There are some stories about the origin of the city’s name. According to a friend of mine, who is from Santiago D.C., Santiago comes from St. James, and Compostela comes from the Latin, “campus stellae”, which means “the field of star.”
After Saint James, one of 12 apostles of Jesus, passed away at 44 in Jerusalem, his remains were miraculously brought to this region, and they were discovered by a bishop named Theodomirus in 835. According to the legend, Theodomirus was directed by the stars to the place of the tomb. That’s why the Milky Way is called El Camino de Santiago in Spanish. For hundreds of years the same name has been given to the route the pilgrims follow to visit Saint James.
A little chapel was built on the spot where it was believed the ashes of St. James were found. Later that little church was transformed into one of the most beautiful and the most solemn buildings in the world, the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. As it became a place of pilgrimage, it turned out to be one of the places that was important for Catholics like Jerusalem and Rome.
It’s not only a route for pilgrims, but it is also a magnet for anyone looking for a cure, wanting to spend quality time with nature, willing to meet other people and to have a special experience. With pathways with fantastic views and candid friendships, it has a very appealing ambiance.
The pilgrimage route, “El Camino de Santiago”, is 760-800 kilometers long but the distance depends on the people taking the pilgrimage. The reason is that the route doesn’t have a starting point. Some believe that it should start from the door of their house, some find it convenient to start from one of the popular pilgrimage routes. One of the favorite of these routes is “Camino Francés” or the French Route.
According to the tradition, pilgrims who wandered around hundreds of miles end up going west to reach “the end of the world.” Pilgrims are given a document called “Compostela” by the religious authorities at the end of the route. In order to get this document you have to walk or ride on a horse at least 100 kilometers of the route. If you use a bicycle, its 200 kilometers. You continue your way getting a stamp on your passport, which they give you at the beginning of the route, at every hostel. At the end of the route, they check the stamps and that’s how you get your document.
According to what I have learned from my friend, at the end of the route there are three symbolic rituals that have to be carried out by the pilgrims:
1. Having a bath at Langosteira Beach. This ritual is for redemption. According to the legend, as the pilgrim gets rid of the all the dust on his/her body from the route and becomes clean, a new life purified from sins starts.
2. Burning cloths. This is for getting rid of all materialistic thoughts. The fire burns everything that has no use in our lives, or the things that we wish we hadn’t lived and want to change.
3. Watching the sun set and the sun rise. The sun set on the sea symbolizes death as the sun rise symbolizes the revival and the resurrection. According to the pilgrims, the resurrection signifies redemption and being forgiven by God.
Besides these, for some of the pilgrims doing a “Paris-Dakar” is also a ritual. If you don’t know what it means, let me explain. Rua do Franco is the street that you’ll confront when you leave the cathedral, it’s the liveliest street in Santiago and it’s full of bars. The bar at the beginning of the street is called Paris, and the last bar is Dakar. So if you come across pilgrims or students saying that they will do Paris-Dakar, know that they mean they will drop by every bar at Rua do Fronco and have a drink. To cut a long story short, some pilgrims can be very drunk by the end of the route.
The shell is the symbol of Santiago. The pilgrims carry a necklace or a key ring made from shells to give them strength, and they also prefer to eat seafood whilst on the pilgrimage. The specialties of Santiago are seafood in general. I strongly recommend you to try octopus.
If you walk from the city center to the park, in front of the almighty tree you see a cafe with tables outside at the front. Whether you order it or not, they bring in small plates of famous Spanish omelet, crumbled eggs with potatoes, fried cheese and sausage on bread. The friendly Spanish waiters will also make your day. However, there is only one problem: Siesta. Between 16:00 and 20:30, a lot of restaurants are closed. At 21:00, they start service again. When making your plans, be sure to take siesta times into consideration.
There are lots of stores selling tarts, chocolate and biscuits in Santiago and they are very delicious. My recommendations are: “tarta del apostol”, “tarta de almendra”, and chocolate biscuits; you can find them in the shop below. Either way, they let you taste all of them, so somehow you find your favorite.
When you buy something from this shop, the shop across from it gives you a gift certificate. There are very special kinds of liquors there. We preferred the cherry and chocolate liquor.
The other nice part of the street is the Chocolate Factory.
Even its smell is enough. In this ambient atmosphere you can witness all kinds of art in the street. There are artists doing oil paintings, street musicians reviving the Celt music, and living statues.