on June 9, 2013
Having met so many different pilgrims along the camino, you tend to get used to information being shared, and when it came to Santiago it was no different. Two American ladies I had met told me that they had done the roof top tour of the cathedral and highly recommended it. So the next morning I went to find out about booking a ticket. The tickets are bought below the main entrance to the cathedral, and I was told they had a tour in english at 7pm that evening. I also passed the information onto another pilgrim I had met, and he decided to book a ticket as well. So I appeared back at 7pm that evening and quite a crowd of us gathered. Half of the group for the tour were pilgrims I had met walking over the last few days, and the other half were more regular tourists (who were definitely dressed in something other than pilgrim chic!) The stairs up to the roof are fairly easy as they are divided into two sections, so there is a good chance to catch your breath. The first stop on the tour is actually in the cathedral in the gallery above the famed Master Mateo Portico Gloria, well actually you are at the heavenly level of design he made. You also see the windows that are in the newer facade that was added to protect Mateo's work, the windows are clear glass to allow light in. The gallery also gives a different perspective within the cathedral beyond the nave and transept model. It was strange to look down on a church with people sitting praying. Then up more stairs and onto the roof. What makes the roof interesting is that you can stand on the actual rood not a pathway at the edge. The reason is the romanesque design of the cathedral with a barrel roof, so the sloped roof is not tiled but actually made with slabs of stone, with a sloping stepped design. The evening we went up it was actually quite windy, and it took a few minutes to get used to the wind and find your balance. But it was quite cool to stand on the ridgeline of the cathedral roof. Our guide got us to sit on the roof so she could tell us about what we were looking at.It was an interesting perspective on the cathedral. At this level you could see more clearly some of the points were over time there had been additions to the building. So for example, looking at the two towers on the Obradoiro facade, you can see the plainer original towers in romanesque style which were shorter, but a later attempt to make sure the cathedral was the tallest building in the city more height was added to the towers, this was in the baroque style of the Obradoiro facade. It is also interesting to note the original cathedral was designed with battlements, as the Moors were still of concern when the cathedral was built, and the height of the cathedral made it a good place to fire from- however, some have been changed with different baroque and renaissance designs.Our guide pointed out an oddity on the clock tower that I had not noticed. The clock only has a single hand, rather than the standard two. The hand then is used to tell the hour and then the bells run to mark every quarter hour. Our guide was quite informative. She pointed out the many large chimneys in the city, and explained that at one time it was a sign of wealth and prestige to have a large chimeny. She also explained that in many of the plazas around the cathedral there are actually many graves, the reason being many wanted to be buried close to St James' Tomb. Also she told us about the bell ringer, who lived on the roof level with his family, and even kept animals on the roof, he even managed to get a pig up here. She also pointed out a feature that had been moved to the roof, which had previously been at ground level, a container that it seems pilgrims burnt their clothes in on reaching the city, clothes that were disease and bug ridden and it seems it was part of a cleansing ritual.We got to walk around much of the roof and got a very different perspective on aspects of the cathedral. A glimpse down to the courtyard at the Holy Door. Looking down into the renaissance cloisters. The back of the very elaborate Obradoiro facade looking at the back of James.It also gave a chance to look out over the city. Stange walking into the city on the camino frances it seemed that Santiago seemed quite large, but from the cathedral roof it seemed quite small. We could see over the roof tops and into some of the nearby plazas. My favourite piece was actually a romanesque sculpture on a roof that could not be seen from the ground of the very typical religious imagery of a lamb with a cross, but even centuries of weathering had not worn the shape away.I was actually sorry to have to go down. Well, I may have been cold because of the wind so I was glad to get out of the wind. But I was sorry to have to give up this fascinating perspective on the city and the cathedral. Our guide was friendly and informative, with plenty to tells us and point out. This was one of the highlights of my time in Santiago (the other was see the botufumerio swing). It was definitely worth the ticket price. I enjoyed the tour in english, but even if I could not get a spot on that english speaking tour, I think I would actually go on the spanish tour, even if I missed all the stories, as the change in perspective is great. But if it is windy or cold, make sure to wrap up!
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