Santiago de Compostela was the best place to display the Camino as an exceptional example of visitor’s experience. This presentation provides different prospectives of the St. James’ Way: its local, regional, European and its world dimension. It shares best practices and key factors that contributed to the success and popularity of this transnational tourism route.
“Sometimes when I meet pilgrims in Galicia, they tell me that Santiago is not the end of the Camino; the end lies at 100 kilometres from here on the Coast. The reason to such answer is that in the Camino there are not just religious routes, but also spiritual, cultural and geographical ones. These are just some of the different reasons for the pilgrims to walk the Camino.
The history tells us that in 833 the body of the Apostle Santiago was discovered here. Today the relics of a Saint are not as important as in the Medieval times; in fact in Europe the relics were so important that a finger, arm, leg, hair of a Saint was a privilege to have in a part of the Continent because this was bringing pilgrims to that place for veneration.
Here we have the whole body of Santiago and this is the importance of this place that together with Rome and Jerusalem represents one of the most important pilgrimages in Europe.
Through the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries the Camino was always alive with thousands of pilgrims coming from all over Europe…and so for many years to come!
The most important route amongst all the others in the Camino is the French Way although there are additional routes coming from Portugal for example, the Portuguese Way, the North Wales or the Silver Way. During those centuries Governments started to build bridges, hospitals and different public works to allow pilgrims to pass the borders; as you know the Scallop Shell is the symbol of the Camino. It was like a passport: after doing the Camino, pilgrims could show the shell and pass the borders.
We had problems during the 14th century with wars of religion, but the Camino was always alive. In 1189 Pope Alexander III declared Santiago a Holy Town, like Rome and Jerusalem. El Año Santo (Holy Year) is celebrated each time when the Apostol’s day (July, 25) is a Sunday. The Holy years occur always in intervals of 6, 5, 6 and 11th years.
During the eighties the Camino was listed as UNESCO World heritage site; thirty years ago The Council of Europe named the Way of St. James the First European Cultural Route in 1987. And in 2004, it was listed as a Great European Cultural Route.
This is the network and you can see the different ways passing through every single country in Europe.
These are the values of the Council of Europe and these are the reasons why the Camino de Santiago was declared the first cultural itinerary: we are always working to fulfill these values.
When we are walking the Camino, there is not only the culture, the environment, the gastronomy, the landscapes but also the relations with other pilgrims. This is one of the most important thing that pilgrims do, they share and exchange with each other; this intercultural dialogue is part of the values of the Camino.
Following being declared the First European Cultural Route, we created The European Federation: 8 members in Portugal, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium and Lithuania. The Eastern countries feel the link with the Western part of Europe. We have a very important dimension at the European level with different routes, because here in Galicia we believe that this is a very important way to communicate and promote our destination.
What happened in the past 25 years?
At the beginning of 1990, the Government of Galicia created the public society de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo . This is a very important milestone in time because 1993 was the first Holy Year where the increase of the pilgrims was significant.
These are some of the tasks of the society which is not only promotion but most importantly management of the Hostels and of the routes.
In 1993 the brand was created with its logo and significant capital investment.
Thus behind this successful route we can’t ignore this strong commitment by the Government of promoting and restoring the Camino. It is also an event of public interest so the Companies can pay less taxes if they promote the Camino via different tools.
In 1996 we approved the Law to preserve the Camino and in 2015 our cultural Law came into force; following which one of the activities was to mark the historical paths of the Camino. Different decrees of the Law were specifically addressing the promotion, and how to manage the hostels.
This is the routes network in Galicia and as you can see there are different ways leading to Santiago. The most important is the French way; we just created a new map of the Camino for Europe, listing all the paths throughout each country.
What about the yellow arrow?
…. In the eighties a priest from O Cebreiro, which is a small village between Galicia and Castiglia created the yellow arrow, which is the symbol of the Camino because each year not only us but also others throughout Europe mark the Camino in their territory. Today the yellow arrow appears against a blue background, identifying the Camino as a European Cultural Route. The modern pilgrims can see the scallop shell at every turn, guiding them on milestone markers and providing a reassuring point in the right direction. Many pilgrims wear the shell, either around their neck or attached to their backpack, making it easy to spot fellow “Jacquets” on the Camino.
These are some example of restorations made on the Camino, and these are small bridges crossing the rivers. One of the key action from Galicia Government is the network of hostels. 70 hostels with more than 3 thousands beds in Galicia only. At the beginning it was not possible to walk the Camino because most of it has a rural pavement and it wasn’t possible to sleep in hotels or accommodations. So the Government built the hostels to allow people to walk for 20-30 kilometres and be able to find places to sleep along the way. It is only 6 euros per night these days.
Most of the time we restore monuments. This is the 5 stars hotel in Santiago, Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, opening its doors on 24 July of the 1954 Holy Year. This other one is a big House of an important mathematician in Samos; thus we restore buildings and sometime we build up new modern ones for the creation of hostels.
Another key element to the success of the route is the promotion via different cultural events: theatre, performances Arts, exhibitions, concerts and movies like The Way.
The impact of this movie in US was so important that US is now the third biggest market in the Camino (The Way).
Another success factor is the Association ‘Friends of the Camino’. The first one was created in Paris in 1950, the second one in Navarra, Spain and now we have 324 Associations all over the world in 34 countries with very key functions.
We have an International Committee of experts in cultural routes, and researchers worldwide. They publish a magazine every year.
The Camino would not be so unique without the Campostela Accreditation: when you walk 100 kilometres and arrive in Santiago, the Cathedral provides you with the Certificate of Campostela. This is not only rewarding for the pilgrims because most of them want to attain it, but also it is a way for us to collect data on the numbers of pilgrims.
These are the number of Campostela markets and the weight of the routes, with the French one being the most walked:
the Portuguese is the second one with many Brazilians coming from Portugal.
There was a study done 10 years ago about the main reasons for doing the Camino; we are currently now developing a new one.
The results showed that this is not a religious destination, just 11% comes to Santiago for religion; most of people comes because of the spirituality of the destination. Important is also the increase of 8% for those coming on bicycle. The genders data are quite balanced: the majority of the people comes alone as they feel safe in the Camino.
The majority of the visitors has a high-level education as emerged from the study.
In the assessment of the Camino only 5% of the total population said they would not repeat it, and/or they didn’t like the experience. Although 95% confirmed and exceeded the expectations.
We have also data on the growth of pilgrims along the years: in 1993 almost 100,000 and now at the present year we expect 300,000 for Campostela. We expect double for those that come to Santiago.
From the number of beds during the last years that are private and not public beds, you can understand the significant impact on our economy.
We have a masterplan covering the 2015-2021 period, during which we expect 2,400,000 pilgrims.
A final reflection ….This is a bridge in the Camino joining the two sides of the river. Each bridge in the Way has a story. Each bridge has been and is a symbol of union, bond, relationship, and communication offering food for thoughts”…
…each of its stone is essential to walk the bridge.
You can watch the video here: Xacobeo.
Meanwhile I keep on looking for the symbols that resonate with me as I tread MY own Camino…♥