The idyllic Alameda Park in Santiago de Compostela is reminiscent of a country estate, anchored at the center by the 17th-century Baroque chapel of Santa Susana. There are lush gardens, historic statuary, elaborate tiered steps, and an unassuming stone bench: a “banco acústico” that holds a hundred years of secrets and whispers.
The granite seat is known as the Bench of Whispers, or sometimes the Lovers Bench. Its semicircular design and physical orientation give it an unusual acoustic characteristic. If you sit at one end and place your head up against the back of the seat, and speak even in the softest tones, your voice travels all the way across to the other end just as loud or even louder than it started out.
The bench was added to the park around 1916, and its special properties were soon noticed by courting couples. The spot became a well-known destination for innocent trysts during the Franco years, when an emphasis on strict social mores included regulating young unmarried couples. Touching in public, or even speaking, was against the rules. So suggesting an innocent walk in the park, where maybe your betrothed just happened to be walking too, might end up with a secret romantic word or two.
The nature of sound travel at the bench is similar to the phenomenon of the Whispering Galleries at the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral or at Grand Central Terminal. It’s not clear whether a person sitting in the middle of the bench can catch the whispers along the way, but if they do let’s hope they keep it to themselves.
Know Before You Go
Santiago de Compostela is in northwestern Spain, about 40 minutes by train heading south from the port city of A Coruña. The bench is just behind the gazebo in the southeast corner of Alameda Park, near the entrance off of Av. de Xoán Carlos I.