Giant swinging chunk of silver

Imagine a cathedral full of people, pilgrims, from all over the world that have spent weeks or months walking. And back in the day, with limited to no access to water for washing up…

To clean the air when these crowds of pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela after their long journey, the Cathedral used a giant censer or thurible, the ‘Botafumeiro’. The 62kg censer swings through the air dispensing clouds of incense. The ‘Botafumeiro’ forms an impressive 65-metre long arched trajectory along the cathedral for around minute and a half, sometimes reaching 68km per hour and suspended at 20 meters above the ground; it is pulled by 8 men (‘tiraboleiros’) using a complex mechanism of ropes and pulleys.

This censer dates back to 1851 and it’s made of silver-plated brass. It is not swung during every mass but rather on Sunday 12:30pm mass, special occasions or if someone pays the 400€ donation.

An enormous swinging lump of silver is not without its disasters. It is said that the first one was when Princess Catherine of Aragon visited in 1499. Whilst being swung, the rope that held the Botafumeiro snapped and the giant piece of metal flew out of the cathedral through a window. Supposedly, no one was injured by the censer.

The second incident is said to have been in July 1937 when the cords holding the Botafumeiro failed and hot coals toppled onto the floor.

The current operation of the ‘Botafumeiro’ is to attach its ropes with sturdy sailor’s knots which means that pilgrims, tourists and church goers can be at ease when watching this amazing spectacle.

Arrive clean!

The river in Lavacolla is the last one before Santiago de Compostela, only 10.3 kilometers away. There are many theories in relation to the origin of this place. One of the stories states that the name Lavacolla comes from the fact that pilgrims in the Middle Ages used this river to wash up and thus arrive clean in Santiago.

Australian invasion

Walking Galicia through the Camino de Santiago gives the opportunity to see endemic vegetation and trees like chestnut and oaks trees. They contrast with the introduced Australian species of the eucaliptus. Much like the heated debate that has been foregoing for years in the Spanish country. Eucaliptus was introduced on the XIX century and since then it has adapted and spread to the Galician soil. The controversy is between the paper industry and the ecologists fighting for better forestal planning as this foreign species threatens to kill this beauty.

Follow the yellow arrow

The most famous of the trails to Santiago de Compostela is the French way which starts in St. Jean de Pied du Port and expands 800kms.

The French way comes in to Melide through the village of Santa María do Leboreiro. In the Calixtinus Code of the XII century, it appears as Campus Leporarius, which means “field of hares”.

Along the way, yellow arrows and scallop shells mark the turns, paths and direction of the Camino. The signs can be seen everywhere: on sidewalks, walls, trees, rocks and tile dotted throughout the routes.

Pilgrim’s insignia

It has been more than a thousand years, that pilgrims have walked the many kilometers and many ways that lead to Santiago de Compostela, seeking penance, forgiveness, solitude, enlightenment, and some, adventure.

The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way). This shell is commonly found in the shores of Galicia and often pilgrims wear or attach them to backpacks to show that they are walkers on the trail. The origins of this tradition is uncertain. Some say it was given to the early pilgrims to prove they had reached Santiago de Compostela. Others say that additionally it was given to pilgrims for their walk back home to be used as a drinking device in lakes, rivers, waterfalls.

Whatever its beginings, all pilgrims use it nowadays and are easily identifiable than the hundreds of tourists in this area of the world.

Urban legends

Wandering and walking Barcelona never seizes to surprise me. This Catalan city is full of history, old buildings and leyends, like the Modernista Torre de les Aigües building designed by architect Josep Domènech i Estapà in 1907. The octagonal 45m shaped tower has a brick roof, ornamented with Trencadís made of tile fragments. It was built to allow the pressure of the water to increase.

Being an architect Josep Domènech i Estapà didnt know how to carry a pumping installation so he contracted his friend to do the designs who in turn had no time and delegated to a student. The engineering student took this project for two years.

It is said that due to delays, equipment that was ordered and used from England was not able to be tested in time for the inauguration of the tower. When trying to set up the pumping station, it failed. The newly graduated engineer could not handle the supposed humiliation and died of suicide throwing himself from his first and only work: the tower of the Waters. It was discovered, days later, that the design was perfect and the fault was in a valve as being from England, the opening direction was in reverse than the ones from Europe. It is also said that when the area is in absolute silence you can hear the work of an engineer banging his hammer and scrambling with his toolbox inside the Tower. Another urban legend says that the British who visit this site can never see their real colours.

Italian or Catalonian?

This 60 meter high monument, the Christopher Columbus Monument, was built in 1888 in homenage of the explorer and discoverer of America. The monument is in Plaça de la Porta de Pau (Square of the Gate of Peace) and took 6 years to complete. The 7 meter tall statue of the standing Columbus points towards the sea, thought strangely enough, it is not in the direction of the “new world” he discovered. 

Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. However, some historians in the nineteenth century claimed that he was Catalonian and thus a reason why this monument is placed in Barcelona.

The monument has caused some debate as whilst with Colon’s discovery of America the exchange between America and Europe began, it also meant slaughter, suppression, enslaving and destruction of the indigenous people, their culture and the theft of their treasures.

I shall give you

The construction of the Sacred Cor church, which gives the Tibidabo its distinction from the city, started in 1902 after an eclectic design by Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia; replacing an earlier chapel from 1886. The church took about 60 years to build. 

Sagrat Cor is perhaps the most apt of Tibidabo’s attractions as the local legend says it is where the devil tempted Jesus. The name Tibidabo comes from a piece of the Latin version of the bible, Matthew 4:9 and Luke 4:6. ‘Haec omnia tibi dabo si cadens adoraberis me’ was the phrase supposedly said to Jesus by the devil as they looked down from a mountain on the kingdoms of the world – All this I shall give you if you kneel and worship me

The highest of them all

The Tibidabo is easily recognisable not just for its height, but for the iconic combination of church of the Sagrat Cor and the multi-colored ferris wheel of the amusement park, both sitting at the top of the highest summit of the Collserola mountain range. The mountain, at 512 meters tall, borders Barcelona to the North and for those who trek through the national park to its summit get rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of the whole city and the Mediterranean Sea.

Turn left for the actual track

Once upon a time, here lay the dam of Vallvidrera’s swamp that supplied drinking water to Sarrià. In the mid 1860’s it was a feat in engineering as it is a reservoir built with billets, 50 meters long, 3 meters wide and 15 meters high. Next to it, the Grott quarry was the one that took the water to its final destination. The quarry later became a 1.5km electric train track for passengers in an effort to create an amusement park called Lake Valley. The inside of the tunnel was lit up by different coloured lights.

The whole site is now a natural park protected to preserve some local fauna and provide hikers and walkers an opportunity to enjoy nature, stretch their legs and end up on the wrong path. Even if you do, there is still enough routes to enjoy in the area.