"Quintana" is the same as "praça" and both words were used in the Middle Ages to define open spaces for public use. The Quintana was a square par excellence, delimited by the Cathedral sanctuary, the foundational monastery, the canons’ cemetery and the first town hall.
The square is divided into two different levels. The lower one, called Quintana de Mortos (Quintana of the Dead), was a burial ground until 1780, when, for public health reasons and lack of space, it was replaced by the cemetery of San Domingos de Bonaval and, later on, by the present-day cemetery of Boisaca. The upper level is, on the other hand, called Quintana de Vivos (Quintana of the Living).
The impressive wall of the Monastery of San Paio de Antealtares delimits the square on the east. Alfonso II founded it in the 9th century to take care of the recently discovered tomb of the Apostle; the Cathedral Chapter subsequently assumed this function in the 11th century. The Benedictine monks were replaced in the 15th century by the Benedictine cloistered nuns now inhabiting the building, which was remodelled in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its church features an interesting Museum of Sacred Art, which houses an altar found beside St. James' tomb. And every day at 7.30 pm we can listen to the vespers service sung by the convent´s nuns.
The square's only vertical element, the Cathedral's Clock Tower, can be seen throughout the city. It is called by the curious name of Berenguela, in honour of the archbishop (Berenguel de Landoira) who ordered its construction in the 14th century. It was originally a sturdy defensive turret in which the battlements were not higher than the clock´s present-day position. The architect Domingo de Andrade added the top and the baroque ornamentation surrounding the largest of the Cathedral´s bells, also called Berenguela (with a weight of 14 tons), whose low C note can be heard striking every hour.
To the right is the "Pórtico Real", through which the liturgical processions exit the Cathedral. The long baroque wall protecting the Cathedral´s Romanesque sanctuary continues towards the Holy Door, the final destination of the pilgrims coming to Santiago for the Jubilee granted to those who go through the new bronze Holy Door, which was created in 2004 by the Compostela artist Suso León. Its anteroom is bordered by stone Romanesque figures from the Cathedral´s former stone choir, carved in the 12th century by Maestro Mateo –its reconstruction is on display in the Cathedral Museum. The upper part is dominated by the baroque figures of St. James and his disciples Atanasio and Teodoro. Starting in 2004, the door beside it, called "Puerta de los Abades", is occasionally opened –it connects the sanctuary´s interior spaces and leads to the Chapel of La Corticela…
The south and north sides are occupied by two baroque houses. In Quintana de Mortos, Casa de la Conga or Casa de los Canónigos, a complex made up of four houses built in 1709 by Domingo de Andrade and completed by Casas y Nóvoa. Opposite, Casa de la Parra (House of the Vine) is called after the baroque stone fruits –vines and bunches of grapes- adorning its main entrance. Built by Andrade for the Cathedral Chapter in 1683, it occupies the site of Santiago's first notary and first town hall, demolished in 1588. It is now an active exhibition hall.