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Metro Society EIC Raul Manzano Walks The Way Of The Saint With The Camino De Santiago

The pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela traverse ancient landscapes that inspired faith beyond the ages

Two years ago, I walked my first Camino which took me through the 110-kilometer French way to Santiago de Compostela. The Spanish Tourism Board requested that we film several episodes of EIC on the Move on the Camino, but this time taking the Portuguese way, which is 120 kilometers. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Camino de Santiago, also known as "The Way of St. James," is the main pilgrimage route in Europe today. I was excited and looking forward to taking another route to the Cathedral in Santiago. I would be retracing the religious and historical roots of Europe once again but through a different path. 


The discovery of the tomb of Apostle St. James the Greater (Santiago el Mayor), around the years 820 and 830, in the forest named Libredón and where today the majestic Santiago de Compostela Cathedral stands, is one of the most important events of the Middle Ages in Europe. The news of the appearance of Santiago’s remains traveled quickly around the continent, and soon, the phenomenon of pilgrimages emerged spontaneously. 


The objective is to worship one of Jesus’ favorite disciples in his tomb, Santiago, first martyr of Christianity, beheaded in Jerusalem around the year 44. Several documents dating from the 6th century placed the pilgrimage of the Apostle in Hispania between the years 33 and 42. His disciples wanted to bring him to this territory after his death. They decided to bury him near the magic and the mystery of Finis Terrae, the end of the world in his time. 


The discovery of this Roman sepulcher, nearly eight centuries later, would mark the beginning of a worship that has made the route the real backbone of Europe, and the city of Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral into one of the three great Christian pilgrimage sites, along with Rome and Jerusalem. 


Not only does a stream of people of various nationalities pass through the Camino de Santiago that increases in holy years when July 25 falls on a Sunday and it is possible to obtain the Jubilee, a plenary indulgence, or remission of sins, which the Church gives, but it has also been a “high-way of knowledge:” A diffuser of the great cultural and artistic movements that were emerging in Europe—the Romanesque for example, an architectural style that was born on the road to Santiago de Compostela and has also been an unparalleled demonstration of human solidarity. 


But the route still has more: Walk to the West through a route with 1,200 years of history and leave behind the habits and routines of today. Just as at the dawn of the pilgrimage, it is a combination of sacrifice and reward that transforms he who experiences it at least once in his life. 


The itinerary begins in different points of Europe. In France, the routes proceed from Italy or from the East of the Continent (among many other places in Europe). It enters into Spain by way of the Pyrenees, and from Puente la Reina (Navarra) it is a single road, known as the French Route, which runs through the entire North of the country, finally reaching Santiago de Compostela. 


This route, described in the 12th century in the Codex Calixtinus, enters Galicia through peak point of O Cebreiro and is a reference, but it is not the only or the oldest one. In fact, there are 10 pilgrimage routes that were created throughout history. The oldest, as we said, is called the Primitive Route; next to it lies the Northern Route. Both enter into Galicia through the region of Asturias; the English Way with the ports of A Coruña and Ferrol as landmarks; the Portuguese Way, and its variant along the coast; the Silver Way or ”Via de la Plata,” which starts in Southwest of Spain, the Fisterra-Muxía Way, which extends the pilgrimage to Finis Terrae; the Mar de Arousa y Ulla Way, which recalls the itinerary by which, according to tradition, the apostles’ remains arrived in a ship. And, finally, the Winter Way, an alternative to the cold summits of the Lugo mountains of O Cebreiro. 


The goal is Santiago de Compostela, capital of the autonomous region of Galicia. Its historic center was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. In 1987, the Council of Europe acknowledged the Santiago Route as the first European Cultural itinerary, and in the Holy Year of 1993, the Santiago Route was declared a world heritage area. 


In 2011, the Cathedral celebrated the 800th anniversary of its consecration. Across from it, in the plaza de Obradoiro, each traveler understands that “the goal is the route,” and records this moment in their mind, before the majestic Portico of Glory, a cry of courage that since medieval times has always helped travelers to carry on: Ultreia! 


