The mythical and historical origins of Santiago de Compostela are linked to the figure of St. James and the whole structure of the city has grown in response to the needs of the pilgrims who have been visiting since the Middle Ages. The discovery of the supposed remains of the apostle in the ninth century led to the construction of a temple over his remains. Communities then grew around it, initially clerical, but then secular too. The construction of a Cathedral (from the 11th Century on) boosted the importance of the city and Santiago continued to gain fame. Then in 1181, Pope Alexander III granted the privilege of a Holy year (Xacobeo) and pilgrimage grew.
In more modern times, the city’s Council (originally ruled by the clerics) brought the next step in the growth of the city when they started to show off by building monumental architecture in Baroque and Romanesque styles after St. James was consecrated as the only patron of ‘Spain’ (note the country as such did not exist as yet). At the same time, the development of secular institutions (the council, the university, etc.) brought a new scope to the city, but it was by no means the biggest city in the region.
Indeed, contemporary Santiago de Compostela is not that different. Other cities (Vigo and A Coruña mainly) grew bigger as they industrialised, leaving Santiago as the main ‘cultural’ centre in the region. Some of the national (Galician) movements of the 19th Century as well as the first newspapers, for example, had their origins here. Today, Santiago is the capital of Galicia and hosts the Galician parliament as well as many government buildings, fostering the latest boost of the city we know.
Maruxa and Coralia (Las Dos Marías) were two sisters that became well-known in Santiago de Compostela. Today, a sculpture recalls their afternoon walks in the boulevard hitting on young students, wearing bright clothes and shiny make-up as a form of resistance against the Francoist regime. Coming from an anarchist family, the reprisal they and their family suffered was hard… And we just wanted to share this story.
Although the Camino has been present for centuries in the imaginary of European pilgrimage, it is not until the end of the 20th Century when the real boost in pilgrimage happens. From hundreds of pilgrims per year in the data gathered before the Xacobeo (Holy year) of 1993, to hundreds of thousands per year during the last decade, the promotion of the Camino has led to a consistent increase in numbers. Today, it has become a phenomenon that transcends the spiritual journey and even touristic trends.
In 1987, the Camino was declared as the first European Cultural Itinerary and since 1993 several routes have been included in a complex World Heritage declaration. Some of the values highlighted being tolerance, solidarity, dialogue or the important sharing of ideas and culture that has been taking place since the very beginning and made the Camino one of the first supporting entities of Europe. Associated to the routes are thousands of heritage sites, some of them World Heritage too, spread in an amazing and changing landscape. But the fashion of the last years has fostered new developments along the main routes, transforming the surroundings and the experience.
There are dozens of recognized routes in the Iberian Peninsula and across Europe. You can explore them easily in the Internet. But we invite you to learn more about the Camino in the official page.
Did you know the Camino does not really finish in Santiago de Compostela? The last point of the pilgrimage is actually in Finisterra, the end of the World…