The plazas around Santiago Cathedral
Santiago boasts several impressive plazas, but four in particular receive the attention of tourists and these can be found encircling the city's centrally located cathedral.
1. Plaza del Obradoiro
This is the massive square that sits in front of . It is also faced by three other important and architecturally significant buildings. They are the (parliament building), the Reyes Catolicos hotel (now a state run parador) and a college building of the city's university.
The photo to the right looks down at the square from the high level gallery of the cathedral with the "Reyes Catolicos" hotel in the distance.
The Plaza del Obradoiro is the largest of its kind in the whole of Galicia and it becomes the center point for the 25th July Saint James' day celebrations when it is tranformed into an open air auditorium for a series of concerts and events. At other times the square is used for concerts, presentations and functions, but is perpetually busy with tourist entering and exiting the cathedral and pilgrims who naturally congregate in the area. The Obradorio square also has points of exit that lead visitors to various other areas of interest in Santiago, not least of which are the city's other piazzas and significant buildings.
2. Plaza de la Azabacheria
This is another of Santiago's more important squares and it is only a short walk from the Plaza del Obradoiro. You reach it by passing under an arch, the "Arco de Palacio" between the cathedral and the "" Hotel, and then climbing a few steps.
The square itself is to the rear of the cathedral (the north facade) and was once famous for jewellery items made from the black gem stone Jet. The craftsmen who fashioned these stones were called "azabacheros" and it is from them and their trade that the square gets its name.
In times past the shops and workplaces of these azabacheros filled the Plaza de la Azabacheria and although their numbers have decreased you can still buy items featuring this unusual stone in jewellers across Santiago de Compostela.
Aside from the retailing history of this square, it also possesses some stunning buildings and in our opinion rivals that of the Obradoiro plaza. Firstly it is faced by the spectacular
north facade of the cathedral and the small ornate garden that lies in front of it. This elevation of the cathedral, whilst on a smaller scale to that of the main facade, is just as intricately detailed and also has a magnificent entrance that takes you back into the building. The plazas second big structure is the large granite Monastery of San Martin Pinario (above) which looks back towards the cathedral, but is a stand alone monument in its own right. Finally a third architectural masterpiece is the palace of the Archbishop.
3. Plaza de la Quintana
The Plaza de la Quintana can be reached by a variety of routes, but again faces one of facades of Santiago cathedral and is within a short walk of the two squares described above.
The main part of this square is a vast rectangle, but at its top end there is a flight of stairs, the entire width of the plaza, that takes you up to a second much narrower level. Historically this square, which is alternately known as the Plaza de los Literarios, gets its name from a battalion of students who fought the French in the Spanish wars of independence in the early nineteenth century.
Visually the square is not quite as attractive as the two previously mentioned, mainly because the facades of the buildings that face it are less ornate, but it is worth a look none the less. The buildings that line this plaza are the , a monastery called the Monasterio de Antealtares which is the city's second oldest building and a palatial structure called the Casa de la Parra.
Another point of interest associated with the "Plaza de la Quintana", is that it provides a view of the "Portico Real" (Royal Door) of the cathedral which is only opened during one of Santiago's holy years. Photo above.
4. Plaza de las Platerias
This is a much smaller square, but one surrounded by splendid examples of Galician
architecture and featuring an ornate fountain at its center (the fountain of horses). This plaza also has a wide stone stair at one end and is overlooked by two impressive buildings, the Bank of Spain and the building. Both are constructed in granite and are highly ornate and detailed. Despite its limited size this plaza is easily an equal to those described above and completes the collection of squares around the cathedral.
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