The Plaza del Obradoiro is the monumental centre of Santiago de Compostela.
This square is like a compilation of the thousand-year-old history of the city. Here we find a synthesis of the four symbols and cardinal points of life in Santiago and Galicia. To the East, the Church, represented by the great cathedral. To the West, the municipal government of Santiago, in Rajoy Palace. To the South, the University, whose Rector’s Office occupies the Colegio de San Jerónimo. And finally, to the North, the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, today turned into a national inn and a symbol of the hospitality offered by the city to the pilgrimage.
The name of the square comes from the “obradoiros” or workshops of the stonemasons who worked here during the construction of the cathedral’s baroque façade, using the large space to store the materials needed for such a purpose.
If we go around 360 degrees, we will easily recognize the presence of different styles of architecture, developed during 700 years of construction. Baroque in the cathedral’s façade, neoclassical in Rajoy Palace, transitional Gothic in the Hostel and Renaissance in San Jerónimo. This mixture of styles proves to be really harmonic, which is probably due to the use of granite in all of them. This solid material has turned this square into an eternal work of art, despite the continuous rain showers.
Let’s take a look at the other buildings in this square before moving on to the Cathedral. The smallest building, in the South side, belongs to the University of Santiago, responsible for the city’s cultural life during the last 500 years. Its Rector’s Office is located in the Renaissance-style Colegio de San Jerónimo. It was founded in the 16th century as a charity school for poor Art students. The front of the building is a late-Gothic portal that originally belonged to a pilgrim hospital.
The monumental Rajoy Palace rises up opposite the Cathedral’s western façade. This neoclassical-style building, which was originally intended to be a confessors’ seminary, as well as a civil and ecclesiastical prison, is today the seat of both the city and regional governments, represented respectively by Santiago de Compostela City Council and the Xunta de Galicia. The tympanum is decorated with a bas-relief depicting the Battle of Clavijo, in which, according to legend, the warrior figure of the Apostle appeared to the Catholic monarchs in order to help them fight the Islamic invasion.
In fact, the figure of the Apostle is represented in all of this square’s buildings, although in different ways: as a warrior riding his white horse in the façade of Rajoy Palace, as a pilgrim saint in the cathedral façade and Colegio de San Jerónimo, and twice in the Hostal: as an apostle in the frieze, and with a scallop shell and walking staff in the upper part.
The square’s surface, although old-looking, is the most recent element added to it. Before the twentieth century, it only consisted of radial corridors forming a star pattern, along which people passed by to avoid walking in the mud. In their confluence there is a plaque considered by pilgrims as their zero-kilometre point, the end of all routes leading to the Apostle. The inscription in it reads that in 1987 the European Council declared the Way of Santiago as the “First European Cultural Itinerary.”
Apart from this designation, UNESCO declared Santiago as a World Heritage City in 1985. The city has also received several awards thanks to the conservation of its patrimony and its habitability.