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(From Guardian Unlimited)
Mist moistens granite and the legato chant of Galician bagpipes wafts on the cool, dawn air. The medieval cornerstones and arches, flagstones and spires of the old city appear softened in the milky light and, while the rest of Santiago de Compostela sleeps, the clack of a bamboo pole on cobbles signals the arrival of the day's first pilgrim. As he makes his way past the whitewashed walls of Rua Entreruas, a street so narrow it can only be walked in single file, and the vaulted arcades of Rua de Vilar, there is little except the lurid colours of his modern outdoor gear to set the scene in our time.
Set amid steep wooded hillsides of blistering green and just a short train or bus ride from some of Europe's wildest and most beautiful coastal scenery, Santiago is compact and enchanting. It has a population of just 100,000, swollen during term time by more than 40,000 university students, and the old town, declared a Unesco world heritage site in its entirety in 1985, only takes about 15 minutes to cross on foot. But to even start to do justice to its historical significance and architectural splendour -- a product of the city's two golden ages starting in the 12th and 16th centuries -- takes days at least.
There is plenty, too, to counterbalance the atmosphere of quiet reverence that pervades the scores of churches, monasteries and colleges that crowd the old town. The cafe and tapas scene is buzzing -- you could stay in Santiago for months and not eat in the same restaurant twice (see box) -- and the student intake makes for a dusk--to--dawn party scene that must be the envy of cities many times its size. Santiago's status as capital of Galicia since 1980 has also spawned a new, mini golden age, reflected in the city's modern art gallery, designed by Alvaro Siza, and the lakeside Auditorio de Galicia, designed by Julio Cano Lasso and home to the province's royal philharmonic orchestra.
"Yes Santiago is steeped in the past, and it's probably fair to say that most people who come here are seeking a connection with that side of our city," said Xos' Iglesias, Santiago's head of tourism. "But those who visit also find a modern, vibrant city, a city at the vanguard, and …