Today, as in medieval times, millions of pilgrims now journey to Compostela. It is a different type of pilgrimage, but it does not deny its traditional aspects; it simply adds the desires and motivations of contemporary societies. 


The Portuguese Way

This route grew in importance beginning in the 12th century, following Portugal’s independence. It runs along ancient roads and paths, including Via XIX, built in the first century AD, which links Braga with Astorga via Ponte de Lima, Tui, Pontevedra, Santiago, and Lugo. It was one of the most important Roman roads, forming the back-bone of the province of Gallaecia. A coastal variant of this route crosses the Miño River at A Guarda and hugs the coastline, meeting up with the inland route at Redondela. The Portuguese Way has given the cult of St. James a territory that is essential for understanding the true international scope of the pilgrimage phenomenon.


From the 12th century onwards, the flow of pilgrims into the northern part of the peninsula established not only spiritual connections, but also cultural and economic ties, human bonds that political borders have never been able to break. The example of kings and queens, nobles, and the high clergy, was decisive in establishing a powerful devotion to St. James. This included the famous 14th-century pilgrimage of Elizabeth of Portugal, the ‘Holy Queen,’ who offered her crown at the altar of St. James and would be buried in Coímbra with a pilgrim’s staff. Another example is Portugal’s King Manuel I, who made the pilgrimage from Lisbon to Santiago in 1502. In memory of his stay in Compostela, he ordered that a lamp remain lit in the church at Santiago night and day, allocating an annual sum for this purpose. 


The pilgrimage phenomenon made such a powerful impression in Portugal that the country’s north–south road network would be organized around it, passing through the locations established for the Portuguese Way to Galicia: Lisbon, Santarem, Coímbra, Porto, Barcelos, Ponte de Lima, and Valença do Minho, where it crosses the Miño River and enters Galicia.


In the 19th century, which brought the lowest influx of pilgrims–the result of the new times marked by the French Revolution and the invasion of Spain by Napoleonic troops–it was the Portuguese Way that became the most active. During this century, more than 80 percent of foreign pilgrims were Portuguese. 


TUI - O PORRIÑO

18.7 km / 118.8 km to Santiago

Access into Galicia is over the International Bridge that joins Valença (Portugal) and Tui (Spain) by crossing the broad River Miño. A track goes down to A Fábrica beach, where pilgrims disembarked before the bridge was built. We come into the historical center of Tui down the Avenidas de Portugal and Galicia and soon reach the Parador. A milestone reminds us that there are 115 km left before we reach Santiago.


The charm of Tui—one of the seven capitals of Old Kingdom of Galicia and declared a historical and artistic site in 1967—is evident on every street and alleyway in its noble center, a medieval city design dominated by the Romanesque and Gothic cathedral of Santa María. We have come to the cathedral along the streets of Bispo Maceira and Baixada ó Arrabal de Freanxo. The route continues down Travesía do Hospital, Praza do Concello, the convent of the Poor Claires, Rúas Tide, and Antero Rubín. Before leaving the city, the Way goes down Rúa Canónigo Rubín y Calzada towards the park of San Bartolomeu. It then goes past the chapel of the Virxe do Camiño, Paredes de Abaixo and the emblematic bridge of San Telmo, known as the Ponte das Febres.


Once we have crossed this, we come into a verdant wood known as A Ribeira and come to the village of A Magdalena. We are following the River Louro, which separates the municipalities of Tui and O Porriño. The next village is Orbenlle. In the distance, we can see the granite quarries that have made the area famous (the stone is “pink granite,” which is exported to countries like Japan and the USA). We then come into the thriving municipality of O Porriño on Manuel Rodríguez Street. The origins of the town are closely linked to the Way to Santiago, and it is now a significant industrial center with one of the highest population growth rates in the province of Pontevedra. The urban landscape delights us with the work of architect Antonio Palacios, born here in 1874: We pass in front of the Town Hall, one of his greatest creations (1924). Very close to the route lies the little church of San Luis, the fountain of O Cristo—one of this first designs, dating from 1907—and the Palacios Chemist’s (designed for his brother José in 1912). With the contemplation of these creations by the prestigious architect, this stage comes to an end. 


