Santiago de Compostela is a municipality (pop 95.000 in 2011) which is the capital of Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain.
The burial site of the apostle Saint James is discovered in the IXth century; according to some legends he came to Spain to spread the gospel, but other sources say that his disciples transported his remains from Palestine to Galicia in a boat. The discovery brings pilgrims, and the sanctuary gains political force and urban size. A large part of Spain is occupied by muslims, as well as Jerusalem, and the rise of a relevant shrine in one of the ends of the known land appears as an opportunity to expand the catholic religion.
The Cathedral becomes with the time one of the biggest in Europe, although far from the size of Saint Peter in Rome. The firs element is a small chapel. Works for a major temple begin in 1075, and in 1211 a Romanesque cathedral is consecrated, becoming the basis of the present building with some later alterations (mainly the baroque façades).
The building sits on a complex ground, with sizeable level changes, and so the Cathedral is surrounded by squares and large stairways. Today it is possible to visit a space that is almost an additional square: the stone roofs of the central building, allowing for good view over the historical center.
The Cathedral and most of the buildings in the old city are in granite; the quite rainy climate and the condition of the stone have it often covered in part by moss, and the effect of pollution is also relevant for conservation. The building is subject to periodical conservation works, and from the 1980s there has been a strong conservation activity in relevant historical buildings and also in more domestic architectures.
Pilgrims mean a communication and innovation current during the middle ages, as well as the emergence of a network of churches and inns in the different parts of the Way of Saint James. The most relevant section is the French Way, that goes through northern Castille, crosses the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles and has in Paris a relevant node, with ramifications towards other parts of Europe.
The Diocese becomes powerful as one of the main actors in the region due to the pilgrim’s gifts, and keeps that power for centuries. The University is established in 1459, being one of the oldest in the world. In the XVIth century a part of the political power is transferred to La Coruña, 60 km to the north. The new quasi-federal regime of today’s Spain means that Santiago becomes the capital of the Galician region in the 1980s, and the old city is inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1985.
Tourism is one of the main sources of revenue in the city, along with its function as regional capital and the University. A part of the tourists still come by the Way of Saint James, be it walking, biking or astride their horses, meaning a low carbon tourism (despite the fact that their trips back home are often in motorized modes). The municipality has less than 10% of the provincial population, but its touristical index (a synthetic indicator calculated by the Anuario Económico de España 2011) shows it concentrates 38% of its tourism activity. There is a wide array of prices and qualities, from the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos as the most emblematic hotel to low cost youth hostels. Tourist arrivals multiply on holy years (those in which the festivity of Saint James is on Sunday).
Tourism office: www.santiagoturismo.com/