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Spain in-depth: practical information

Camino de Santiago: the ultimate Guide

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Camino de Santiago: the Ultimate Guide

The Camino de Santiago has long been a challenging physical and spiritual journey that people of all walks of life have undertaken to achieve enlightenment and “test their metal”. The walk takes days to complete on foot and can be grueling at points, but the connection to nature and to one’s inner voice that you will experience is well worth the effort. 

As we will see in this article, The Current iteration of the Camino de Santiago (Santiago’s path) is in fact a collection of different pathways that wind through the Iberian peninsula, all ending up in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, at the magnificent Cathedral of Santiago in Spain. This being said let’s get into the definitive guide to the Camino de Santiago. 

Camino de Santiago

What is the Camino de Santiago? 

The Camino de Santiago is the name of a series of Christian pilgrimage routes of medieval origin that all end up at the tomb of Santiago el Mayor, located within the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain).

Nowadays the original “Camino de Santiago” is known as the “French Camino de Santiago”. This original path starts in the western Pyrenees and runs across northern Spain until reaching the Galician city.

Today the Camino de Santiago is actually comprised of several different routes, that are the original Jacobean routes.

Santiago el Mayor was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ and the first of them to die as a martyr. Christian tradition indicates that his body was transferred to Hispania ( Spain) and deposited in a tomb located in Gallaecia.  This tomb was discovered around the year 820 among the remains of an abandoned Roman settlement. A temple was built on the site and expanded over the following centuries to become the current cathedral. 

The adoration of the apostle soon spread among peninsular Christians and was proclaimed by Alfonso II as patron of the kingdom of Asturias, a consideration that he maintained in the political entities that succeeded his rule. Likewise, a custom arose among his armies to invoke the name of Santiago before to go into battle

Jacobean pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago

How long is Camino de Santiago? 

There are several different answers to this question, as there are several different pathways to the Camino de Santiago

Camino Francés 

The original Camino de Santiago, now known as the Camino Francés or the French way, is the longest and most traditional option. This path is 940 km long and is divided into 37 different stages. 

Camino del Norte 

The next longest path is the “Camino del Norte” or the Nothern Way, that also runs along the North of Spain, slightly closer to the coast than the Camino Francés. The Camino del Norte is 869 km long and is divided into 35 different stages. 

Vía de la Plata

The Vía de la Plata, or the Silver route, goes from Seville in Andalusia to Astorga in Castilla y León, before meeting up with the main path. It’s 705 km long and has 26 stages that will take you on an amazing journey where you will be able to see the contrasts between northern and southern Spain.

Camino Sanabrés

The Camino Sanabrés is 368 Km and has 13 stages. This path will take you from Granja de Moreruela all the way to Santiago de Compostela

Camino Catalán por San Juan de la Peña

There is the Camino Catalán por San Juan de la Peña. This portion of the path will take you through 325 km of Catalonia and Aragón before linking up with the Camino Francés in Santa Cilia de Jaca. This path has 14 stages and starts at the Monastery of Montserrat

Camino Vasco

The Camino Vasco or the Basque route will take you through 205 km of northern Spain, from Irún, in the Basque country, near the border In La Rioja, where it joins the Camino Francés. This path has 8 stages. 

Camino Inglés

The Camino Inglés or English way starts either in Ferrol or in A Coruña in northern Galicia, the choice is up to you. This path was traversed by English pilgrims that sailed into the ports of Ferrol and A Coruña from England and set out from there to Santiago. The longest version of this path is 155 km and has 7 stages. 

Camino Portugués

The Camino Portugués or Portuguese way is similar to the English way, as it follows the path taken by Portuguese pilgrims to Santiago. It is 119 Km long and has 6 stages. It will take you from the town of Tui in Portugal, directly to Santiago de Compostela.

Camino de San Salvador

The Camino de San Salvador goes from Oviedo to the capital of Castilla y León, León, and joins the Camino Francés there. This way was popularized in 1075 when a plethora of relics were discovered in the cathedral of Oviedo, and the expression:

He who goes to Santiago / And not to San Salvador / Serves the servant / And forgets the Lord

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Camino Baztanés

Camino Baztanés is 109 Km and has 6 stages. It goes from Bayonne in France down to the medieval city of Pamplona where it joins the Camino Francés. 

Epílogo a Fisterra

Lastly, the Epílogo a Fisterra goes from Fisterra in western Galicia and goes directly to Santiago. this path is i15 km long and gas 5 stages. 

There are other paths, most of which ultimately link up with one of the main paths of the Camino de Santiago but these are the main, recognized Jacobin paths. Below you will find a map of the different paths that wind across the Iberian Peninsula. 