What to see: 

• The International Bridge of Tui, built of iron in 1884 by Pelayo Mancebo, a student of Gustave Eiffel. The pedestrian part of the bridge is a magnificent viewpoint. 

• Strolling through the medieval city of Tui, the cathedral of Santa María de Tui, started in 1120 (Romanesque) and later adapted to the new Gothic style, overlooks the Old City with its double vocation as a church and fort. The cloister (13th century) is the only complete cloister preserved in a cathedral in Galicia. Inside, we could highlight the chapel of St. James, with an altarpiece dating from 1696, by local sculptor José Domínguez Bugarín. 

• The Diocesan Museum of Tui-Vigo, in the old pilgrims’ hospital 

• The convent of the Poor Claires or the “enclosed nuns” (17th and 18th centuries) 

• The churches of Santo Domingo (Gothic) and San Bartolomeu de Rebor-dáns—the old monastery where Diego Gelmírez stayed after the episode known as the “holy plunder”

• Seven kilometers from Tui, the Natural Park of Monte Aloia, with magnificent views over the mouth of the River Miño 

• The Ponte das Febres or Bridge of San Telmo over the River San Simón, where the Saint fell ill in 1251. The Gándaras de Budiño (a freshwater lake). In O Porriño, the architecture of Antonio Palacios and the quality of the traditional bread of O Porriño, made with local wheat.


O PORRIÑO - REDONDELA

15.2 km / 100.1 km to Santiago

We leave O Porriño behind us and soon come to the chapel of As Angustias. We walk along the hard shoulder of the N 550 road, where we should take special care with vehicles. We can hear the River Louro, although we cannot see it. We leave Amieiro longo behind and come to the center of A Rúa, which was the ancient capital of the municipality of Mos.


A stone cross bearing the inscription “Way to Santiago” marks the start of Os Cabaleiros Street, which takes us to the well-known stone cross of Os Cabaleiros. Through Inxertado, with the valley on the east, we go up a slight slope to the chapel of Santiaguiño de Antas, a simple monument surrounded by a beautiful oak grove. A Roman milestone—indicating a thousand steps, and which formed part of the Via XIX, joining, as we have said, Braga and Astorga—sends us on our way to the municipality of Redondela. Almost immediately we come to Vilar de Infesta. Pine and eucalyptus woods are the main features on this stretch. We then come to the legendary Chan das Pipas. Saxamonde, Quintela and O Muro take us to Redondela. We come into the Praza de Ponteareas and in another beautiful square, the Praza de Ribadavia, we come across the pilgrims’ hostel and the end of this stretch of the way. 


What to see: 

• In Mos, the Baroque church of Santa Olaia (16th century) and the Pazo dos Marqueses de Mos (18th century) 

• The original Os Cabaleiros Stone Cross, dating from 1734, with an iron fence and two lights. In Chan das Pipas, during the French invasion (early 19th century) a man called Chan became famous for trying to hold the French troops back by throwing barrels of wine on them from above (barrels are called pipas in the Galician language). 

• In Redondela, the parish church of Santiago, consecrated by Gelmírez in 1114, the convent of Vilavella (16th century), the house of A Torre (16th century) and the railway viaducts (19th century). Redondela holds a cuttlefish festival in the month of May. 



REDONDELA - PONTEVEDRA

18.2 km / 84.9 km to Santiago

On leaving Redondela, we pass by the chapel of As Angustias. We come into the parish of Cesantes. On our left, to the west, the impressive estuary of Vigo: in the middle the islands of San Simón and San Antón arise, under whose waters lie the remains of the galleons from the Battle of Rande (1702), while in the background the panorama is completed by mussel platforms and the hanging bridge of Rande.


