Caminos de Santiago in Portugal

The (various) Ways to Santiago: Route options to Santiago de Compostela through Portugal and nearby

“When we talk about the Camino de Santiago, in fact, we must know that there is not just one, but several paths.”

And the Ways of Santiago exist throughout continental Europe, even from the distant Eastern Europe, passing through the Iberian Peninsula, until they end at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. There are several routes that began to be repeatedly traveled by Christian pilgrims from the 9th century onwards, who flocked to the locality then known as Santiago de Compostela.

In this locality there was the discovery, in the 9th century, of the tomb attributed to the Apostle James the Great. This discovery took place in a place that was known as Star Field (in Latin, Campus Stellae), from which the name Compostela originated, due to a meteor shower that was seen there the night the tomb of the Apostle James was discovered. Ready also the attractions of Santiago de Compostela and its ways.

The Camino de Santiago and its various ‘ways’

Before the 9th century, some of these paths had already been traveled by human groups since the Neolithic Period (that is, since Prehistory!). The reasons prior to the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle James for these populations to travel these paths were diverse: from rituals of worship to their Gods, to mating rituals.

In times before the 9th century, the point of arrival for pilgrimages was the coast of Galicia. More specifically the locality of Finisterre (or Fisterra in Galician), which means the End of the World, as it was known at that time.

At the time of the Roman conquest and domination of this territory for about 4 centuries, the Romans already took advantage of ancient paths and routes to make the famous Roman Roads. These paths had been developed and used long before, for displacements by the Celts in the region. Or even earlier, by these nomadic human groups of the Neolithic period.

Therefore, we must also know that, as we pass through the current paths of Santiago de Compostela, we will be traveling along trails and routes that peoples since prehistory have also trodden. And they left a legacy both of interventions in the nature of the region, as well as of an energetic and psychic egregore accumulated over some millennia. Read more about the Pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago.

Below is a brief description of the routes through Portugal and through localities close to Portuguese territory, to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The Gronze website illustrates the various routes that go to Santiago de Compostela throughout the Iberian Peninsula.

The French Way to Santiago de Compostela – The most famous and popular

The most famous and popular of the Caminhos de Santiago does not pass through Portuguese territory, or even close to it. The French Way crosses Spain from east to west through the high latitudes of Spanish territory. From the border with France, in the Pyrenees, it has about 850 km to Santiago de Compostela, which can take between 30 and 35 days. Historically, the route of the French Way to Santiago de Compostela was based on the feeling of security for those who made the pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle James.

To try to reduce the risks of attacks by the Moors, who occupied the Mediterranean region of the Iberian Peninsula from the 700s onwards, or even attacks by thieves on Christian pilgrims, the Catholic kingdoms of the Peninsula used the help of the Templar Knights and other Templar-derived monastic-military orders. They established this safe route, either via Saint Jean Pied Port or via the Aragonese Way, for the pilgrims.

Over many, many decades, from the beginning of the twelfth century, an infrastructure that was almost unbelievable for the time was created. This path became known as the French Way.

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Templar knight in front of Porto Cathedral.

The Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela

There are also several Ways to Santiago in Portugal. Routes that run through the territory of Portugal from the south or starting from further north entering from Galicia through the river Minho region. The so-called Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela, or the main one, which is the Central Portuguese Way, is the most used route by the pilgrims. Officially, the route starts in Lisbon, but the stretch most frequented by pilgrims is the one that goes from the city of Porto to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Historically, the Caminhos de Santiago from Portugal were trade routes, both inland and on the coast. Later, they began to be used for the pilgrimage of Christians to the tomb of the Apostle James in Santiago de Compostela.

All the Ways to Santiago are signaled by indications painted in yellow, whether they are shells, scallops or arrows, including the Ways of Santiago in Portugal. It is worth mentioning that the section from Porto is better signposted than the section between Lisbon and Porto.

