Santiago’s residents are the only ones that know the city does not exist.
Compostela is one of Europe’s leading cities, the metropolis that gave rise to the towns along the Way of St. James in France and the Iberian Peninsula; it is the lighthouse that guided generations of Europeans and taught us that the different languages and territories do not divide us but rather unite us in what we are, Europeans. And now that Spain has come out of centuries-long confinement and self-contemplation, we can recall the lesson that we had forgotten: we are different, we are diverse and we are European. Compostela was the magnet that attracted the entire European culture westward; it was a civilising arrow until the Dark Ages closed the doors to the north. Even today, with Santiago having survived the centuries like a labyrinth portraying a coded message, like a buried giant, even today it is a town that projects its message of memory to our time and utters, time and again, the word “way”, which means hope. All of this is true. It is also true that it is a beautiful, and strange, city. This is also true. But Santiago’s residents know that the city does not exist.
It has never existed, except in people’s dreams. Every morning, we residents open up the city, but we do not open it up for ourselves. We know that the city is not ours; it is not meant to be inhabited but rather to be visited. Santiago belongs, not to the person who lives here but to the one who visits it. We residents maintain all of this woodwork of dreams, all of this luminous stone and this humid shade, so that whoever comes in search of amazement will find it. We work in a variety of trades, which are apparently mundane, but we do not serve the world; we only serve the imagination and wonderment, the person who believes that what is imagined is possible.
Because Compostela is not in the world; it arose from a dream, from literature, and there is where it remains. It arose as a myth, a luminous cave, a column of light that came down from the stars and penetrated deep within the dark sepulchre, a tomb that would give life. The myth became a legend and this legend travelled all over, calling people and taking them far from their homes, following a silver arrow on the vault of heaven, following the sun’s golden arrow on its westward journey, to the place where the miracle of death and resurrection takes place, to where the sun perishes each evening to be reborn the next morning. A place that teaches us that there is always a tomorrow, a hope.
And Compostela was the dream, myth, legend that spread abroad and gave rise to the idea of Europe, the dream that we want to experience today. And it gave its name to so many twin cities in the world, in Chile, in Cuba, in Argentina. Santiago de Compostela are the words that want to express a long, dense account full of stories and of history; they are the words that explain the miracle. And that is why Santiago does not compete with any city, because they are all her daughters and because she does not live in this world; she lives apart from time and barely in space. In a place called memory. And that is why, every morning, Santiago’s residents set up the newborn city once more, for you. For its visitors.
Suso de Toro