We come into the parish of O Viso and then to Arcade (in the municipality of Soutomaior), and go down the streets of Portas, Lavandeira, Cimadevila, Velero, Barroncas until we reach the historical medieval bridge of Ponte Sampaio, over the River Verdugo. Half-way across the bridge we are in the municipality of Pontevedra. We go through Ponte Sampaio and continue along old and evocative cobbled streets, with stretches of the Roman road Via XIX, such as the ascent via Brea Vella da Canicouva. We are getting closer to Pontevedra, passing through Boullosa, Santa Comba de Bértola, the chapel of Santa Marta, Tomeza, Casal do Río, and O Marco. Otero Pedrayo Street and the Round about of Compostela take us to the sanctuary of the Virxe Peregrina, Rúa Soportales, Praza do Teucro, and the Rúa Real. The marvelous historical center of the city awaits us. 


What to see: 

• The chapel of As Angustias (17th century) in Redondela 

Islands of San Simón and San Antón (by boat from Vigo or Cesantes) 

• The unique hanging bridge of Rande (1978) 

• As for food, oysters in Arcade. Four kilometers from the route, the castle of Soutomaior, 11th century, reformed in the 15th century 

• In Ponte Sampaio, the armed people vanquished the troops of Napoleon (June 1809) 

• In Pontevedra, you cannot afford to miss walking around the Old City: the sanctuary of the Virxe Peregrina (18th century), the five historical buildings of the Museum of Pontevedra, the Prazas da Ferrería, A Leña, and O Teucr, and the basilica of Santa María A Grande (16th century) 


PONTEVEDRA - CALDAS DE REIS

23 km / 66.7 km to Santiago

The Way leaves Pontevedra along the Rúa da Santiña, after crossing the River Lérez over the bridge of O Burgo. We then go round the large marshland of A Xunqueira de Alba. The route goes between the railway line and the River Granda. We go up to Pontecabras and the church and rectory of Santa María de Alba.


In Goxilde, the Archbishop of Santiago, Diego Gelmírez, rested on his way from Braga to Compostela. Once we pass the chapel of San Caetano, we come into the verdant woods of Reirís and Lombo da Maceira. We come into the municipality of Barro over a small stone bridge that crosses the brook known as O Rego do Cárcere. From San Mauro, we go through San Mamede da Portela. We cross the bridge over the River Areal, which brings pilgrims—amidst large stone houses—into Balbón. There are two interesting stone crosses, one of them next to the house of Amonisa, while the shaft of the other shows St. James the Pilgrim looking northwards, towards Compostela. A third stone cross, the solitary Soutelo, completes the triad of these genuine sculptures that were set up at crossroads.


From this point on we have to pay attention to the signs, as the Way goes through various different crossroads and bends—the N-550 road is always present, as is the new high-speed railway that has changed the landscape. A Seca (in the Council of Barro) and Briallos (in the Council of Portas) point us on towards the municipality of Caldas de Reis. There are small pathways, alternating with paved and unpaved roads.


We come to the beautiful village of Tibo, where walkers face the last stretch of this stage, almost at Caldas de Reis. We go past the church of Santa María and come into Caldas, a spa town, the Aquae Celenis quoted in the so-called “Itinerary of Antoninus,” a third-century document that reflects the routes of the Roman Empire, bathed by the Rivers Umia and Bermaña. We go down the streets Santa Marta, Herrería and cross the bridge over the Umia, which brings pilgrims to the hot water spring the town has been named after since Roman times. We then follow the Rúa Real, cross over another bridge, this time the charming medieval bridge over the River Bermaña. The chapel of San Roque, at the end of the street of the same name—which joins the N-550—marks the end of this stage. 


What to see: 

• The Baroque site made up of the church and rectory of Santa María de Alba 

• Tasting the food in San Antoniño, the capital of Barro

• The church of San Martiño de Agudelo (13th century), with influences of the Maestro Mateo workshop. Before the bridge over the River Agra, the recreational area of the River Barosa, with waterfalls and restored mills. 

• The parish church of Briallos (first built in the 15th century, rebuilt in the 18th century), with interesting altarpieces, some Baroque and one from the Renaissance 

• The ethnographic site of Tibo: a stone cross from 1654, fountain and public washing place 

• In Caldas de Reis, the church of Santa María de Caldas, a 12th century Romanesque building, also influenced by the Pórtico de la Gloria 

• The church of St. Thomas Becket (late 19th century), the only church in Galicia devoted to the archbishop and saint from Canterbury, and Chancellor of England (1118-70), murdered inside his cathedral by courtiers of King Henry II. Becket stopped in Caldas on his pilgrimage in 1167. 

