In the 12th century, Plaza de Cervantes was known as the `Forum´, since it was a popular meeting place where the town crier read municipal agreements and the archbishop´s regulations. Due to this informative vocation, one of its streets (a busy shopping area) is called `Preguntoiro´ -derived from the Spanish verb `preguntar´ (to ask). Forming a corner with the square is a building that was erected in 1682 as the old Town Hall, which occupied the site during 200 years, from 1583 until it was moved to Palacio de Raxoi in 1787. Today, it is the only baroque municipal building in Galicia that is still intact. An interior restoration has revealed old writing desks, the oratory, the archive and the dungeons. We know that autos-da-fé were carried out in the square during the Inquisition. It was also the site, until 1570, of the `rollo´ or column where justice was meted out and the gallows was situated. The column had previously presided over executions on Monte de la Almáciga and was subsequently moved to the Santa Susana oak grove, from where it disappeared in the 19th century.
Later on, when it specialised in selling foodstuffs and goods, the place acquired the name `Plaza del Campo´ and the category of main market. This also explains the name of the Church of San Bieito do Campo, whose present-day neoclassical style hides the fact that its foundation goes back to the 10th century.
When the market was moved to Plaza de Abastos in the 19th century, the square acquired its final name of Plaza de Cervantes. A bust of the writer crowns the square´s fountain and reminds us that the author of `Don Quijote´ had two Galician surnames: Cervantes and Saavedra.
Casa da Troia
The Rúa da Troia takes us to the house of the same name, an old student boarding house immortalised by Pérez Lugín in his novel `La Casa de la Troya´, written in 1915. This setting of the adventures and misfortunes of university life in the 19th century was transformed into a museum by the `Asociación de Antiguous Tunos de Santiago´, whose members were keen to restore the atmosphere of the popular boarding house run by Doña Generosa.
The street leads to Plaza de San Miguel dos Agros, whose church was founded in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 15th, 18th and 19th centuries. On the other side of the street there is Casa Gótica, which is also known as Casa del Rey Don Pedro, one of the city´s few examples of civil Gothic architecture. Inside, the `Museo de las Peregrinaciones´ museum centres on the phenomenon of pilgrimages by means of collections of painting, sculpture, gold and silver articles, and traditional arts.
In the opposite direction, Plaza de San Miguel is linked to Plaza de San Martiño Pinario, dominated by the façade of this impressive monastery.
Church of San Martiño Pinario
Built starting from the end of the 16th century, its façade was designed in 1652 and conceived as a stone altar. It is dominated by the Virgin, St. Benito and St. Bernard, while St. Martin is sharing his cape with a pauper on the upper pediment. The belfry and baroque stairway are two characteristic images of the building, whose towers do not surpass the height of the façade due to the Cathedral Chapter´s opposition –they were afraid that they would compete with those of the Cathedral.
A small fee is charged in order to enter the church, where you can contemplate its magnificent main altarpiece, designed by Fernando de Casas y Novoa and made by Romay; it is considered one of the Spanish baroque style´s best. The choir stalls, situated behind the high altar, was made in walnut by Mateo de Prado, between 1639 and 1646, being considered the most important in Galicia.
Convent of San Francisco
Going along Rúa da Porta da Pena (whose name refers to one of the old city gates) and Costa Vella, we come to the Convent of San Francisco. According to tradition, it was founded by the saint from Assisi, who made a pilgrimage to Compostela in 1213-1215. Here he is supposed to have received a divine revelation to erect a monastery on land belonging to San Martiño Pinario. The project was financed with treasure that a coal merchant called Cotolay found in a fountain. The present-day convent is from the 17th century and its church, from the 18th century. The monument to St. Francis was made by the sculptor Francisco Asorey, to commemorate San Francisco´s seventh centennial in 1930.
On the way back towards Plaza del Obradoiro, we pass by the Medicine Faculty and the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos´ long sidewall.