Pilgrimage to the Field of Stars

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The Independent Travel

The Ancient Pilgrimage town of Santiago De Compostela is the jewel in Galicia’s emerald green crown.

The rugged Galician terrain may be recipient of one of the European continents highest rainfall levels. However, judging by a plethora of punters huddled into each and every single one of the Old Towns’ gargantuan population of Tapas bars, Cafes and Restaurants, it is apparent that despite the occasional downpour, Santiago’s historically colourful spirit is far from dampened.

Santiago De Compostela’s past is shrouded in myth and legend. Even the origins of the town’s name are disputed to this day, but the most popular theory of etymology is that the ‘Compostela’ element of the name comes from the Latin ‘Campus Stellae’ meaning field of stars. Combined, this declares the town’s name to be ‘Saint James of the Field of Stars’

According to the Legend, Saint James’ bones were carried via boat from Jerusalem to Northern Spain, where they were buried on a site upon which a local shepherd had spotted a star. A Church on this site was built, and it later became the gloriously intricate Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela.

It has entertained its status as a Pilgrimage town for over 1000 years now, and each year about 100,000 of them travel to Santiago from all over Europe, as well as others from far-flung destinations across the globe. According to a press report from the Prague Daily Monitor in December 2007, a Czech man named Tomas Hradil completed, on foot, a 3,300 kilometre Pilgrimage from Jesenik, Czech Republic to Santiago.

Despite the comparatively recent emergence of other pilgrimage sites such as Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France, Santiago remains an important destination of Religious purpose, and the Pilgrimage route has, once more, gained in popularity in recent years.

The towns’ initial religious seal of approval was established when Pope Alexander III declared it a Holy Town of the importance of Rome and Jerusalem. Santiago’s modern endorsement came in 1993, when it became recognized as a World Heritage Site, and again in the year 2000, upon which it was officially crowned ‘European City of Culture’

Nowadays, the town is a diverse mixture of Pilgrims, visitors, students and also its locals who comprise a figure of 90,000.

The town’s marvellous architecture hosts a mix of bars, restaurants, shops, and many souvenir hot-spots.

The Souvenir shops hold an abundance of shiny baubles, including the traditional ‘Saint James Route’ scallop shells, carved into little necklaces and rings or adorning the ends of commemorative spoons. There are also traditionally embellished hiking sticks, religious knick-knacks such as figurines and rosaries, as well as a limitless selection of pins, lighters, mugs, thimbles and so forth.

Amongst the towns’ substantial student population, an alternative Pilgrimage to emerge in recent years has steadily gained in popularity. This particular Pilgrimage, much like the more traditional religious one, is a not a trek for the faint of heart.

Making use of the intersecting tavern-lined streets known as Rua Franco and Rua de Raina respectively, an unknown percentage of the towns’ 33,000 strong student population may be seen to partake in an event known as the ‘Paris to Dakar’ race, so called as the race begins at the Bar Paris, and, for the strong stomached, ends at the Bar Dakar. Essentially, this event is a Spanish ‘pub crawl’ in which, during the course of a night, a student is obliged to take a drink in each of the bars lining the two streets. The official number of students to have completed the Paris to Dakar race is unknown, although with the streets’ combined population of 48 bars, one would assume that the figure is comparatively less than the number of Catholics to have completed the more reputable Pilgrimage that the town is famous for.

Even for those boycotting the notorious ‘Paris to Dakar,’ the Rua Franco and the Rua de Raina hold the mouth-watering appeal of being two of the finest gastronomical streets in Santiago.

Some say that one may find no better seafood than in Galicia, and with the Atlantic coastline being less than 50 kilometres away, the local seafood dishes happily live up to (succulently fresh) expectations, and quite literally, too; the streets of this town are home to a rather sizeable population of jewel-bright Lobsters on a mildly pitiable culinary death row.

However, this compassion, for most of the towns’ visitors, would undoubtedly be lesser than the desire to sample this local delicacy, if one was given half the chance.

Upon departing Santiago De Compostela, one may be caught by surprise to find themselves coming to terms with the fact that all they have eaten in the town during their visit has been seafood.

Essential Santiago experiences: Well, architecture-gawping, seafood, scallop shell bric-a-brac shopping, a spot of Cathedral visiting and watching the world go by with a glass of intense Spanish Red in one’s hand all feature among the highlights.

Whether one joins the ranks of Santiago’s Rioja-slurping student population or participates in the ancient Holy traditions of the towns’ visiting devout Catholic population, the chosen Pilgrimage of the visitor to Santiago De Compostela will, either way, be an experience not to be forgotten.

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