• As Burgas, spring water at 40 degrees Celsius in an emblematic public fountain dating from 1881. Bermaña Bridge, a medieval structure built on a Roman base 

• Two kilometers from Caldas, the Romanesque church of Santa María de Bemil 


CALDAS DE REIS – PADRÓN

18.5 km / 43.7 km to Santiago

We leave Caldas on the N-550 but immediately turn into a nice little lane. The Route goes up to Santa María de Carracedo and then passes through Casalderrique and Casal de Eirigo. We are now in the municipality of Valga. From O Pino, we go to Monte Castelo, thick forests bathed by the waters of the River Valga and dotted with old mills. The next villages are Cimadevila, the bridge over the River Fontenlo, Cedelo, and Condide—in Pontecesures. From the viewpoint of Pino Manso we can see most of the valley of the River Ulla. The route now goes through the oldest part of the town of Pontecesures.


We then cross the bridge over the River Ulla (of Roman origin, although rebuilt), separating the provinces of Pontevedra and A Coruña. Here is where the municipality of Padrón starts, in the province of A Coruña, the cradle of the Jacobean tradition, a beautiful and monumental town on the banks of the River Sar. We come into the town over the fair ground, and then come to the Paseo do Espolón. In the center lies the church of Santiago de Padrón, where the Pedrón (the stone to which was moored the boat that brought the remains of the apostle) is kept. 


What to see: 

• The monumental site of Santa María de Carracedo 

• In Monte Castelo, the traditional mills

 • In Pontecesures, the Romanesque church of San Xulián de Requeixo 

• The old port of Padrón, dating from the 12th century: according to tradition, the body of St. James came here from Jaffa (Palestine) in the first century. 

• The promenade along the River Sar

• The church of Santiago, which holds the Pedrón, a Roman altar dedicated to Neptune, and where the stone boat moored.

• The Fonte do Carme (18th century) 

• The Botanical Gardens 

• The House Museum of Rosalía de Castro, Galicia’s greatest poetess. 

Romanesque church of Santa María de Herbón, in the village famous for its peppers 



PADRÓN - SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

25.2 km to Santiago

We leave along the Dolores Street, cross the River Sar and come to Iria Flavia, nowadays in the parish of Padrón, although it was a Roman city and then the episcopal see until the 11th century. We pass the Camilo José Cela Foundation and cross the N-550. The Sar Valley is home to traditional villages like Pousa, Souto, Rueiro, Cambelas, and Anteportas. We come to the sanctuary of A Escravitude, behind which we can enjoy the magnificent views of Padrón and the lands of Amaía. We go down to Angueira de Suso, and then go along O Faramello and come to the hostel of Teo (where we can rest).


At the top of the hill, we reach Rúa de Francos and then Osebe. In O Milladoiro (the name comes from “humilladoiro,” i.e. where pilgrims humbled themselves or kneeled down on catching their first glimpse of the cathedral), we can already breathe Compostela: We go through A Rocha Vella and over the Ponte Vella to cross the River Sar. Here we have two options: to go by A Choupana (by the hospital), the chapel of Santa Marta and down the Rosalía de Castro Street, or through the neighborhood of Conxo. Both ways come together in the Praza de Vigo. The Way comes into the historical center through the Porta Faxeira and down the Rúa do Franco. The traditional way for pilgrims from the Portuguese Way to go into the cathedral is through the Praza das Praterías. 


What to see: 

• In Iria Flavia, the Camilo José Cela Foundation, located in the Casas dos Cóengos, built in the late 18th century. Opposite, the collegiate church of Santa María de Iria Next to the church, the cemetery of Adina, where Cela is buried—it also preserves a necropolis of the Suevi (6th century). 

