The Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is the reputed burial place of Saint James the Great, the apostle of Jesus Christ. It is also one of the only three known churches in the world built over the tomb of an apostle of Jesus.
According the legend, the tomb of Saint James was rediscovered in 814 AD. The king Alfonso II of Asturias ordered the construction of a chapel on the site. This was followed by the first church in 829 AD and then in 899 AD by a pre-Romanesque church, ordered by king Alfonso III of León, which caused the gradual development of this major place of pilgrimage. In 997 the early church was reduced to ashes by Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir (938–1002), army commander of the caliph of Córdoba.
Construction of the present cathedral began in 1075 under the reign of Alfonso VI of Castile. It was halted several times and the cathedral was consecrated in not before 1211. The cathedral was expanded and embellished with additions in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
The cathedral has historically been a place of pilgrimage on the Way of St. James since the Early Middle Ages and marks the traditional end of the pilgrimage route. The building is a Romanesque structure, with later Gothic and Baroque additions.
The cathedral's artistic high point is the Pórtico de la Gloria inside the west entrance, featuring 200 masterly Romanesque sculptures by Maestro Mateo, who was placed in charge of the cathedral-building programme in the late 12th century. Now with much of their original colour restored, these detailed, inspired and remarkably lifelike sculptures in Galician granite add up to a comprehensive review of major figures and scenes from the Bible.
Built around AD 90 to entertain the legionaries stationed at the fort of Caerleon (Isca), the impressive amphitheatre was the Roman equivalent of today’s multiplex cinema. Wooden benches provided seating for up to 6,000 spectators, who would gather to watch bloodthirsty displays featuring gladiatorial combat and exotic wild animals.
Long after the Romans left, the amphitheatre took on a new life in Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the somewhat imaginative 12th-century scholar, wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain that Arthur was crowned in Caerleon and that the ruined amphitheatre was actually the remains of King Arthur’s Round Table.
Today it is the most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain.