The birth of what is now Santiago de Compostela incidentally originated with a Roman town founded sometime in the 1st century and that disappeared in approximately the 5th century. It was later conquered by the Suevian king of Galicia in the 7th century.
During the 9th century, Alfonso II was in a power struggle to contain the expansionist ambitions of the Kingdom of Galicia. It was then that he took advantage of the discovery of the remains of the Apostle Santiago to found a city that would treasure the remains and. at the same time, serve as a boundary barrier to the town conquered by Galicia.
This was how Compostela was born. Later, it was called Santiago de Compostela. From the beginning, this new city was a powerful pole of political and religious influence.
The sanctuary of the Middle Ages
The Spanish church acquired a lot of influence and power by serving as custodian of the remains. This is why, in a short time, an ecclesiastical, dynamic and thriving community originated, growing exponentially with the founding of temples and churches, as well as religious schools. This gave academic prestige to the city.
In fact, the city created to preserve the remains of the apostle became a true sanctuary during the Middle Ages, as it housed countless settlers who sought protection within its walls.
This immense aura of a sacred place allowed Santiago de Compostela to acquire even more political relevance. It became a place where monarchs chose to be crowned, thus obtaining the blessing and support of the church and, therefore, legitimacy before the population.
This immense influence and power made the city a highly coveted target for many kingdoms. Over the following centuries, they attempted to control and rule, forcing the city to repeatedly take up arms.
However, the worst threat—one that almost wiped out the city—was the Black Death epidemic of 1349. Entire decades passed before the city somewhat recovered its population.
Loss of influence and its recovery
After the epidemic was overcome and some political stability was achieved, Santiago de Compostela suffered a severe setback that seriously affected its political and religious influence. At the beginning of the 17th century, it was questioned whether the treasured remains really belonged to the Christian apostle.
This loss of influence was aggravated when the different Catholic factions demanded to declare Saint Teresa as the sole patroness saint of Spain, to the detriment of Santiago.
This power struggle caused the continuous and numerous pilgrimages to drop dramatically. Finally, by the year 1643, this serious crisis was overcome when Felipe IV decreed that Santiago was the only patron saint of Spain.
This royal decree translated into an automatic bonanza for the city. Its liturgical tourism revived and the city received pensions and royal perks every year.
Thanks to this wealth, the city flourished with immense works of infrastructure, buildings, palaces, temples, cathedrals and churches.
This made Santiago de Compostela not only a centre of great religious and political importance, but also a place where arts and culture developed.
Over the following centuries, Santiago de Compostela remained a sanctuary for those displaced, exiled or persecuted, for example, Irish exiles and English Catholics.
During the Baroque period, the city reached a splendour never seen before, thanks to its monumental architecture and its extraordinary works of art. These strengthened its reputation as a place of knowledge and culture.
19th century, 20th century and the future
Like the rest of Spain, Santiago de Compostela suffered the rigors of the Napoleonic invasion. It became a Carlist centre against the occupation, which resulted in a long period of socioeconomic instability. The vessels communicating with other foreign institutions, especially the French academies and universities, were severely disrupted.
Once the invasion was overcome, the city recovered its academic impetus by founding important Galician newspapers and inaugurating artisan chocolate, tannery and beverage factories.
However, this economic boost was seriously affected due to La Coruña's refusal to adopt the new communication routes. The result was a stagnation that delayed the region until well into the 20th century.
Although Santiago de Compostela continued to maintain its academic pulse, it could not escape the serious political instability that worsened with the crash of 1929 and that was exacerbated when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936.
It should be noted that the war overturned the statute of autonomy that had gained momentum after the arrival of the second republic in 1931. Under Franco's rule, the city suffered the ravages of political purges. Also, under Franco's regime, religious influence recovered notably, but its academic impetus was greatly reduced.
With the advent of democracy, Santiago de Compostela regained its shine thanks to the entry of Spain into the European Union and the regional autonomy achieved by Galicia. In addition, it received the title of university city.
Currently, Santiago de Compostela maintains its aura of a sacred place with renewed religious tourism that each year attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists willing to walk the Camino de Santiago.