The mystic road that pilgrims take to reach Santiago de Compostela is famous around the world. People from everywhere follow it by first starting in France and then crossing the north of Spain. But this isn’t the only the only Camino de Santiago that exists.
Think about it: how would a pilgrim from Seville, Valencia or Granada get to Santiago? It clearly wouldn’t make sense for them to first go all the way to the initial stop in Spain on the traditional French route.
There are different routes over the Iberian Peninsula and journeying on any of these routes to reach Santiago is just as valid as taking the famous French road.
What are the “other caminos”?
We’ll begin with the Camino del Norte (the north route), also called the Coastal Route. It starts in Irún (in the Basque Country) and it runs over the entire Cantabrian Coast. It also goes through the cities of San Sebastián, Bilbao, Santander, and Lugo. They say that it’s the least crowded route, but that can have its disadvantages; not very many signposts or hostels –but following the route along the coast with the sea to the right is a spectacular experience!
Also beginning in Irun is the “Camino Vasco interior”. The route doesn’t follow the coast but rather dips down to the cities of Rioja and Burgos and later links up with the famous French Route, like a tributary river flowing into a main river.
Another “main road” is the Camino Aragonés, which starts from the border town of Fomport and then cuts through Jaca (Aragón) to hook up with the French Road in Puente de la Reina (Navarra). This is said to be one of the first routes to Santiago.
Speaking of “first routes”, there’s also the “Camino Primitivo”, which is the first Camino de Santiago route that we have a written record of. It was made way back in the 9th century under King Alfonso II when he found out that remains of the apostle James were discovered in Compostela. He may have left from the city of Oviedo to see the relics for himself.
The so-called “Vía de la Plata” is even more historic, which was the route followed by pilgrims leaving from Seville –it’s existed since before the time of the Christians. This was the route which, in Roman times, connected the important cities of Asturica augusta (Astorga), Augusta Emerita (Cáceres) and Hispalis (Seville). The Christians from the south side of the peninsula used this paved road to make the pilgrimage.
During the peninsula’s Al-Andalus period there were also Christians who made the pilgrimage. They left from Granada and headed first to Cáceres, where they got onto the Vía de la Plata. It was considered a dangerous journey at the time given the fighting that characterized the Reconquista period.
The most dangerous road however was the Camino Gallego, also known as the Camino Inglés (the English road). This is because for the pilgrims who took the road (most of them were English) the route began at the port from which their boats departed from. They say that the land journey on the road itself was nothing compared to having to survive the violent waters of the Atlantic.
Some pilgrims also arrived on boat from Mediterranean countries. These pilgrims took to land at the port of Valencia and from there went through the areas known today as Castilla La Mancha, Madrid, and Castile and Leon until they reached the French Route in Burgos. This route was called the Camino de Levante.
Surprised at how many Camino de Santiagos there are? Each one has its own history, people and experiences and all are worthy of experiencing. As the famous Spanish poet once said “se hace camino al andar” (the path is made by walking).