On the Portuguese Central Route there are also signs in blue, pointing in the opposite direction. The blue sign indicates the path for pilgrims heading to the Sanctuary of Fátima. The Portuguese Central Route, on the stretch between Porto and Santiago de Compostela, is made in a way that overlaps the pilgrimage route to Fátima, but in the opposite direction. Those who make the pilgrimage from Porto to Santiago de Compostela, for example, will meet several pilgrims heading to Fátima.

The Portuguese Way, from Porto Cathedral to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, is about 250 km long, and can be covered in around 12 days.

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Signposting of the Ways of Santiago with a scallop.

The history of the Silver Way of Santiago de Compostela – Via de la Plata

The Silver Way, known as Via de la Plata, is an old trade and mineral transportation route since the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. It originates in the south of Spain and crosses the west of the country, from south to north, starting in Seville. The route follows relatively close to the border with Portugal until Astorga. There it joins the French Way, almost on the border with Galicia.

It is worth noting that there is a bypass of the Via de la Plata, 90 degrees west of the section that goes to Astorga, and which goes through Puebla de Sanabria. This is the so-called Sanabrês Way, also called the Mozárabe way. This derivation continues very close to the territory of Portugal, circumventing its entire northern border.

The Silver Way was originally called the Tin Way. Much of this mineral circulated through it, which was obtained in the Iberian Peninsula by the Romans. During the period of occupation by the Roman Empire, the Tin Way remained a fundamental axis of commerce, communications and logistics, both during the conquest and in the imperial era. It may seem strange, but the Silver Way was never a silver trade route. This denomination is a consequence of the evolution of the original name, caused by a phonetic confusion. Read more about the Camino de Santiago Via de la Plata.

This route, in the period of Muslim occupation throughout the Mediterranean area of the Iberian Peninsula, received the name of Via Alblata. The origin was the expression “delapidata”, as it was pronounced in late Latin. The problem is that “Delapidata”, when pronounced in Hispanic language during the Middle Ages, sounds like “De la Plata”. Consequently, the Via de la Plata began to be called that, which in English becomes Silver Way.

In this way, as the Christian reconquest advanced over the territory of the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula, the Silver Way also served as a pilgrimage path towards Santiago de Compostela, and which remains until today. It is almost 1,000 kilometers from Sevilla Cathedral to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, which can be covered in 40 to 45 days on foot.

The Via de la Plata often has traces of original Roman pavements built during the period of occupation by the Roman Empire in the Iberian Peninsula. This aspect is especially remarkable in Mérida and the surrounding region. There, until the present day, you can visit aqueducts, amphitheaters, public baths, buildings and temples from the period of occupation of the Roman Empire. They are beautiful works of Roman engineering, and only smaller than those present in Rome.

The Portuguese Camino de La Plata

Some of the routes in the interior of Portugal are also known as the Silver Way of Portugal. That’s because they flow into the Via de la Plata towards Santiago de Compostela, most of them through the Sanabrês way.

Thus, through these routes in the interior of Portugal, many pilgrims entered Galicia via Verín, located 15 km north of the Portuguese city of Chaves, on the northern border of Portugal with Spain. The coastal routes of the Portuguese Way, on the other hand, were used, before the ancient pilgrims, by traders from the Lisbon-Coimbra-Porto axis, who entered Galicia by crossing the Minho River.

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Interior of an official hostel for pilgrims on one of the Camino de Santiago in Portugal.

The Sanabrês way alongside Portugal

The Caminos de Santiago in Portugal, mainly those existing in the interior of the territory, were interconnected with the Spanish routes through the Camino de Santiago Sanabrês, which name originates from the locality called Puebla de Sanabria, already in Spanish territory but close to Bragança. The Sanabrês way is also called the Galician Way of the South, or the Mozárabe Way. This last designation is also applied to routes that run through the south and center of the Iberian Peninsula.

Paulo Fernandez

Paulo Fernandez

Santiago de Compostela consultant

Paulo Fernandez is a consultant at Nattrip, specializing in the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He completed the French Way from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Xacobeo year of 1999 and the Sanabrês Way in the Xacobeo year of 2021.

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This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)