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La cita:  Ama a una nube, ama a una mujer, pero ama. — GAUTIER, Théophile

The Caminos to Santiago de Compostela

Beautiful view of the cathedral of Santiago from de Alameda.
The 25th of July is Saint Jacob’s day, Santiago in Spanish. Santiago is the Saint patron of Spain. Around the 25th Santiago de Compostela is packed with pilgrims, finishing their personal pilgrimage along the famous Camino de Santiago. They enjoy some well earned rest days and all the activities that are being organized during the festivities.

The concerts announced this year promised a lot of quality and diversity. What an unbelievable luxury to be able to see Madredeus and Van Morrison perform on the Plaza de la Quintana. And what a pleasure to hear Teresa Salgueiro’s crystal clear voice around midnight, accompanied by the sound of the bells of the Berenguela. Unfortunately Van Morrison’s concert was cancelled because of never ending showers, disappointing thousands of fans who came from everywhere to see ‘the lion of Belfast’.

The colorful musical festival was completed by Galicia’s oldest folk band Milladoiro, a band called ‘The ear of Van Gogh’ and the Algerian group ‘Rachid Taha’. Can you imagine how ungry Saint Jacob, the great Moor killer, would react if he could see and hear all this?.

The Berenguela at twilight
But the music is not the only example of the pluriformity of Spain, because although Saint Jacob is the country’s patron saint, the 25th of July is only celebrated in five autonomous communities. In 2004 it will be different though. Then the saint’s day will be celebrated all over Spain, because it coincides with a sunday. That means 2004 will be a so called Holy or Jacobian Year. As a result of the leap years both days only coincide in a regular pattern of 11, 6, 5, 6 and again 11, 6, 5 and 6 years till the end of days. The last editions of the Holy Year took place in 1993 and 1999 and the next ones will be in 2004, 2010, 2021, 2027, 2032 ….. The last Jacobian Year of the 21st century will be in 2094! That seems very far away, but it’s nothing if you consider that the Camino was already officially recognized in 1122 by pope Calixtus the Second’s bill. In 1999 it was declared European Cultural Route. Since 1993 the number of pilgrims has risen explosively in all categories: Hikers, bikers, riders or people who use other, less orthodox ways of transport like one wheelers of skates.

Saint Jacob prominently on the cathedral’s façade
In fact the history – or legend if you like – started much earlier. In 813 Teodomirus, bishop of Iria Flavia, let king Alfonso the Second know that a grave was discovered with the remains of the apostle Jacob. He was beheaded in Palestine in the year 42, but his followers captured his body and shipped it in a stone barge to Iria. From there on it was brought to Santiago in different steps, where they decided to erect a cathedral for him. The construction of this cathedral only started in 1075. The big time leap shows that people were not so hurried then like they are nowadays. They weren’t troubled by strict contracts with fine clauses to deliver on time. But of course the quality was a lot better too. I’m convinced that the cathedral will survive many modern buildings like the Almudena cathedral in Madrid, in spite of the harsh climate in Santiago (proof of which was shown during the planned concert of Van Morrison, when the humidity was over 100%). Because of the climate the cathedrals’ façade has to be cleaned regularly to remove lichen, funghi and other mosses who love to live on this very nutritive stones.

The Portico de la Gloria
In 1168 master Mateo started building the ‘Portico de la Gloria’. Perhaps being the most outstanding example of Romanesque architecture, it was finished by his disciples in 1211. It’s well protected against the Santiago climate because it forms a kind of second façade within the main entrance of the cathedral. In the Portico you can find the Santo Dos Croques and the famous column with a handprint, made by millions of pilgrims. Works in later centuries added the Baroque façade at the Plaza de Obradoiro. To my taste it’s the least harmonious side of the cathedral. I like it better to be impressed by the façade of the Platerias or receive the good vibes of the Quintana with it’s gorgeous bell tower Berenguela and of course the Puerta Santa or Holy Door. This door is closed most of the times except in Holy Years. Every Holy Year starts with the official opening of the Puerta Santa with a special public ceremony. After the opening the pilgrims can enter the cathedral through the Puerta Santa.

