We’re going on a tour today. In Santiago. A tour of the cathedral rooftop.
I’d been wanting to take this tour for a while. I was finally able to do it a couple of months ago and I was not disappointed. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it.
About the rooftop tour
Let’s start with the practical stuff.
You can book your entradas (tickets) online in advance (up to 60 days), from the cathedral’s website. There are several visits available here. The rooftop tour is the one called ‘Cathedral museum, decks and Carraca’s tower’ in the English version of the website.
The visit includes access to the museo (museum), Pazo de Xelmírez, Torre da Carraca and a guided tour of the cathedral rooftops. You need to choose a date and a time slot. This is for the guided tour. You can visit the museum in your time, either before or after the guided tour.
When I took this tour, it was available in Spanish only. I heard there used to be English tours in the past, but I don’t know if they’re coming back.
Pazo de Xelmírez
The visit starts in the Pazo de Xelmírez (or Palacio de Gelmírez, in Spanish). You enter through the door that is located between the cathedral’s main staircase (in Obradoiro) and the arch to the left.
This building is named after the archbishop who ordered its construction and it’s one of the main civil constructions of the Romanesque period in Spain.
One of the highlights of this visit is the big ceremonial hall, on the first floor, built in the 13th century.
The stone carvings on the arches depict a banquet.
From this room you keep going up to the rooftop. There’s a total of 105 steps. La escalera (the staircase) is not super narrow, but the steps are higher than usual.
You finally come out on the tejado from one of the towers, the one on the left as you face the cathedral from the square.
I was lucky to do this on a clear, sunny day. The views of Santiago are amazing! And you can also see all the plazas that surround the cathedral.
A couple of interesting stories
Did you know that the cathedral’s bell ringer used to live on the cathedral rooftop?
Yes! Up until 1962, bell ringers and their families had a house in the area next to one of the towers, the one with the bells.
The last bell ringer lived there with his wife and 3 children. They had a vegetable garden, 3 goats and some chickens too. That’s right, a family of cinco (5) with their goats and chickens living on top of the cathedral and growing their own vegetables up there too. Can you imagine?
The house is no longer there but I would have loved to see it…
The rooftop is made of stone slabs. There used to be ocho (8) torres (towers) and battlements. Out of those 8 original towers, only 2 are left, although you can still see where they used to be. A balustrade replaced the battlements.
What else is up there, apart from the amazing views?
A big stone basin with a ram a a metal cross where apparently pilgrims used to burn their clothes.
Some scholars think this may have originated during a plague, as a measure to prevent transmission of the disease. There are no records of how common cloth burning was or when it stopped.
The clock tower is known as Berenguela after Archbishop Berenguel de Landoira, who ordered its construction in the 14th century to defend the cathedral. That’s the reason why the lower part of the tower is quite sturdy. The upper part, where the clock is, is finer. It was added 3 centuries later.
This top part has 3 main elements:
- the main campana (bell).
- the reloj (clock).
- the lantern.
The bell in this tower is also known as Berenguela and it’s the biggest in the cathedral. It weighs 7 tonnes. The bell we see nowadays is not the original. That one had to be taken down in 1990 because it was cracked. It’s kept in the cloister.
The clock was added in the 19th century and has one peculiarity: it has one hand only.
The top part had a light that was kept on at all times to guide pilgrims to the cathedral. Nowadays, the light is on during Holy Years only.
You can see the light at the top of the Berenguela tower on this picture.
Torre da Carraca
After the guided tour of the cathedral rooftop, you go up to the Carraca tower. If you stand on Obradoiro square, facing the cathedral, this is tower on the left.
The one on the right has bells. This one has a carraca (rattle) instead. This huge rattle is used on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, instead of bells.
From up here, you truly have a 360 degree view of Santiago.
You know what they say… an image is worth 1000 words. So, I’ll let the pictures speak. Enjoy the views!
Pazo de Xelmírez
Torre da Carraca
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