We are in Plaza das Platerías, which owes its name to the silversmiths that set up their workshops in the arcades of this square during the Middle Ages, where silver items are still sold to travellers and pilgrims.
Let’s take a look at the South façade, the Cathedral’s only remaining Romanesque façade. Originally designed at the end of the 11th century, it was severely damaged due to the revolts and riots during the 12 and 14th centuries. After its considerable deterioration, the façade was rebuilt, although many of the figures were inserted without order. Some others were brought from the old north façade and other places in the cathedral. Today they are all form a rich iconographic ensemble dedicated to Christ and his dual human and divine nature.
In the frieze we can observe signs of the zodiac, the apostles and angels. Jesus is at the centre giving a blessing, with St. James on one side and six small angels, brought from the north façade, occupying an empty space on the other. Below Christ, the square, clearest image depicts Abraham emerging form his tomb. The small horned figure underneath him is Moses. In the portals, the left tympanum seems to depict Christ’s Temptation, while the right one shows clearly recognisable scenes of his Passion: Pilate’s judgement, the flogging and Judas’ betrayal. On the side walls and to our left, we see King David sitting in his throne playing the fiddle. Above him, the creation of Adam, who has a twin image on the right wall, with the creation of Eve. Both scenes belonged to the so called “Paradise Door”.
If we look to our right, where the tower starts, we’ll see some unfinished arches, which most probably formed part of a project to cover the present-day Romanesque façade.
To the left, the cathedral’s cloister features an ornamented back with coats of arms depicting scenes related to the Jacobean tradition. We can perfectly identify, in the far left, St. James the warrior riding his horse; and on the right, a scene depicting his remains being brought by sea to Galicia. Two disciples are accompanying his coffin in a boat, while a horse rider is contemplating them from the water. Such an image evokes a beautiful legend according to which, at the passing of the boat, the knight, who had fallen into the water, was saved by a miracle performed by the Apostle. When he came out of the sea, both him and his horse were totally covered by shells.
In a general view of the square and opposite us, the imposing Casa del Cabildo façade will catch our attention: it is decorated with geometrical patterns typical of the Compostela’s baroque style, and some Jacobean elements, such as the stars and the shell. It was conceived as a magnificent, exuberant baroque backdrop, with the objective of adding more space and beauty to this emblematic place. The downside is the building’s lack of interior functionality, since it is barely 3 metres wide.
In the middle of the square, the 19th-century Fuente de los Caballos (Fountain of Horses), in which four horses are escorting a woman sitting on a sarcophagus and holding up a star. Local lore not only claims that this is the Apostle James’ real burial place but has also invented a ruse for visitors. Beware if a Compostela resident asks you to come closer to the fountain so as to see the horses’ “attributes.” It’s just a trick to splash you with water.