• The sanctuary of A Escravitude (18th century) 

• The Gothic stone cross on Rúa de Francos 

• Some 500 meters from the Way, the bridge over the River Tinto (18th century) and the ruins of the legendary Lupario Hill Fort, where Queen Lupa lived 

• The ruins of the castle of A Rocha Forte (15th century) 

• The church of Santa María de Conxo (18th century), with a crucifixion by Gregorio Fernández 

• The Rúa do Franco is probably the liveliest street in the city. 


THE CITY

Santiago de Compostela was born from the Libredón forest, where the appearance of the Apostle’s remains occurred. Today, the city is an international pilgrimage center, the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and home of a prestigious university with over five centuries of history. Compostela is also, with a registered population of 93,000 inhabitants, the granite stone forest on which the medieval city was laid out, and a green forest, of centuries-old oak groves like those of Santa Susana, raised in the center of the forest. 


Its stone has made Santiago a world heritage site since 1985; due to its green areas, it is one of Spain’s cities with the most square-meters of parks and gardens per capita, surrounded by the poetry of the Sar and Sarela rivers. 


Its core is the Praza do Obradoiro.


Here is where all of the routes converge. And from it, in front of the Cathedral, emanates the strength and beauty of more than a thousand years of history and tradition. The Obradoiro is a harmony of styles, periods, and sublimated stone: in the front, the Baroque façade of the Basilica, and the Romanesque Xelmírez Palace to the left, the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos (old pilgrims Hospital) Renaissance; to the right, the medieval portico of the San Xerome College (today, Rectorate Building of the University of Santiago), and behind the neoclassicism of Palace of Raxoi, current site of the City Hall and of the presidency of the Regional Government of Galicia. It is a landscape built over eight centuries, closed to the West by Mount Pedroso, which is basically a collection of Western art. 


The city emerged around the Cathedral’s major centrifugal force. Firstly, the other three squares that surround the monument: Praterías (preferred by musicians and artists), Quintana (old cemetery) and the Inmaculada Place, with the spectacular monastery of San Martiño Pinario, also the manor houses (pazos) that flank the rúas do Vilar and rúa Nova streets, or the Mazarelos gate (the only one left standing from the old wall) complete the first glance. Outside the walls, we find the convent of San Francisco (with a tribute to the Saint of Assisi by the sculptor Asorey), the Palace de San Lorenzo (along with another oak forest), or the Romanesque Collegiate Church of Sar, with it’s incredible inclined columns and the remains of the 12th-century cloister. 


In addition to them, are the new cultural infrastructures born under the provisions of the new pilgrimage and of Santiago as the regional capital. Amongst them is the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art (work of Siza), next to the Museo do Pobo Galego (where Domingo de Andrade built his triple spiral staircase); the great Auditorium of Galicia or the Cidade da Cultura, stunning architecture designed by Peter Eisenman and built at the top of Gaiás Mountain. 


Stone, forest, history, art... and, finally, gastronomy. The entire city, especially near the rúa do Franco and its surroundings, is a temple to good eating. With great restaurants and genuine taverns, Santiago can satisfy all of our expectations. 


THE CATHEDRAL

The Cathedral of Santiago is the result of over seven hundred years of construction, successions in styles and expansions, and continual reforms. As part of the monument’s protohistory, the two pre-Romanesque churches, built in the ninth century must be mentioned. The Basilica that gave rise to the Cathedral that we now know began in 1075, in the time of Diego Peláez, with a team of 50 masons led by master Bernardo o Vello. 


However, the great impulse to the work would arrive sometime later, with Diego Xelmírez as Archbishop, a cultured, cosmopolitan person, prominent cultural and spiritual promoter of Compostela. It is the first European Romanesque church to have a monumental sculpture in the three facades: Obradoiro, Praterías and Paraíso (today, Acibechería). 


It was the Portico of Glory that closes the monument’s Western Front which would place the Compostela Basilica at the zenith of European Romanesque art: the closure to the West of the monument. Its author was Maestro Mateo (architect who was most likely from Santiago) and his team. They worked for over 40 years, from 1168 to 1211. They left for history the great poem in stone that summarizes not only all of the medieval art but also the conception of man and the universe of his time for history, presented in an architectural structure of three superposed floors. 


