The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.
The most popular route (which gets very crowded in mid-summer) is the Camino Francés which stretches 780 km (nearly 500 miles) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago. This route is fed by three major French routes: the Voie de Tours, the Voie de Vezelay, and the Voie du Puy. It is also joined along its route by the Camino Aragones (which is fed by the Voie d’Arles which crosses the Pyrenees at the Somport Pass), by the Camí de Sant Jaume from Montserrat near Barcelona, the Ruta de Tunel from Irun, the Camino Primitivo from Bilbao and Oviedo, and by the Camino de Levante from Valencia and Toledo.
The network is similar to a river system – small brooks join together to make streams, and the streams join together to make rivers, most of which join together to make the Camino Francés. During the middle ages, people walked out of their front doors and started off to Santiago, which was how the network grew up. Nowadays, cheap air travel has given many the opportunity to fly to their starting point, and often to do different sections in successive years. Some people set out on the Camino for spiritual reasons; many others find spiritual reasons along the Way as they meet other pilgrims, attend pilgrim masses in churches and monasteries and cathedrals, and see the large infrastructure of buildings provided for pilgrims over many centuries.
Walking the Camino
Walking the Camino is not difficult – most of the stages are fairly flat on good paths. The main difficulty is that few of us have walked continuously for 10, 20 or 30 days. You learn more about your feet than you would ever have thought possible!
The purpose of this website is to give you information about what it is actually like to walk one of the Caminos, and to choose which one would be the most congenial. Do not assume that you need to walk the Camino Francés just because everyone else does – the other routes are much emptier and have lots to offer.
Origins of the pilgrimage
The history of the Camino de Santiago goes back at the beginning of the 9th century (year 814) moment of the discovery of the tomb of the evangelical apostle of the Iberian Peninsula. Since this discovery, Santiago de Compostela becomes a peregrination point of the entire European continent.
The Way was defined then by the net of Roman routes that joined the neuralgic points of the Peninsula. The impressive human flow that from very soon went towards Galicia made quickly appear lots of hospitals, churches, monasteries, abbeys and towns around the route. During the 14th century the pilgrimage began to decay, fact brought by the wars, the epidemics and the natural catastrophes.
The recovery of the route begins at the end of the 19th century, but it is during the last quarter of the 20th century when the authentic contemporary resurge of the peregrination takes place. There is no doubt that the social, tourist, cultural or sport components have had a great importance in the “jacobea” revitalization but we cannot forget that the route has gained its prestige thanks to its spiritual value.