No one can say that Game of Thrones fans aren’t fervent, but now that enthusiasm could be doing some real damage. According to El Pais, a popular Spanish newspaper, a religious pilgrimage site is in danger because of the increase in tourism as a result of the famous TV show.
The site, which is located in the Basque region of Spain on an islet off the north coast of the country, is called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Legend tells that Saint John the Baptist once visited the islet; the church at its top is dedicated to him. It’s connected to the mainland by a stone bridge that has 241 steps. It’s this picturesque staircase that was featured in Game of Thrones as part of Dragonstone.
While we don’t have tourist numbers from 2016, the site, which was featured in the show’s seventh season, saw roughly 2,500 visitors a day (a total of 75,000 tourists) in July — a drastic increase from the regular trickle of religious visitors on pilgrimage. These visitors also ring a bell that hangs above the church three times and make a wish, which is a traditional reward for climbing the steps. But the bell-ringing has gotten out of hand with the influx of visitors.
Local officials are grateful for the steady increase of tourists as a result of Game of Thrones (much of Spain has been seeing a tourism boom because of the show), but they are also worried about damage to the delicate site. They’ve discussed various methods to preserve the church and steps, as well as promote conservation on San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. These include limiting the number of tourists allowed to access the islet, charging a fee for those who want to climb the steps, and improving signage in the area.
Whatever measures the area takes, it’s clear that something must be done soon. Game of Thrones tourism will only increase as the show hurtles towards its final season, and it’s important to preserve these sites and maintain access for the religious pilgrims who wish to pay their respects.