The Camino de Santiago

Historians have argued that a good part of the initial impulse and continuous patronage of the Camino by the church and state was due to its strategic military and political importance against the Muslim kingdoms in the south and central parts of the Iberian Peninsula, which led to the Camino's consolidation by the 11th century.

Thousands of pilgrims had come from all over Europe and many had decided to stay and settle. Camino safety was guaranteed by religious military orders and monasteries ran a network of hospices for pilgrims. Royalty and aristocracy donated money to these hospices as well as building newer and bigger churches, monasteries and cathedrals.

The protestant schism, sparked in part by the indulgence controversy, the expulsion of the last Muslim territories from western Europe in 1492, the on-going wars between European kingdoms, the continuous plagues, and the decrease of state and religious patronage led to a gradual decline in the number of pilgrims. This decline was exacerbated when a bishop of Santiago cleverly hid the apostle’s remains before Sir Francis Drake raided the city in 1589 to the extent that the bones were lost for the next 300 years.

Thankfully, the relics were happily found in 1879. However, it was not until the end of the 20th century (and the consolidation of affordable mass tourism) that the pilgrimage to Santiago would return to its former glory, at least regarding the numbers of pilgrims.

Navigating the Camino and what to bring

Navigating the Camino is easy: just follow the yellow arrows that lead you to Santiago de Compostela! And there are yellow arrows everywhere, on signs, on poles, on rocks, on trees… For the stages of the Camino in Galicia, there really is no need for detailed maps or GPS backup, it really is that hard to get lost.

A lot less then you think you’ll need and leave the fancy gear behind, there’s nothing worse than looking like you are on your way to the North Pole as you walk through a farming village. Some people find that trainers are fine; others prefer their hiking boots (remember that your shoes are your best friend). It may rain and it can be very sunny and even hot. Check the weather and decide. You can always purchase what you need here in Galicia, there are lots of small clothing stores. Remember that there is usually a café every five kilometres, so you really do not need that 2 litre heavy-duty water flask. You can buy your scallop shell at any of the tourist shops for a couple euros.

And don't forget your Survival Guide!