Things to see and do in Santiago that you won’t find in a (normal) guide – part 4

Arco de Mazarelos, Santiago de Compostela
Arco de Mazarelos, Santiago de Compostela
16 – Walking into the Old Town through a medieval gate

Santiago was a walled town from its birth to the 19th Century. You can still see a few remainings of the wall here and there or, if you look carefully at the city map, trace its outline in the streets surrounding the Old Town. But just one of the original nine gates is still standing and in use every day by tourist, students, pilgrims and locals to walk from Fonte de San Antonio street to Mazarelos Square.

San Martín Pinario wall sign Santiago de Compostela
San Martín Pinario wall sign
17 – What does that sign over the door mean?

Wandering through the Old Town you will probably see some strange symbols over certain doors. Some of them represent a tree while on other doors you will find doves, a coat of arms, a scallop shell, a goblet, different crosses or even a chicken. But what do they mean?

They were symbols of property, representing the owner of the building, normally a brotherhood or a religious order. So, depending on the figure, the building originally belonged to:

  • Tree: San Martín Pinario Monastery is the most important monastery in town. Pinario is closely related with Pino, pine tree, so every time you see that tree near the door it means that the building belonged to the monastery.
  • Scallop shell: the scallop shell is one of the symbols of St. James the Apostle, of the pilgrimage and also of the Cathedral. Every time a house is marked with that shell (and there are more than a hundred all over the town) it belonged originally to the Cathedral.
  • Goblet: the goblet was a symbol of Galicia at least from the Middle Ages and, in this case, it represents the town council.
  • Dove: the symbol of the Sancti Spiritus Brotherhood.
  • A potent cross: a square cross with small lines at the end of its arms. It is the symbol of the old Hospital.
  • A Dominican Cross: an intricate cross symbol of the Dominican Order.
  • Coat of arms: if it has a square cross and four vertical bars it represents the Mercedarian Order while if it has five stars it is the University coat of arms.
  • Chicken: there are just a couple of these left and it is not clear what they mean. Some say they are representing the Priory of Sar, on the outskirts of town.
Old Pilgrim's Hospital remains, Santiago de Compostela
Old Pilgrim’s Hospital remains
18 – Trace the old Pilgrims’ Hospital remains

The Hostal is one of the most impressive buildings in Santiago, the old Pilgrims’ Hospital. Built in the 16th Century on the northern side of Obradoiro Square, it was turned into a 5 stars hotel a few decades ago. But there were pilgrims arriving in Santiago centuries before the Hostal were even planned and, of course, there was an older hospital. It was demolished centuries ago, but if you look carefully you can still find parts of its arches and doors in the foundations of San Martín Pinario Monastery. Look carefully near the door of San Martín Pinario Hostel, at the beginning of Travesía das Dúas Portas street.

Green Santiago
Green Santiago
19 – Walk the green ring of Santiago

Santiago if one of the greenest towns in Spain. Not only it is surrounded by hills and mountains that you can see almost from every spot downtown, but it is packed with parks and gardens. You can actually walk all around the town from park to park. Choose between a short itinerary (4 kilometers) or a long walk up to 20 km including some viewpoints and parks farther from the city center. With more than 20 parks (and we are counting just the bigger ones) you can choose to walk amongst ponds, an old graveyard, a mountain top or to stop for a drink in a bar in the green with an impressive view of the Old Town.

Cornechos, traditional Santiago bread
Cornechos, traditional Santiago bread
20 – What’s a Cornecho?

Cornecho means, literally, small horn. If you ask for it in a bakery everywhere outside Santiago they probably won’t understand a word: cornechos were a traditional local bread and, although they almost disappeared back in the 80’s and the 90’s, they are making a slow comeback. They are not as popular as they were in the old times but these addictive small bread rolls, with their peculiar horn-shaped crunchy ends, are becoming easier to find and an icon of Santiago breadmaking.


Things to see and do in Santiago that you won’t find in a (normal) guide – part 1

Things to see and do in Santiago that you won’t find in a (normal) guide – part 2

Things to see and do in Santiago that you won’t find in a (normal) guide – part 3

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