Santiago de Compostela is the capital of scenic Galicia, tucked away in the northwestern corner of Spain.
The Autonomous Community of Galicia is made up of 4 provinces: A Coruña, Ourense, Pontevedra and Lugo. Santiago de Compostela, with its population nearing 100,000 lies within the province of A Coruña and is the 5th largest city in Galicia.
Santiago de Compostela’s Old Town is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Adding to the quaint old-world ambience of old town, we found a handful of charming narrow pedestrian streets that were a delight to explore and get lost in.
Monument to As Marías
The city’s most popular Alameda Park has botanical gardens, a 17th century chapel, monuments and statues and flowing pathways, but it may be the charming colorful sculptures of two sisters who used to take their daily afternoon stroll through the park, that are the most photographed site.
The sisters, Corelia and Maruxa Fandiño, were members of a family who had brothers that partipated in the anarchist movement that happened just prior to the Spanish Civil War. The brothers are thought to have escaped and lived in hiding during the war and the dictatorship of General Franco that followed. The family left behind in Santiago de Compostela however, including the sisters, were regularly harassed and questioned by authorities.
Following the Civil War, in the dark and dreary decades of the dictatorship, the sisters, who may have had mental health challenges, lived in poverty and for political reasons were unable to find work. Luckily their neighbors took good care of them. On their daily walks they would wear cheerful and bright colored clothing and use of plenty of makeup, both unusual, because during those years living under a dictatorship, residents didn’t typically want to stand out or be noticed.
The sisters were popular local characters in Santiago de Compostela in the 1950s and 60s. They died in the early 1980’s but are fondly remembered with these statues in their beloved Alameda Park. The statues represent, especially to the residents, a time of injustice and mistreatment by the regime of General Francisco Franco.
Convento de San Domingos de Bonaval
In 1219 Santo Domingo de Guzman made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela where he founded the Bonaval Convent. The façade visible today however was built between 1685 and 1715. You can see the strings of fruit decorations on each side of the door, which were the signature of the architect.
Inside the building is the outstanding triple helix shaped staircase. Three spiral staircases are woven together in this interesting and beautiful piece of architecture. Each staircase leads to its own floor, streamlining traffic patterns. It’s said that the triple helix construction was chosen to reflect the Celtic traditional solstice symbol.
Museo do Pobo Galego
The Museum of the Galician People opened in 1976 in the former convent of San Domingos de Bonaval (above). The permanent collection showcasing Galician culture had wonderful exhibits about various types of fishing, woodworking, lantern making, metal working, haying, musical instrument making, shoe making, weaving and fringe making using a loom, basket making and lace making.
We saw Galician gaitas, the traditional bagpipe instrument of Galicia and northern Portugal and these very interesting flute-like musical instruments.
The other instrument we found in the museum was the zanfona, otherwise known as the hurdy gurdy. Our header picture is of this unique instrument.
The zanfona is a stringed instrument that produces sound when a hand crank is turned. A wheel rubs against the strings and works similar to a violin bow. A tune is played on the keyboard and the key touches the strings to change their pitch. The hurdy gurdy is hollow allowing for the vibration of the strings to project sound. The sound produced is similar to a bagpipe and if you played this instrument you would be called a hurdy-gurdiest.
This amazing instrument is known by many names in Europe. ‘Drehleier’ in German, ‘Vielle à Roue’ in French, ‘Viola de Roda’ en Catalan, ‘Ghironda’ in Italian, ‘Zanfona’ in Spanish and ‘Brenka’ in Basque.
Queixo de Tetilla
Tetilla cheese is soft and mild and absolutely delicious. It is unique because it has been formed in the shape of a woman’s breast and there is a story, of course, to explain how this came about.
In the 14th century, one archbishop of Santiago Cathedral ordered statues to be created that would tell stories of the bible. Craftsmen made a bare breasted Queen Esther but the archbishop was so displeased he insisted the breasts be removed from the statue.
Craftsmen and citizens alike were angry at the destruction and mutilation of Queen Esther and when the local dairy farmers heard this they chose a way to rebel. The farmers began to form their cheese into the shape of a woman’s breast and that practice continues to this day.
Pementos de Padrón
Delicious platefuls of 2″ Padrón peppers or Herbón peppers are offered at nearly every bar and cafe. They are typically bright green to yellowish green. The peppers are mild in flavor but a minority are particularly hot. No one can tell if a pepper will be hot or not. We enjoyed these tapas a couple of times but never got a hot one.
Each city we visited in Galicia offers the lovely albariño white wine. It has a slight citrus flavor with floral notes and is truly delicious. It, of course, pairs perfectly with seafood and fish dishes as well as the mild cheeses that define Galicia.
There is a brand of gin called Nordes Gin that is made, not from the usual grain base, but instead from the Albariño grape and Liqueur Orujo is a brandy popular all over Galicia. The brandy is a liquor distilled from the pomace of Albariño grapes left from winemaking.
Tarta de Santiago
Santiago Cake is a delicious, ubiquitous, gluten free, speciality in Santiago de Compostela. It is made with ground almonds, sugar, eggs and sometimes brandy. Powdered sugar is sifted on top of the cake showing the pattern of the cross of St James. It was the ideal accompaniment to our morning café con leche or our afternoon cortado.
The entire region of Galicia is known for its fresh and delicious seafood. We sampled the tastiest clams, mussels, razor clams, octopus and the tiny variegated scallops, called zamburiñas.
We did not get around to tasting the goose barnacles or cockles; perhaps next visit???
It is, without a doubt, a unique time to travel. Santiago de Compostela had very few tourists and the city felt relatively quiet. Travelers are appreciated though and we try to support the local economy as much as possible. We are thankful we have been able to cautiously resume our travels and we wish you well.
Boa saúde from these Santiagan,
Ted + Julia