|Is Santiago de Compostela really a city? As
late as the 1950s, the Galician writer Ramón Otero Pedrayo defined it as
a 'large village'. Of course today Santiago is officially a city, but it
is not in the least a typical city. What makes Santiago a large village is
the existence of several centres of population that were around in ancient
times; these radiate out from the historical quarter. The life style of
the people living in these areas retains many characteristics of village
District 1: Historical Quarter
There is no doubt that the heart of the city has always been the historical quarter. Though it has been changing since the Middle Ages, it has not lost its essential character or its feeling of antiquity. This atmosphere is doubtless due to the stone: the granite that paves the streets, that forms the pillars, that windows and doors open out of, that adopts the form of saints, gargoyles and plants, and that achieves its maximum expression in the Catedral (Cathedral), the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos (Hostelry of the Catholic Monarchs), the many churches... Rain falls upon the granite. It is said of Compostela that rain is an art form, and it is easy to see why in the columns of the Rúa Do Vilar, in the Quintana, or in the narrow streets surrounding the Mercado de Abastos (Abastos Market).
District 2: Hortas and San Lourenzo
Leaving the Obradoiro area by walking down the hill near the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, we find ourselves in a small downward winding street, paved with tiny stones, flanked by one- or two-storey traditional style homes with a garden in the back yard. The gardens are what give the street its Galician name, Rúa das Hortas (Street of the Gardens). Here we find small shops and typical bars, neighbours who know one another by name, greet one another in the street, and live as if their home was some small village, not a city. The same is true of the area found if we continue downward along Pombal, San Lourenzo, A Rúa do Carmo de Abaixo...
District 3: San Pedro and Basquiños
Surrounding the historical quarter are similar barrios (districts) all exuding the same enchantment: Castrón D'Ouro, San Pedro y Belvís, Basquiños... In all these areas you find the same traditional style homes and the same type of people. And then there's the sky; the marvellous vista of wide-open sky with roofs and chimneys outlined against it.
District 4: Los ensanches and Conxo
El Ensanche is the area where Compostela is perhaps least typically Compostela. Built in the middle of the 20th century, the buildings retain their typically reticular structure and are of medium height so that the sun still reaches the streets. Continuing southwards we come to an area of new development, the district of Pontepedriña, bordering on the district of Conxo but in complete contrast to it. If in Conxo we find ourselves in a place similar to the small districts described before, Pontepedriña is all tall, modern buildings facing up to the future. The Hipercor and the Hotel Melià Confort, are recent inaugurations that typify Pontepedriña. The district of Fontiñas, where the third expansion of the city took place, went the same way as Pontepedriña in the 1980s. Many similar-looking buildings were constructed and green spaces developed in the heart of the business centre of Area Central.
District 5: The campuses and the far north
The Campus Sur (South Campus) is the oldest. You can tell by the large twisted and gnarled trees, and the buildings, many of which date back to the beginning of the 20th century. Of note are the Colegios Mayores (Halls of Residence), the Observatorio Astronómico (Observatory) and the Auditorio de la Universidad (University Auditorium).
The North Campus is much more modern. It grew up around the Parque de la Música and the faculties between this and Xoán XXIII Avenue. Beside the Parque de la Música and its lake, you cannot help but be staggered by the stony bulk of the Auditorio de Galicia (Galician Auditorium). A little to the north we come upon the wide-open spaces of Vite and Vistalegre. Here the feeling of being in an authentic village is sharpened, as we are on the very edge of the city's boundaries.
The historical quarter is the nucleus of Santiago. All these other places, different from one another but similar in some ways, revolve around it, making Santiago a city that feels like a village and attracts so many people precisely for that reason.