Santiago de Compostela’s singularity and charm have gradually increased over time, due to the combination and superimposition of styles from different periods. Recent projects enrich even more, if possible, this accumulative image that characterises the city. In this regard, some of the best and most prestigious national and international architects have left their mark on the city, just as the master stonemasons of old did when they came to work in Santiago de Compostela.
Undoubtedly, one of the best examples of this recent activity is the “Cidade da Cultura de Galicia” (Galician City of Culture), located at the top of Monte Gaiás and visible from almost any part of the city. The original idea for this ambitious architectural complex arose in 1999, when the regional Xunta de Galicia government organised an international competition to select projects to build a large-scale cultural facility, featuring different museums, a large library, a newspaper archive, an opera theatre, and study and research centres.
The panel of judges selected a short list of proposals by twelve teams of architects: five Spanish ones, led by Ricardo Bofill, Santiago Calatrava, Manuel Gallego, Juan Navarro Baldeweg and César Portela; a German one, that of Daniel Libeskind; two French ones, led by Jean Nouvel and Dominique Perrault; a Dutch one, Rem Koolhaas and OMA; a Swiss one, that of Annette Gigon and Mike Guyer; and, finally, two North American ones, Steven Holl and Peter Eisenman, who proved to be the winner.
Eisenman’s project faithfully reflects his intellectual and creative status. This architect, who set up his own studio at the age of fifty, after a brilliant career as an architecture critic and scholar, proposed a topographic construction in which the undulating roofs of the different buildings appear as if they were part of Monte Gaiás itself. The complex’s scale is huge: its perimeter, from above, is shaped like a scallop shell, while the facility’s total surface area is equal to that of Santiago de Compostela’s old town. This intentional dialogue with the city’s historic and monumental district is also reflected in the layout of Compostela’s main “rúas” or streets and their arcades, which appear as profound fissures that separate and provide access to the different volumes. This interplay of parallelisms is completed by the prominent presence of two towers, which were strategically located in the western part of the facility. These two constructions, nevertheless, were designed by the American architect John Hejduk, a personal friend of Eisenman, and were conceived in the early nineties as a botanical enclosure for neighbouring Belvís Park. Although the original idea never materialised, shortly after Hejduk’s death, Peter Eisenman wanted to include his companion’s project as an outstanding feature of his own proposal, as a posthumous tribute.
Due to its size and –let us be realistic– the high cost of the building work, the project was accompanied by an intense social and cultural debate from the very beginning. That is why the use of the planned buildings, even their total number, as well as the accesses from the city, have constantly been reformed and modified compared to the original project. Examples of this are the construction of different landscaped areas or the last of the constructed buildings, dedicated to the prestigious Galician geographer Domingo Fontán; all of them finally occupied spaces planned for other uses.
Throughout the year, the “Cidade da Cultura de Galicia” hosts a programme of cultural activities for all ages and tastes, as well as an extensive range of guided tours, which, along with its valuable architecture, satisfies Santiago de Compostela’s objective of becoming an outstanding point of reference in the international cultural circuit.
We now invite you to enter and visit some of these buildings, such as the museum, an impressive building covering an area of almost 7,000 square metres that regularly houses exhibitions, or the large library, which has the objective of collecting and preserving Galicia’s entire bibliographic heritage; to enjoy a long, peaceful stroll along the trails of the “Bosque de Galicia” (Forest of Galicia) or “Parque da Lagoa” (Lagoon Park), a green belt featuring more than 30 hectares of native species surrounding the complex, or simply to sit on one of the benches and enjoy the natural surroundings and matchless panoramic views.