The different caminos de santiago

History

As we have mentioned, after the uncovering of the tomb of the Apostle Santiago in the year 820, the site became an important pilgrimage destination in Europe.

An increasing number of people made the trek during the Middle Ages for reasons of faith, as they believed that the remains of the apostle had the ability to intercede before God.

Its popularity spread among the western European kingdoms and enjoyed the support of both ecclesiastical and civil authorities. An infrastructure was created for those who made the pilgrimage that offered accommodation and assistance. The political authorities even made laws to protect pilgrims during their journey. 

During its history, the Camino de Santiago has experienced two major crises:

  • In the 16th century due to the type of people who traveled the Jacobean routes and the appearance of Protestant theology
  • and during the process of European secularization that began after the French Revolution and the loss of the accommodation infrastructure due to the confiscations of the nineteenth century

These two threats almost caused the disappearance of the Camino, but the pilgrimage would experience a notable recovery in both popularity and infrastructure during the XXth century. The number of pilgrims arriving in Santiago has not stopped increasing since the 1990s and in 2019 it reached the highest figure since there are records: 347.578 people.

History of the Camino Francés, and the other caminos.

The first route that the pilgrims took to was the one that started in the capital of Asturias, Santander, passed through Lugo, and ended in Santiago de Compostela. The ancient Roman route that linked Bordeaux with Astorga through Pamplona, ​​Burgos, and León was the base on which the classic route of the Camino de Santiago, the Camino Francés, was developed.

The routs began taking form during the reconquering of the peninsula by the Christian Kings. There were other routes that started to pop-up from various regions within the peninsula. As the Reconquest progressed, the inhabitants of the new territories under Christian rule, would start using these new pathways.

The Catholic Kings: Fernando of Aragón and Isabel of Castilla

In France, four itineraries were developed to get to the Camino de Santiago. They started in Paris, from the mouth of the Rhone, as well as from the towns of Vézelay and Le Puy. 

With the crisis of the Jacobean pilgrimage in the 19th and 20th centuries, the routes were abandoned. Many of them were paved for use by vehicles but there are some sections that have remained untouched. 

In the second half of the twentieth century, the original route was re-established and made safer, so pilgrims wouldn’t have to use roads that were now intended for cars. An infrastructure of shelters was created as well as provide accommodation for pilgrims during the trip.

The 1990′ saw the popularity of the Camino explode which has led to the recovery of a large number of other historic routes. By the end of the 2010s, an extensive network of 286 roads are cataloged and cover a total of 80,000 km in 28 countries.

The Camino de Santiago has been a remarkable place of the meeting and cultural exchange among the population of Europe since its creation in the Middle Ages, and is said to have created a «common European conscience».

Video of the Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago APP

More in-depth posts on the Camino de Santiago

Types of hostels on the Camino de Santiago

Types of hostels on the Camino de Santiago

Only on the French way, you will find around 300 hostels, which helps a lot when it comes to preparing your itinerary for El Camino. Places to stay overnight, the parochial hostels and the religious orders were the first to open their doors. This reality has evolved a lot today

Camino de Santiago: the Pilgrims's Mass

Camino de Santiago: the Pilgrims’s Mass

The “pilgrims mass” is a service you will be able to enjoy in a lot of the towns that you will go through. This is a service held normally at 8 pm if there are mass officiants available. These Pilgrim masses are specially destined for pilgrims. The Pilgrim Mass also takes places in Santiago de Compostela upon your arrival at the end of El Camino

Camino de Santiago: Pilgrims certificate

Camino de Santiago: Pilgrims certificate

La Compostela is the certificate that gets stamped during El Camino de Santiago and which certifies that you have at least made the last 100km by foot or the last 200km by bike or by horse. La Compostela, the “ pilgrims credentials”, gets stamped along the journey.

Camino de Santiago: the Camino Francés

Camino de Santiago: the Camino Francés

The French Way of 775 kilometres unites towns of Saint Jean Pied de Port and Santiago. It was recuperated in 1971 and has signals on the whole path, with 112 hostels and 4 shelters. It is the most famous of all the different “Caminos”

How to travel the Camino de Santiago

It is very normal for a person who wants to do the Camino tour to think about whether to do it alone or accompanied; we would answer that, alone, you wouldn’t have to depend on anybody to make decisions, plus

Camino de Santiago: Types of Pilgrims

Camino de Santiago: Types of Pilgrims

There are two different types of pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago; Christian pilgrims who are walking the path as a spiritual journey, and those who simply want to live the Saint James tour experience. In either case, there are clear differences in the motiviations of pilgrims and we can actually speak of a segmentation. We share it with you in this article so you can identify which is your style.