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¡¡Buen Santiago de Compostela a todas!!

Welcome to #Make Santiago de Compostela a sustainable heritage website.
A guide with green travel inspirations – for adventurers, pilgrims and anyone who wants to make a difference.
By Beixi Sun from MA International Cultural Heritage Management at Durham University.

Your green journey starts with me!


Santiago de Compostela (Old Town)

The ancient city of Santiago de Compostela (meaning ‘Saint James of the Starry Wilderness’) is located in the north-west of Spain, the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia, one of the Catholic pilgrimage sites and an important symbol of Spanish Christianity against Islam.

Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) was approved for inscription on the World Heritage List by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 1985 as a cultural heritage site in accordance with criteria (i)(ii)(vi) for the selection of cultural heritage sites:

i) A masterpiece of human creative genius: Santiago de Compostela is a world-famous masterpiece of Roman art around a cathedral that preserves a valuable historical centre, known as one of the greatest Christian holy cities.

ii) The development of architecture or technology, monumental art, urban planning or landscaping over a period of time or in the context of world culture demonstrates an important exchange of human values: in the Roman period and in the Baroque period, the Sanctuary of Santiago de Compostela had a decisive influence on the development of architecture and art, not only in Galicia but also in the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula.

vi) Directly or tangibly linked to events or living traditions, ideas or beliefs, works of art and literature of outstanding universal significance: Santiago de Compostela is associated with one of the main themes of medieval history. For centuries, pilgrims and pilgrim clerics from the North Sea and Baltic coast followed the path of Santiago de Compostela to the Galician sanctuary, the true path of faith.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral by Lux Blue/Getty Images Plus

‘This famous holy site of the Hajj in north-western Spain became an important symbol of Spanish Christianity against Islam. It was severely damaged by the Muslims in the late 10th century, but was completely rebuilt in the 11th century. The old city of Santiago is home to a variety of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, making it one of the most beautiful in the world.’

The World Heritage Committee comments (1985)

The Rapidly Growing Heritage Tourism Industry

Timothy (2011) argues that heritage cities attract a large number of tourists, which in part affects the sustainable development of the area. According to the news, Santiago de Compostela received a record 2.6 million visitors in 2017, which is 2.6 times larger than the number of local residents.

Crowds in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Photo: Mercedes Rancaño Otero/iStock

According to Eurostat figures for 2014 (the most recent available), 339,124 tourists visited the cathedral, compared to 240,000 pilgrims in 2014, meaning that pilgrims are not the majority of visitors to the site, but rather a much larger proportion of visitors to the heritage site. This is similarly reflected in the city’s visitor demand survey, with data from the Santiago de Compostela Tourism Bureau’s 2018 annual report showing that 88.7% of visitors’ destinations were the Old Town and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, while only 42.6 were there for the Pilgrimage Route to Santiago. In addition, the report states that 99.1% of visitors visited the cathedral and the Old Town during their stay in the city. All this shows that Santiago de Compostela’s historical sites remain its greatest attraction. This great attraction means that tourists crowd these areas near the cathedral, posing a threat to the carrying capacity of the old town. Santos & Peña (2014) argue that for the large number of tourists in the old town of Santiago de Compostela, diversionary management should be implemented to add additional motivation for tourism. Guilarte & González (2018) analyse that Santiago de Compostela has the potential to develop other forms of tourism, such as gastronomic tours and nature tourism. All of these forms of tourism could allow tourists to visit resources in areas outside of the heritage site, thus alleviating the congestion in the old town.

In addition to developing other resources, I believe that solutions can be proposed from the perspective of the tourist, such as raising awareness of heritage conservation and intentionally guiding tourists towards sustainable tourism activities. Therefore, the sustainable ways of visiting the World Heritage Site presented on this website can contribute more effectively to the sustainable development of the heritage city.

Sustainable heritage tourism Photo:George Clerk, iStock

Let’s get started!


Centre, U. (1985) Santiago de Compostela (Old Town), Available at: (Accessed: 29 April 2021).


Santos Solla, X.M. and Pena Cabrera, L., 2014. Management of tourist flows. The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Timothy, D. J. (2011). Cultural heritage and tourism: An introduction. Bristol: Channel View Publications. [Google Scholar]

Yamilé Pérez Guilarte & Rubén Camilo Lois González (2018) Sustainability and visitor management in tourist historic cities: the case of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Journal of Heritage Tourism, 13:6, 489-505, DOI: 10.1080/1743873X.2018.1435665

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