seemed a treasure at the end of difficult and demanding days, weeks or months. Certainly many of the pilgrims were expressing joy and wonder at what they had achieved.
Next stop: Madrid

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