Ciudad de la Cultura: Modernity and Architecture in Santiago de Compostela

Fique, Simon

Santiago de Compostela has been a pilgrimage site for centuries. It was founded due to the discovery of the tomb of St. James (Santiago), whose remains are said to lie inside the city’s famous cathedral. Compostela is, nonetheless, a modest city of around 100,000 inhabitants, with a small but consolidated historic centre, and is the cultural and political centre of Galicia. It is the capital of the autonomic community of northwest Spain.
With the objective of projecting Galicia as a centre of culture and knowledge on the world stage, the Xunta de Galicia (Council of Galicia) approved the construction of a monumental building complex over the top of Monte Gaiás, a hill that dominates Santiago and its surrounding topography. Construction began in 2001, supervised by architect Peter Eisenman, and the structure is still incomplete. The project has provoked a great deal of controversy, transcending all sectors of Gallegan and Spanish society. It has become an enormous expenditure for a Gallegan economy that is still one of the most traditional and modest in Spain. The controversy is especially sensitive given that Spain is already enduring a profound economic crisis. Critics say the project lacks clear purpose, without a sense of mission for the uses of the new buildings. This is especially so when contrasted to the historic centre of the city, a complete success in terms of public space habitability and economic solvency (due to tourism). One can only ask: Why, in front of such an exemplary model of small-scale, high-impact development, promoting long-term, ‘small-dose’ growth, is a complex built that opposes all the values of the community and city it represents? Haven’t the Gallegans learnt from their millenary past and their strong cultural heritage? It is becoming more evident, with time, that the City of Culture (Ciudad de la Cultura), the new development, is an example of what should not be done in the fields of urban and social development, at least in the context into which it has been inserted.


Also Published In

Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development

More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth Institute
Published Here
December 4, 2015