.The Plaza del Obradoiro, kilometre 0 of the Camino de Santiago, hides behind its imposing Baroque façade this Romanesque jewel: the Portico de la Gloria. A masterpiece of European Romanesque architecture, the cathedral’s original western façade has witnessed the entry of pilgrims for more than eight centuries. Although later protected by the current façade, this did not prevent its gradual deterioration: dampness, dirt and inappropriate interventions slipped the cover. Let’s find out what it is, what its restoration consisted of and how the future is presented.
Knowing the Portico de la Gloria
The Portico, a structure made up of three arches, was the original western entrance. This is how it was from its completion in 1188 until the construction of the current façade of the Obradoiro in the 18th century. The best-known image of the cathedral (and the pennies) and symbol of the completion of the Camino de Santiago.
The work of Master Mateo (popularly known for its representation on the back of the Portico as “saint of the croquettes”) represents, for didactic and doctrinal purposes, Salvation. At the bottom, monsters and beasts remind us of the fate of those who live on the margins of faith, while the side arches represent the Old and New Testament (left) and the Last Judgment (right).
The great central arch, presided over by James the Apostle, shows the Tree of Jesse (genealogy of Christ), the Evangelists, the just and angels, on whom the elders of the Apocalypse have been skillfully represented. All converse as they prepare their instruments to announce the Glory.
The protection of this complex and magnificent work did not prevent time. Humidity and successive interventions from deteriorating it, causing its closure to proceed with its restoration. This is how almost ten years passed, during which the integral cleaning works of the cathedral of Santiago prevented the pilgrim from enjoying the Portico de la Gloria.
The restoration of Santiago’s cathedral
Undertaking improvement work on the cathedral became a necessity. Once the dirt of the stone, the growing vegetation eternally fed by the humidity of the Galician capital and the unforgivable passage of time. It was evident the need to restore the point of arrival of the Camino de Santiago. With the actual works, promoted by four institutions and whose mezenazgo fell on the Barrié Foundation, began in 2009.
The Portico de la Gloria closed its doors to the public to undergo a restoration with the most current means. When it comes to an impressive 12th-century work, care must be taken to the utmost and every precaution is little. If we add to this the fact that he was prevented from contemplating the thousands of pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago every year, the restoration had to be exhaustive. And so it was.
After ten long years of work, the Portico not only showed itself, but did so in all its splendour: it had recovered its colour, hidden after decades of dust and a certain component of mistreatment in the previous interventions it suffered.
The Portico reopens its doors
The institutional inauguration of the Romanesque façade by Queen Sofia on 2 July only increased the desire of Compostelans and the numerous pilgrims who took advantage of the start of their holidays to follow the Jacobean route. However, we had to wait until the day of the Apostle (25 July) to be able to visit the wonder. On July 28, after more than 50 thousand hours of work and about 6 million euros invested, the first visitors had access.
New image of the Portico, no doubt, dazzled them with its polychromy. The colour shades (of three different stages, as confirmed by expert data) surprised who remembered a once grey structure. Keep an eye on the details, now more visible, did everyone’s wonders. And, as expected, the news, widely covered by the national and international media, ran like wildfire. Anyone who wanted to come and enjoy the restoration had to be patient.
A long way to go
The visit to the Portico de la Gloria was organized in small groups of 25 people, who could contemplate the work for 15 minutes. Although the schedule was generous (from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.), the queues soon became endless. Everyone wanted to visit the Romanesque jewel. By the end of the summer, almost 80,000 people had made it.
Both those who came early in the morning and the brave ones who spent the afternoon in the scorching August sun (and yes, in Santiago the sun also warms); they had to wait an average of 4 hours. The situation was not sustainable and critical voices soon emerged.
The future of visits: new access guidelines
Once again closed to proceed with its encapsulation and to begin with the cleaning works of the interior of the cathedral, the access to the Portico de la Gloria seems uncertain for many. Although its doors will reopen on 1 December, it will do so with a new visiting regime.
With a general ticket price of 10 euros (8 for special groups), only a few privileged (2 compostelanos and 7 groups of pilgrims) will be able to enjoy the Portico weekly free of charge.
In addition, those who wish to access, must be foresighted: it will no longer be a question of making long queues (which seem arduous for the winter months), but pass through the box office, as is happening with the cathedral museum or the decks.
These entry rules may vary according to their managers, so it should be consulted before traveling to Santiago. What will not change is that the jewel of European Romanesque will continue to delight pilgrims who finish the Camino de Santiago, as well as visitors and compostelanos.
And you, have you been able to make the visit this summer? Tell us about your feelings and impressions when you contemplate the Portico de la Gloria, but also your experience in the queue. Do not hesitate to send us your experience through the comments box.