Detail of the Puerta Santa
Theories exist that the Camino to Santiago already served as a mystical or pagan pilgrim’s route in Roman and Celtic times. The so called ‘Via Láctea’ led from Europe to Santiago in those days. The town’s name in fact could be reduced to ‘Campus Stellae’ of ‘Starfield’. The itinerary did not end at Santiago either, but continued to Finisterre, then the end of the known world. From there on westward nobody knew what would be found. In one of his best books, ‘Gargoris and Habidis, A Magical History of Spain’ from Fernando Sanchez Dragó, and also in ‘A Magical History of the Camino de Santiago’, he rejects the theory that the remains in the cathedral would be those of Saint Jacob the Older. They assure they are of a man called Prisciliano, a Galician heretic who stood up against the church’s hierarchy in the 4th century and was executed in 385 in the German town of Treveris.

Fachada de Platerias
Goethe once said that ‘Europe started with the Camino de Santiago’, and like him I have always been fascinated by the Camino’s history. During my studies in Santiago in the eighties, I met dozens of pilgrims. In those days the pilgrimage was not in fashion. That has changed as the figures show: In 1980 1.000 pilgrims visited Santiago against 150.000 in 1999. The Camino almost literally passes by my front door, because at 5 meters from my house in La Coruña is a signpost with the famous symbol of the Camino, the Saint Jacob’s shell. It leads the road to the so called English Camino, which was given this name because most of the English pilgrims arrived by boat in La Coruña or Ferrol and continued their way from there to Santiago.

Some people say that you sometimes have to travel around the world to get to know your own house. And although I ‘only’ traveled half the world so far, I think the moment has come now to interrupt my ‘Tour around the world in 80 cybercafés’ for a while and embark on the Camino.

The logo of
In September and October 2003 I’m going to walk the 1200 Galician kilometers of the Camino’s eight main routes. That means one and half million steps! I will expose my soul to you all by telling all my experiences on Undoubtedly these experiences will be enriching for me, certainly because I plan to walk slowly. The site’s logo therefore consists of the Vagamundos snail, this time with the typical Camino attributes like a hat, a gourd and a walking stick with Saint Jacob’s shell. My tempo will be such that I have enough time to enjoy both the human and nature landscapes that the Camino passes through. All my impressions and experiences I shall write down in travel diaries, reportages, thoughts, photo’s – with or without sound - , videos and mini-documentaries, all from the cybercafes I run into along the way.

Seven marked routes of the Camino, the Old Camino is not marked
The first question that obviously pops into your mind would be: How many other routes of the Camino exist? The most famous and walked route is the French Camino. It enters Galicia at Piedrafita del Cebreiro. The Camino’s 1000 year old history makes clear that the are as many routes as there are pilgrims. Especially in the old days in which the Camino was not defined let alone signposted. But through the years 8 main routes developed. Apart from the French they are called the Northern route, the English one, the Old Camino, the Coastal, the Finisterre-Muxía extension, the Portuguese and finally the Silver route coming from Seville. Like an octopus the Camino spreads it’s eight tentacles over Galicia and takes you through all possible, mostly green landscapes: Valleys, rivers, mountains, beaches, woods and in some places even untouched nature.

After one and a half million steps I will finish my Camino in Muxía and Finisterre, if my physical health, my motivation and the weather let me. I do this to honor the area that suffered the most with the tragedy of the sunk oil tanker Prestige.

It’s worthwhile walking to Santiago to enjoy this view from the Quintana at dusk
Accompanied by technology of the 21st century to walk a thousand year old path I have a personal goal with my Camino. I wrote about that earlier on: ‘The best journey is the spiritual one, but until I find My Way I shall travel around our physical world’. Apart from that I want to share my experiences with people who already did the Camino, are thinking about doing it, are interested in it or just want to know it.

Personally I like people a lot, but I hate masses. Apart from that I have a clear view on ecology and environmental matters. That’s why I shall do my utmost to promote the less known routes of the Camino for all those who want to escape from the commotion. And I shall actively campaign ‘for a cleaner Camino’ to keep the environmental impact of the million pilgrims expected in the Holy Year of 2004 as low as possible.

See you soon!

La Coruña, Spain, the 31st of July 2003

Translated by Marco
On August the 11th, 2003

Publicado: 12/08/2003 03:28

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