Spanish tourism officials are worried that a historical church located in Basque might eventually be damaged by the influx of tourists following its appearance on the TV show "Game of Thrones."
Tourists have flocked to the heritage site known as San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Bermeo, Bizkaia after the steep and twisting stairway leading to a chapel was featured in the season 7 finale of the famous HBO series.
The heritage site is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge that has 241 steps, that has been identified in the series as part of the "Dragonstone," according to Syfy Wire.
The TV show features a castle — generated by computer imagery — at the top of the stairway. But the structure at the top is actually a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.
Prior to its appearance in the famous series, the chapel had only attracted a few religious visitors. However, after it was featured in some key scenes in the series, there had been a significant increase in the number of tourists visiting the site.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that there were roughly 2,500 visitors to the site in July alone, while The Telegraph noted that 75,000 tourists have since flocked to see the staircase.
"The fact that they filmed Game of Thrones here has been a blessing. The seventh season has, I believe, doubled the number of tourists," said the owner of the small souvenir shop inside the chapel.
The site was reportedly built as a religious hermitage by the Knights Templar in the ninth century.
According to CNBC, the church at the top of the stairway is open between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.
The heritage site is about an hour and a half drive from the closest town, and the hike to the church is said to be quite challenging.
As a reward for successfully climbing the staircase, visitors are traditionally allowed to ring the church bell three times and make a wish. But the bell-ringing had reportedly gotten out of hand due to the influx of tourists.
Spanish tourism authorities said that the heritage site is starting to suffer possible damage from too many visitors since the site was featured on the show.
The officials are now trying to come up with various methods to preserve the church and the steps, including 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.
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