Most people have a clear idea of why they want to walk one of the most famous pilgrimages in Europe, the Camino de Santiago.
Normally its for religious reasons, maybe it’s spiritual journey, it could even be a healthy challenge or just the social aspect, but one things sure it will be good for you.
Whatever your motivation for walking the Camino, you will, I am sure, want to chart your progress so make sure you get your ‘Pilgrim Passport’ and get it stamped along the way.
The Pilgrim Passport
This passport (Credencial del Peregrino) will be proof that you have walked the 100km necessary to obtain your ‘Compostela’ or ‘Certificate’, the official documents are a testament to your journey.
You can obtain your Pilgrim Passport at the start of your route and you can buy it locally for just €1. Many establishments, shops, churches, etc will carry them along the Camino.
www.CaminoWays.com has its own ‘Pilgrim Passport’ that walkers can get stamped and take to the Pilgrims Office in Santiago to get their Compostela or certificate of pilgrimage.
Pilgrims must collect at least two stamps per day from churches, town halls or other official establishments on their way to Santiago (at least for the last 100km) and show their stamped Pilgrim Passport at the Pilgrims Office once they reach Santiago de Compostela.
The ‘Compostela’ is the original religious certificate written in Latin, given by the Church when pilgrims prove they have either walked 100km or cycled (or travelled by horse) 200km to Santiago de Compostela.
Originally, pilgrims used the scallop shell as proof of their pilgrimage but this quickly became a fraudulent practice with people buying and selling shells. See its not just Sunday markets doing a bit or shady trading !
From the XIII century the Church introduced a more rigorous system based on letters, which formed the origin of the ‘Compostela’. The ‘Compostela’ was a valuable document which pilgrims used, in many cases as a penance. By getting a certificate showing they had completed the walk they were absolved or at least showed they had paid their penance. Apparently, a roaring trade of forged ‘Compostelas’ also boomed in Santiago in the Middle Ages, well at least the way to Santiago seemed to be paved with good intentions!
For some, getting their ‘Compostela’ meant they had secured their golden ticket to get them past St Peter at the gates of heaven.
In the 16th century, King Fernando and his Queen Isabel, created the Foundation of the Royal Hospital and started the construction of a pilgrims Royal Hospital in Santiago, in the building that hosts today the luxurious ‘Hostal dos Reis Católicos’. By showing their ‘Compostela’ pilgrims could to stay for up to three days. Today, the hotel still provides free meals for three days to 10 pilgrims with their ‘Compostela’.
Today, many people cycle or walk the Camino for leisure and other non-religious reasons, but this doesn’t mean they can’t get a ‘certificate’ of their journey. This non-religious certificate can also be obtained at the Pilgrims Office in Santiago (Rúa do Vilar). The same rules apply, which are 100km for walkers and 200km for cyclists and horse riders.
The text of this alternative ‘Compostela’ welcomes the visitor to the Tomb of St James and gives them the Apostle’s blessing, in Spanish. Now it might not get you a fast track to heaven but it will be a nice memento of your trip to Santiago!
S0 if you are doing the religious thing or simply going for the craic, the food or the beautiful scenary its definitely going to be a worthwile experience.
Santiago de Compostela is not just the final point of the Camino de Santiago, it is a fantastic place to explore and wandering around. It is quite pocket-sized too, so make sure you dedicate at least a couple of days to soak in the city’s atmosphere.
As some Galicians say, Santiago is not a city, it is a ‘big village’. The city population is just around the 100,000 mark but with nearly 50,000 students settling there for the academic year and thousands of pilgrims walking into town every year, Santiago gets a very special mix of people.
10 things to do in Santiago de Compostela:
If you have walked all the way to Santiago, your first stop is likely to be the Praza do Obradoiro with its imposing Cathedral, where the remains of St James are allegedly buried. The cathedral is Santiago’s most famous building with a Romanesque structure and later Gothic and Baroque elements. At the Cathedral, check out the Pórtico da Gloria (the original Romanesque porch entrance by Mestre Mateo), the Botafumeiro (its giant thurible) and, if you are not scared of heights, ask to walk up to the Cathedral’s rooftop to enjoy panoramic views of Santiago.
Santiago is divided in two main districts: the Old Town (Zona Vella) and the New Town (Zona Nova). The Old Town with is winding granite streets, arches, squares and monuments has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Here you will find not only Romanesque and baroque churches, museums and some of the oldest University buildings but also many cosy cafes, traditional and contemporary restaurants, interesting shops and some of the best nightlife too!
The New Town isn’t up to much much, mostly apartment buildings housing the student population, but you will also find shopping areas, good bookshops, as well as restaurants and bars.
Take a breather at the Alameda, Santiago’s most emblematic green space. Go for a stroll along the Paseo da Ferradura, get a nice tree-framed view of the Cathedral, sit by the statue of writer Valle Inclán or take a picture with the statue of ‘As Marías’, the two Fandiño sisters dressed in their colourful outfits. The sisters used to go for a walk in the Alameda every day at 2 o’clock on the dot. The Alameda park is also central point to many celebrations in Santiago’s busy festival calendar.
Rúa do Franco goes all the way to the Obradoiro Square and takes its name after the French pilgrims that used to follow this street to get to the Cathedral. With adjacent Raíña, this is the most famous street to go out for a few drinks with friends. Many bars and restaurants along the Franco display their octopus, shellfish and other Galician delicacies on their windows (vegetarians beware!) and most offer a free bite with each drink: croquettes, tortilla or even tiger filet (not really tiger meat, by the way). After a few wines with their bites, you probably won’t need any dinner, but if you are still hungry, you can always order a few dishes to share.
Museo das Peregrinacións
After walking to Santiago as a pilgrim, you should probably visit this museum, dedicated to the pilgrimage, its fast tracks you again !!!
San Domingos de Bonaval Park
‘Bonaval’ for short, is another popular park in Santiago de Compostela. Bonaval sits on the grounds of a Dominican convent’s old cemetery and has been re-invented into a secluded public green space by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza. Next to Bonaval you’ll find two of Santiago’s best museums: the CGAC (Galician Contemporary Art Centre) in a modern building also by Siza and the Museum of the Galician People (Museo do Pobo Galego) in the former convent. Bonaval is loved by visitors and locals, who like to enjoy a good book there or just relax under the shade of the oak grove (carballeira) on a hot day.
Mercado de Abastos
Santiago’s food market has a rural chic feel: delicatessen style stalls mix with traditional stores run by ladies from surrounding farms. Modernity and tradition really live in harmony at Abastos, with exciting new restaurants also opening their doors in recent years.
Santiago has a very active cultural life: from poetry recitals to concerts big and small, galleries, exhibitions, museums, theatre, etc…there is always something to fulfil your cultural ambitions.
Festas da Ascensión in May and Festas do Apóstolo in July are the main celebrations in Santiago, with outdoor concerts and many other events taking place, some of them free of charge. However, there are many more festivals in and around the different neighbourhoods in Santiago. Before you travel, check out the local tourist information board to see what’s coming up in Santiago.
You can’t leave Santiago (or Galicia) without trying the land’s most iconic dish: octopus. The Galicians call it octopus fair style (‘pulpo á feira’) as it used to be a dish eaten on market day; while Spaniards like to call it octopus Galician style. Whatever your choice of words, you must try it at least once.