The Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago is one of the most famous and important pilgrimage routes in the world; a journey of great spiritual value, made of welcome, brotherhood and ancient traditions.
A unique experience in life that leaves an indelible mark on anyone who decides to venture on the path.
The Santiago Way, history and origins
The Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago is one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in Europe: it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and has been recognised as the first European cultural itinerary. A path of religious origin, specifically Catholic, that leads its pilgrims to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the Apostle Saint James is buried.
The Pilgrim’s Way of Saint James is not a single route, but it is divided into several itineraries that lead to the goal: the origin of this network of routes dates back to the year 821, when the body of Saint James was found and, for this reason, King Alfonso I the Chaste went in person to Santiago.
From that moment on, travellers from all over the world began to travel to Santiago: if, at the beginning, those who started the journey were moved by strong religious feelings, over the years the motivations have become many and different.
Even today a good part of the pilgrims embark on the journey for purely religious and spiritual reasons but there is another part of people who decide to venture along the route for cultural or tourist purposes.
Santiago Way: where to start?
The Pilgrim’s Way of Saint James includes several itineraries and to understand where to start, you will first have to choose the one that suits you (especially according to the time you want to dedicate to this experience).
The most popular itineraries are the French, the Portuguese, the northern and the primitive. Then there is a simpler option, suitable for those who do not feel ready for a very demanding and perfect path for those who do not have much time: this is the route that starts from Sarria and takes place in Galicia for a total of 111 kilometers to be covered in five or six days.
The French Way
This is the most famous and most popular route chosen by pilgrims from all over the world who want to embark on the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago and consists of 33 stages. It is about 765 kilometers long and starts from the Pyrenees, precisely from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-port: from here, the route winds through the territories of La Rioja, Castile and León. To reach the departure point from Rome, it is best to travel by plane to the airports of Lourdes, Bordeaux or Biarritz.
Lourdes is certainly less economical but it is the only one of the three that provides direct routes from Rome (and also from Milan) although it is the furthest from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-port while the other two, while not offering direct routes, are closer to the starting point of the journey. In any case, to reach Saint-Jean-Pied-de-port from one of these airports, there is a shuttle service that will take you to the nearest train station.
The Portuguese way
About 620 kilometres long and composed of 25 stages, the Portuguese route to the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago starts from Ponte de Lima. Its highlight is certainly the spectacular streets crossed: ancient paths, such as the Via XIX that dates back to the first century AD.
The route is simple, does not include plateaus or significant differences in altitude such as those of the French route and also provides for the presence of a very useful sign to all pilgrims; moreover, especially in recent years, more hostels and places to stay, as more people choose this route.
Starting from Rome to embark on the Portuguese route is not difficult at all: the starting points are usually Lisbon (26 stages), Porto (10 stages) or Tui (6 stages, ideal for those who do not have much time) and it will be easy to reach them by plane.
The northern path
The northern route for the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago is about 824 kilometres long and consists of 34 stages. It is one of the most beautiful landscapes, thanks to the presence of sea and mountains that intertwine. This route crosses the entire coast of the peninsula from east to west and winds along the most famous municipalities of Spain.
Once in Gijón, pilgrims can decide to continue along the northern route, entering Galicia, or take a link to Oviedo and continue on the primitive route.
The Northern Trail is also one of the most difficult to tackle so it is not ideal for those out of training because it is among the longest and provides quite tiring stretches.
For those who leave from Rome and want to take this path from its starting point, namely Irùn, it will be possible to do so from the airports of San Sebastián, Biarritz and Bilbao: these are the most comfortable and fast options.
The primitive path
The Pilgrim’s Way of Saint James through the primitive route is about 313 kilometres long, has a total of 14 stages and runs along ancient Roman roads and starts from Oviedo. The primitive route is characterized by difficult climbs and stretches that, on particularly rainy days, can become very muddy, making the journey difficult. On the other hand, it is an incredible itinerary.
For those departing from Rome, also in this case it will not be difficult to reach the starting point and can do so with a flight to Madrid or Barcelona.
Santiago Way from Rome: some tips
First of all, choose one of the routes that is more easily accessible from one of the Roman airports: the walk will be a unique experience but also tiring, better to save energy and better organize the journey to the starting point.
As for the actual journey, it is not necessary to be a hiker, also because it is not a race and every pilgrim can take the time he needs. However, the choice of the way ahead should also take into account your physical state under which you can venture along a more or less complicated and extensive path.
What does it take to walk the Camino de Santiago?
A well-equipped backpack, suitable shoes and clothing, special patches for blisters and everything you can carry with you and that can help you to better live your journey. What is even more important and that you will need to get the advantages of the pilgrim are the Credentials of the Pilgrim: a simple card to be stamped at the beginning and end of the journey, and in all the structures where you will stay.
How to obtain Compostela
At the end of the journey, you will obtain the Compostela, the document certifying that you have completed your Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago, drawn up and issued by the ecclesiastical authority of Santiago. In order to obtain it, it is important to meet two requirements: to have covered the route for religious and spiritual reasons and to have the card that proves to have covered at least 100 kilometers on foot or 200 by bicycle.
Who decides to venture on the path for reasons other than spiritual can receive the Compostela? Not really, however, he will be issued a travel certificate written in Spanish that obviously has no religious value.
Copertina: Roma Today