From the 10th century to the present day, pilgrims have made their way to Santiago along four traditional routes. Tours (Paris), Vézelay, le Puy-en-Velay and Arles were named in the 12th century Pilgrim’s Guide attributed to Aimery Picaud as the assembly points for pilgrims coming from all over Europe, including Britain and Ireland. Each of these was the site of a shrine celebrated in its own right, at which the pilgrims would worship before proceeding. The stages of the routes were marked by further shrines competing for patronage and for relics, for the interest of the pilgrims, and the business they brought with them. Monasteries and pilgrim hospices were built along the way to minister to the needs of pilgrims. The glories of Romanesque architecture and sculpture still mark these and other minor routes that parallel or converge on them.
In northern Spain the four routes merged to become the so-called Camino Francés that passed across Castile, through Burgos and León to Santiago de Compostela.
It is still possible to follow these medieval routes without too much trouble, though some of the original footpaths have become modern roads. They pass through some of the most beautiful, historic and interesting countryside in France and Spain, before arriving in the distinctive Celtic region of Galicia bordering the Atlantic.
Click here for a map of the historic routes, drawn by the late René de la Coste-Messelière.