Santiago de Compostela, the holy of holies of the pilgrimage, is these days ‘invaded’ by waves of people who arrive after having completed the path. However, they are not always well received by the inhabitants of the city: the crowd that passes through the Galician capital these days has caused disgust among many residents, who see how many of the pilgrims end up causing inconvenience with roadblocks and uncivil behavior. The city receives more than 3,000 pilgrims every day -in total, it distributed more than 50,000 compostelas in August-, but this week 12,000 have arrived at once; 12,000 tourists who have filled the glass of tolerance and welcome of several people from Santiago.

    It coincides with the arrival of the participants in the European Youth Pilgrimage (PEJ) organized by the Catholic Church who, after leaving from more than 10 different routes, meet in Santiago de Compostela between August 3 and 7. “It is the great event that we have after the pandemic at the level of the Church in Spain, a moment of hope and joy“, said last Friday the director of the secretariat of the Episcopal Subcommission for Youth and Children, Raúl Tinajero at a press conference.

    But what some neighbors see are waves of people blocking streets and highways, waving crosses and flags of Spainbetween shouts and songs. As every year more or less the same images are repeated, voices arise that pose the following debate: Should we rethink the tourism model of Santiago?

    lack of rest

    Among the most frequent complaints is the fact that pilgrims enter the city through the Rúa de San Pedro or through the Porta Faxeira, the most popular ways to reach the Plaza del Obradoiro and the Cathedral of Santiago. Before, the pilgrims traveled in small groups and without disturbing. Now, the neighbors denounce, they enter in groups of hundreds, even thousands of people, chanting at the top of their lungs from early in the morning.

    There are those who complain that they cross emblematic streets of Santiago by bicycle and at full speed, even on streets such as Rúa de San Pedro, where it is prohibited to do so.

    Once the pilgrims arrive in Santiago, say the neighbors, it seems that “the city is theirs.” “They move in large groups, blocking streets and highways without warning. Neither cars nor pedestrians have anywhere to move,” they say, wondering if there is no police control that sets certain limits.

    Garbage and huge piles of backpacks in the Plaza del Obradoiro or the potential damage to World Heritage monuments are other reasons for concern alleged by the people of Santiago, as evidenced by the photos published on the social networks of several horses tied to the gate of the church of Santa María de Saloméa 12th century building that could be affected if animals pull on the gates.

    Keep the coexistence

    “We must not and cannot allow hordes with flags, shouting and occupying all public spaces in Santiago prevent coexistence, peace and ordinary life in Compostela, its neighborhoods and its parishes. People who live here permanently have rights that must be respected and guaranteed. And if a massive pilgrimage arrives… that’s what Monte do Gozo is for…”, denounces the Galeras Platform Neighborhood Association.

    Other groups, such as A Xuntanta and the Business Association of the same area, put up a huge poster with a decalogue of good practices for pilgrims with rules as simple as not shouting, not jumping traffic lights or not throwing garbage on the ground.

    Faced with pressure from the people of Compostela, the mayor of the city, Xosé Sánchez Bugallo (PSdeG), had to step out after the Governing Board admitting that the influx of pilgrims could cause inconvenience to the neighbors or make them feel “a little overwhelmed” but still they called for a “welcome effort” to make visitors feel comfortable. Of course, he also stressed that the pilgrims must respond with civility and with “the best possible behavior.”

    The president of the Xunta alleges ideological reasons

    For his part, Alfonso Rueda, president of the Xunta de Galicia, has dismissed criticism from Santiago residents both inside and outside the networks. To questions from the press after the weekly meeting of his cabinet has alleged that the complaints of these neighbors are due to “ideological positions”.

    The debate on the tourism model is not new and is in all political positions, but the president has linked the complaints with the European Youth Pilgrimage, insinuating that if young people bother some Compostela is because they carry Spanish flags and sing Catholic songs.

    “What is heard these days of not agreeing that certain people come during specific days in a very important number as pilgrims to Santiago it is mixing ideology with objective data. Depending on who comes, their attitude is judged one way or another,” Rueda alleged.

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    Between 2004 and 2018, both Jacobean years, the number of pilgrims grew in Santiago by 84%. This year, also holy since the Vatican extended the jubilees by 12 months due to the mobility limitations that existed in 2021 due to covid, the number continues to grow. If in all of 2021, 178,913 compostelas were delivered, only so far in 2022, 198,000 have already been delivered.

    Therefore, what used to be scattered groups of pilgrims are now great tides that not only occupy the Old Quarter of the city, but also extend to more remote residential areas that are not used to ‘touristification’. From the social networks the requests to the Public Administration intensify so that it rethinks the tourist model of the city and even limiting the number of pilgrims that can come to Santiago to guarantee the quality of life of its inhabitants.