Santiago de Compostela is a fascinating city that blends ancient Celtic tradition with centuries of religious history (as the final destination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage), and still manages to exude a contemporaneity from its storied, stone streets. Tucked in the north-west corner of Spain, in the verdant and rain-lashed region of Galicia, it’s a small city by today’s standards, but a trailblazing one. Much of Spain’s infrastructure owes a debt to the Camino, the pilgrimage routes that lead to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Entire towns owe their creation, and Santiago itself benefitted greatly: from its spectacular centrepiece cathedral, to its Hostal dos Reis Católicos (one of the oldest hotels in the world, which is now a Parador), and its university (one of the earliest in continual operation).
Between museums, engravings and plaques (the Parador itself has over forty dotted throughout its cloisters), this history presents itself at every twist and turn of the city. But one stream of history that is harder to read is that of women. While Santiago de Compostela made early societal advances during the Middle Ages, subjugation of women remained rife.
Straw vendors, Santiago de Compostela, 1924. Photo courtesy of Desirée Vidal Juncal.
Through her creative enterprise, Offmuseum, art historian Desirée Vidal Juncal seeks to reconcile this hidden history by leading walking tours of the city that shed light on these issues. The itinerary, Antitour: Compostela Femme, tells of how women in this religious and devoted capital of the Camino were controlled for centuries under the interest of a dogma.
This can be seen as Romanesque bas-reliefs above the doors of the cathedral depict—in an almost comically grotesque fashion—women as the original sin; the beginning of mankind’s problems. Just outside of the old town—sites including Casa de Galeras, Oblatos and Casa de Diaz Baliño—tell dark histories: here once stood a jail for women; a convent for dishonoured women; and, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a brothel managed by the city council.
Vidal Juncal’s itinerary includes a visit to the university’s history of art faculty in the Old Town as a reminder that, although the university was founded in 1495, it wasn’t until 1913 that women could undertake study alongside men. Vidal Juncal reads excerpts of legal documents and essays to provide context—including a local eighteenth century law disallowing women from walking the streets alone.
Fortunately, some things have changed in Santiago de Compostela and the bookshop Lila de Lilith is an emblem of that: a dynamic cultural hub that specialises in feminist literature. Vidal Juncal’s walk often concludes with a tasting of wines by a female winemaker, such as Cristina Yague at Moraima. Female subjugation in the name of religious devotion is a universal issue that has not been resolved. But with passionate voices casting light on dark corners of history and contributing to the conversation, we see signs of progress. In Santiago de Compostela, we can raise a glass to small victories.
In Issue No. 1 we meet Australian fashion icon Jenny Kee, translator from Italian Ann Goldstein and French-Cuban music duo Ibeyi. We learn about Ramadan, the Aboriginal ball game Marngrook, the Kiribati dance, the art of pickling, and the importance of home. And we see what it’s like to dress up in Myanmar, live in Cuernavaca, make ceramics from different soil, and walk the streets of Florence.
In Issue No. 2 we meet New York-based Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson, and Croatian painter Stipe Nobilo. We discover how the French protect their language and the way women—all around the world—have used textiles as their political voice. We listen to lovers rock, prepare a boisterous Korean barbecue, venture to go to Feria de Jerez and eat our way around Hong Kong.
In Issue No. 4 we meet Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, Indigenous Australian Elders Uncle Bob Smith and Aunty Caroline Bradshaw, and Palestinian-American chef and artist Amanny Ahmad. We peer inside the Parisian ateliers Lesage and Lemarié, muse over the iconic lines of European chair design and celebrate the colourful woodblock prints of Japanese artist Awazu Kiyoshi. And we venture along Morocco’s Honey Highway, get lost in the markets of Oaxaca and discover the favours of Ghana.
In Issue No. 5 we travel to the mountains with Etel Adnan, along coastlines wherever waves roll in, and then all over the world through the photographic archive of Lindsay James Stanger. We celebrate hair braiding in South Africa, Salasacan weaving techniques in Ecuador, Vedic jewellery traditions and the new sound of Ukraine. We meet artist Cassi Namoda, choreographer Yang Liping and lace-maker Mark Klauber. And we visit a bakery in Tel Aviv, discover the joys of making arak, and spend a summer stretching mozzarella in Italy.