Culture on the Camino: the Plaza del Obradoiro and its buildings

Concluding the last stage of our tour, we arrive at the heart of Santiago. We are in the famous Plaza del Obradoiro, its image will surely remain in our memory as it is considered one of the most beautiful non-porticoed squares in the world.

Formerly it was called “Plaza del Hospital” but its name was changed in homage to the artisan workshops (obradoiros in Galician) that were built there.

The square is formed by four buildings of different architectural styles: the Cathedral, the Royal Hospital (today Hotel de los Reyes Católicos), the pazo de Raxoi and the Colegio de San Jerónimo. Together, they form a unique perspective.

1) Façade of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

It was built by the architect Fernando de Casas y Novoa between 1738 and 1750. It can be framed within the baroque style of Santiago de Compostela.

Possibly what strikes us most at first are its two towers. The first to be built was the right or tower of the Bells, work of the architect José de la Peña around 1667. The left tower, also known as the Carraca tower, was built later. Both rise on solid medieval foundations, somewhat hidden by the Baroque additions. The filigree applied to the stone creates surprising effects of light and shadow.

Torres de la Catedral
In the central altarpiece, crowning the façade, we see an image of the Apostle pilgrims and at his feet kneeling, two Spanish kings. To both sides two angels carry the Cross of Santiago and, a little lower, to the right and left of the relief of the sepulchral urn of the Apostle there are two figures that represent the disciples of Santiago Zedebeo and Salomé. Further down, on the solid blocks that protrude from the façade, are the images of Santiago the Lesser and Saint Barbara, and to the left, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Susanna.

To the right of the facade we observe a gallery that corresponds to the cloister of the Cathedral; and to the left another more massive one that covers the so-called pazo of Xelmírez, perhaps the most important civil Romanesque construction in Spain and worthy of being visited. Its first facade was built by Alonso de Gotín and Juan de Álava in 1529 and finished in 1614 by Jácome Fernández who added the gallery. In its right corner it has a small tower known as “Torre de la Vela”, inspired by the Treasury of the Plaza de Platerías.

We turn our eyes back to the façade of the Cathedral and see some double staircases built between 1606 (the first one) and 1650. Both lead to the small entrance atrium.

2) The pazo of Raxoi

If we look to the opposite side of the Cathedral we will find the pazo de Raxoi. This neoclassical building today is the headquarters of the presidency of the Xunta de Galicia, the City Council of Santiago and the Consello da Cultura Galega.

Pazo de Raxoi
Archbishop Bartolomé Raxoi ordered its construction as a seminary for choir boys, acolytes and priests. The work was commissioned to the French military engineer Carlos Lemaur who finished it around 1772; for this reason the building has a clear French influence.

We contemplate a totally symmetrical façade. The columns are gigantic, of Ionic order and support three pediments: two curved at the ends and a triangular one in the center. In the tympanum of this last one there is a representation in relief of the battle of Clavijo, work of José Ferreiro and José Gambino, and also a sculptural group where Santiago Apostle is represented on horseback. Towards the interior we see semicircular arches and linteled and slightly cushioned openings.

timpano-pazo-raxoi

3) Royal Hospital

The Catholic Monarchs ordered its construction around 1499. It was built according to the plans of the architect Enrique Egeas who worked on it from 1501 to 1511.

It has Plateresque style and has four cloisters inside, two of them Renaissance work of Gil de Hontañón and two Baroque. In its chapel stands out its beautiful starry vault, made of Coimbra stone and the images inserted in the main pillars, works of Pedro Francés and Nicolás Chanterenne.

Uno de los claustros

The main façade, a clear example of Plateresque architecture, was built in 1520 by the French masters Martín de Blas and Guillén Colás. In the lower part we see, from left to right, the figures of Adam and Eve. Above these, those of St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Lucy, carrying eyes on a tray. Above, St. John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene. The six figures that crown the façade correspond, from left to right, to St. Peter, St. James the Greater, the Savior, the Virgin Mary, St. John and St. Paul. On the arch of the door there is also a series of small figures that represent the apostles on which the foundational inscription rests. Under the apostles, in two medallions are the faces of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.

hospital-real

The exuberant balconies of the main façade were added in 1678 by Fray Tomás Alonso.

The figurative repertoire of the corbels is very varied. The mythological and scatological representations stand out: warriors, satyrs, goats, apes… a whole medieval and Renaissance universe. On its cornice is the best collection of fantastic gargoyles in the city.

In 1876 the Royal Hospital was converted by royal order into the provincial hospital of La Coruña. In 1953 it became a luxury hotel, transferring all its effects to the hospital of San Lázaro.

4) College of San Jeronimo

The last building that is part of the Plaza del Obradoiro is the Colegio de San Jerónimo, today the headquarters of the Rectorate of the University of Compostela.

Its 15th century façade belonged to an old hospital that was located in Azabachería. In it we see, to the left, the images of Santiago, San Juan and San Francisco; to the right, San Pedro, San Pablo and San Marcos. In the central archivolt, a sculptural group with Saint Anne, the Virgin and Child. Finally, in the tympanum we see a beautiful sculpture of the Virgin and Child, leaning on a half moon and accompanied by the images of Santa Catalina and Santa Margarita and an angel bearing the coat of arms of the Fonseca family.

Portada del Colegio de San Xerome

The building has in its interior a Renaissance cloister made by Peña de Toro.

Near it we also find the church of San Fructuoso (1754 – 1765) by the architect Lucas Ferro Caaveiro. It is crowned by four sculptures of the Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Above the linteled entrance door there is a niche with a sculpture of the Pietà and on both sides there are reliefs with representations of the souls in purgatory.

People who want to take a picture of the Plaza del Obradoiro, will find from this place a fantastic perspective. But first, of course, you have to arrive and see the site with your own eyes. Find out more about our tours and start living the Camino de Santiago experience.

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