This square is the last urban stretch of the French Route. All pilgrims arriving along this route enter this square through the so-called Puerta del Camino. For centuries, pilgrims upon their arrival and just before entering the cathedral, took off their torn clothes and garments and washed themselves in the old “Fons Mirabilis” fountain, today located in the cloister; thus purified, they were ready to receive God and become new men.
During the Middle Ages, this square was alive with activity. Money changers, ready to buy any of the pilgrims’ objects of value, could be found among merchants of shoes, leather and spices and inn keepers offering accommodation to the thousands of pilgrims that arrived in the city.
The shell was the most sought-after object for pilgrims. It was the symbol of a successfully concluded pilgrimage and an emblem protecting them on the way back home, whether natural scallop shells or tin, lead and silver replicas. Their demand was such that a falsification industry soon originated along the Way, aside from the strict monopoly of the Compostela guild and the Archbishopric.
The Plaza de la Inmaculada, known as Azabacheria, is traditionally related to the presence of jet-carving workshops. In the nearby arcades we find the so-called “covachuelas,” shops rented out by the Archbishopric to artisans, who still sell their jet items there today.
Galicia is not actually a producer of this hard, black material that can be polished and which comes exclusively from Asturias. However, the skill acquired over centuries of tradition has made the work of the region’s artisans renowned. Starting in the Middle Ages, their amulets called “figas” (consisting of a clenched jet fist that protects against the evil eye) have acquired great popularity.
The cathedral’s original north façade now features baroque and neoclassical elements, since it was entirely renovated in the 18th century. In the Middle Ages, this façade was one of the building’s most beautiful ones. The Codex Calixtinus, a text compiled around the mid-twelfth century, describes it as the “Paradise Door,” not only due to its beauty but also because it featured an iconographic program based on the story of Adam and Eve, original sin and redemption.