The last major renovation of the Cathedral was carried out in the middle of the 18th century. It was meant to protect the Portico of Mateo and at the time, provided the Basilica with a closure to the West in accordance with the scale of the temple: thus arose the Baroque facade. It was designed by Fernando de Casas Novoa, and completed in 1750. The prevailing Baroque taste gives the Cathedral a dramatic sense of verticality, of elevation, playing with glass and stone in a way that had not been done until then. The Holy Year of 1784 marked the end of the works, with the inauguration of the Communion chapel. 


The current Basilica will likewise seduce us, with its clock tower also known as “Berenguela” and, of course, the Porta Santa entry (only in the Holy year) is unavoidable. And in the interior: the embrace of the Apostle, the descent to the crypt that holds his remains. There are pleasant surprises, such as the archaeological excavations that were opened to the public at the beginning of 2011, that allow us to go down to the Cathedral subsoil, where pre-Roman and medieval cemeteries emerge, as well as the settlement that gave rise to the monument and the city of Santiago. 


The Camino was again an amazing transformational journey within, where I experienced the awe-inspiring, life-changing energy that millions of Pilgrims have felt throughout the centuries. 


Important Things to Know: 

  1. On the way to Santiago de Compostela, you will find a multitude of symbols that indicate that you are following the right path, the most important ones are the yellow arrows that point you to the right direction. 
  2. A marker or mojón is a signpost usually made from stone or concrete used to delimit a property or to inform the passerby of the distance in kilometers to reach Santiago. 
  3. The shell was renamed “Concha de Santiago” because when the pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela, they were handed a document that designated them as such and as a symbol of this, a scallop shell was placed on their hat and cape. Now people wear it while they are on the camino to signify that they are pilgrims. 
  4. The cane or el bordón was given to pilgrims by the ecclesiastical authorities of their hometown before leaving for the Camino. It allows the pilgrim to shift some of his weight to the cane to help him lighten the load. 
  5. The hórreo is a traditional Galician granary constructed of wood, stone, and concrete or brick, used to store fruit, grain, and meats to protect them from moisture and animals. You will see many of these along the Camino. 
  6. The cruceiro is a religious monument consisting of a stone cross (smaller ones are made of wood) set on a pillar usually located in a public place, like crossroads and churchyards. There are over 10,000 of these items all over Galicia. 
  7. The Cruz de Santiago is the emblem of the military order of Santiago, founded in 1160 AD to defend the pilgrims who made the pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. 
  8. The botafumeiro is one of the best-known and most popular symbols of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Made of an alloy of brass and bronze plated by a very thin 20-micrometer layer of silver, it is suspended from a pulley mechanism in the dome of the roof of the church and is swung over the congregation during the special masses. 
  9. The “Compostela” is a document handed out by the Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral council, which certifies the pilgrimage to Santiago for religious or spiritual reasons. To be eligible, you must have completed at least the last 100 kilometers on foot or horseback and the last 200 by bicycle. 


Given that Spanish tour groups provide a private vehicle for the pilgrims, the equipment one needs to take on the walk is greatly reduced: 

• Hiking or trekking boots are ideal, especially if they are made from Goretex, as it is waterproof and allows the feet to breathe. Shoes must not be new. They should already be worn in so your foot has molded the inside of the shoe. 

• Bring Vaseline as it is very effective in preventing blisters when applied to the feet before walking. 

• Bring flip-flops to use after the daily walks. 

• Hooded poncho or waterproof jacket and pants as well as galoshes are useful. 


Other items to bring: 

• Waterproof hat

• Long pants (especially those that can be converted into shorts)

• Long- and short-sleeved shirts made from breathable fabrics 

• A sweater

• Socks with no seams made from breathable fabric, preferably cotton 

• A small backpack would be good to store personal belongings, water, and food 

• Walking pole or sticks 



Photographs by Raul Manzano. This article was originally published in Metro Society, Vol. 16, No. 6.