Vigo, forever a mystery. Not so, Santiago.

Tuesday 16 July 2018

Yesterday, I left Chaves, Portugal and made a ‘direction of travel’ stop at Vigo on the west coast of Spain.

A bit of a slow start, followed by a visit to Lidl, a long journey and a losing an hour meant it was about 15:30 before I wandered out to see where I was. I was by the beach.

Before I embarked on this trip I told myself I’d spend a more time ‘smelling the flowers’ and not dashing from place to place. That hasn’t happened so, after walking the length of the beach, pleasant in the sea breeze, I returned to the van, dug out a book and a towel and hit the sand.

I intended to cycle into the city after a couple of hours, but got hit by a big plank of can’t be arsed, so Vigo will forever be a mystery to me. As I chilled on the beach, it packed out as the locals hit it after work.

Vigo is the most westerly point of this trip. After some refreshment, I returned to the beach at sundown and dipped the Jesus boots in the Atlantic.

It’s all east from here.

The sun set behind the islands off the coast, then I returned to the van.

My mysterious ‘direction of travelhas been towards Santiago De Compostela, which translates as Saint James of the field of stars. Perhaps all paths lead here, as the cathedral

it is the destination for The Way, the pilgrim route of Camino de Santiago. The plaza was covered by resting walkers.

Towards the left of the picture there’s a group hug going on.

So why am I, the least religious person on the planet, here. Well, it’s famous, so now I know the reference. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, but I’m beginning to think, “Well, where isn’t?” There’s so many, I now call them Tesco world heritage sites. And curiosity, as many places I’ve visited from France onwards lay claim to being on The Way.

The fact is there are many routes to Santiago – it depends on where you start from! The routes are signed by the motif of the scallop shell, also seen throughout the city and a symbol worn by pilgrims.

Begun in 1075, the cathedral

faces the town hall,

across the plaza at the centre of the old town, whose narrow streets are filled with competing churches,

including this one,

the Church of the Prog Rock Band in the Jacuzzi.

The whole city is built on hokum. Not even the Catholic Church will confirm that the cathedral holds the remains of St James.

James supposedly brought Christianity to Galicia. When he was beheaded by Herod, his followers are supposed to have brought his remains back to Galicia. Eight hundred years later, these remains were discovered by a hermit, of course he was, after he saw strange lights in the sky (field of stars, Compostela), of course he did. He told the bishop who recognised it as a miracle, of course he did, and told the king. The king ordered the building of a chapel for pilgrims, and a lucrative business for the church and the region was begun. Ka-ching, and there’s now a whole industry getting people along the routes.

Like many Christian symbols and practices, the association of the scallop shell with the Camino predates the arrival of St James and Christianity. In Roman Hispania, there was a route known as the Janus Path, used by pagans as a born-again ritual and ending in Finisterre on the coast. Its starting point was the Temple of Venus, Roman goddess of love. Venus is said to have risen from the sea on a scallop shell, as depicted in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, and is associated with fertility rituals practiced along the route. So, nothingoriginal.

That said, Santiago is pleasant enough, though with its fair share of beggars, hippies, fey and fruitcakes, feeding off the devoted.

There is a good contemporary art gallery which, among other things, had a powerful exhibition on the theme of refugees, also the theme of the City’s festival of St James which starts next weekend.

I’m parked down the hill from this.

The City of Culture of Galicia has been designed by North American architect Peter Eisenman.

It’s an amazing clutch of buildings

that flow over the hilltop.

Inspired by Compostela’s old centre, and the five medieval pilgrimage routes that lead to the cathedral, the architect transferred this grid to the mountain summit.

Starting from this concept, the original project is formed by six buildings that are connected by streets

and one central square

inspired by the scallop,

which is the symbol of the city.

It’s still being added to, but currently hosts events and exhibitions. An astonishing place.

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