The Northwest of Spain
The Spanish Province of Galicia lies west of the province of Castilla-Leon, where my city is located, and borders Portugal from the north. Historically, Galicia was its own Christian Kingdom, with its own language, from which the Portuguese language and Portugal originated. Today, the Galician language is still spoken in the province and basically is a hybrid of Spanish and Portuguese.
Our final excursion outside of Leon, involved a two day, one night trip to Galicia with a night in Santiago de Compostela. Our main focus was on the two cities of Santiago and A Coruña with other minor stops along the way. By bus, it took about four hours to arrive in Santiago and we arrived around 1 in the afternoon.
Santiago de Compostela
Like all the cities in Spain, the cathedral in Santiago is the center piece and one of the most architecturally-pleasing sights I've seen here in Spain. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered to be the burial place of St. James, the apostle of Jesus. Apparently, his remains were transported from Jerusalem to Santiago where he was buried. After the cathedral was completed in 1211, his remains were placed underneath the altar inside the cathedral. Starting during the Middle Ages as a result of St. James' remains migrating to Santiago, Christian pilgrims began migrating to Santiago from all parts of Europe. Over time, the routes that these pilgrims took became known as The Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago). The cathedral itself was built to account for the vast importance of St. James; these pictures only give a glimpse into how spectacular a sight the cathedral is.
Don't worry, that's just wood painted gold
View of Santiago from the rooftop of the cathedral
It would have taken me all day to capture each part of this grandiose cathedral. Aside from the main altar, there are at least 5-10 separate chapels which essentially are the size of a church. In the 19th century, the outside facade was restored to account for the deterioration over the centuries. The cathedral is surrounded by four huge plazas where city dwellers can stare in awe at its magnificence. The cathedral is the central part of the city of Santiago and is a huge tourist attraction for hundreds of thousands each year.
El Camino de Santiago
There are hundreds of routes throughout Europe, stretching all the way to Russia, that are apart of the Camino. Part of the tradition at the cathedral in Santiago involves La Puerta Santa (The Holy Door), which only opens for pilgrims when July 25 falls on a Sunday (when this occurs it is called a Holy Year). Holy Years occur every 5 or 6 years (the last in 2010) which attract at least a hundred thousand more pilgrims that year.
Today, hundreds of thousands still take the pilgrimage to Santiago; in fact, a route of the Camino passes through my city of Leon. Often times, I see individuals pass through Leon with hiking gear who have stayed or are going to stay the night in Leon. I, myself, would like to do a small portion of the Camino during my time here for a weekend or so. There are plenty of routes just in Spain alone for the Camino.
A sign for the Camino in Leon that I walk by every day. My route to class each day actually is a part of the Camino
Pilgrims obviously do plenty of hiking but most often times they sleep in small towns in which hostals exist solely for them. In Santiago, we stayed overnight in a hotel just like that. Outside my hotel window I could see a route of the Camino.
The sign of the Camino (the Conch)
Fun fact: During the American Revolution, John Adams was asked to travel to Paris; however, his ship broke down off the coast of Galicia and he actually walked the Camino all the way to Paris from the northwest coast of Spain with his two sons.
Castro de Baroña
Sunday morning, we left Santiago and first traveled west to a small coastal region on the Atlantic Coast. Although it was spectacular to see Santiago and very interesting to learn about all the Catholic tradition surrounding that city and the Camino, I was so happy that we were able to see the coast in Galicia and learn about Castro culture, a civilization that predates the Roman presence in Galicia.
The Castro de Baroña is an archaeological site that shows the ancient civilization of the Castro culture. It's known for its circular constructions and this particular one was built on the water to protect it from potential invaders. It was a different but beautiful sight that branched out from all the Catholic tradition that fills Spanish history.
An example of the Galician language as well as the sign of the Camino. In Spanish, usually it says "Gracias por su visita"
Our final stop was to the northern, coastal town of A Coruña (Spaniards say La Coruña, in Galician they drop the "L"). We only had the late afternoon to visit a few places but the beach with the 21 (70) degree weather was amazing. Fun fact: The third richest person in the world, Amancio Ortego Gaona resides in A Coruña where he first started Zara, the famous Spanish clothing store.
Amancio Ortego Gaona
Here, we visited La Torre de Hercules (The Tower of Hercules) which served as an important coastal lighthouse for thousands of years, dating back to the 2nd century. Obviously, it wasn't a lighthouse as we know today but a large fire was kept ablaze at the top of the tower to serve as a coastal marker for passing ships. It is the second tallest tower in Spain and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lastly, we visited the beach and city center of A Coruña, the plaza mayor.
Hast la proxima.