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eitb 24: Way of St. James in the Basque Country

ivar

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05/03/2005 - 10:09
Way of St. James in the Basque Country: The Inland road

Coastal landscapes, lush forests, fertile vegetable gardens, dry lands, interminable plains, highly-industrialised areas, rural landscapes, Basque-speaking areas, regions where the Basque language disappeared centuries ago...

The pilgrims coming from Europe who, starting from the Bidasoa estuary in Irun, directed their first steps on the peninsula towards inland Gipuzkoa, undoubtedly knew that they were setting out on an itinerary which, besides its importance as regards the road to Santiago de Compostela, had been one of the most important communication arteries in the north of the peninsula from as early as Roman times. Perhaps it was not the fastest way, but it was safe and busy, well cared for and, except for the odd important geographical feature, relatively comfortable, even in the harshest of climates.

Today, the "Inland Road" through Gipuzkoa and Alava is perhaps the best mirror of the Basque Country, an itinerary of contrasts uncovering a heterogeneous and enormously varied country in scarcely six days. Coastal landscapes, lush forests, fertile vegetable gardens, dry lands, interminable plains, highly-industrialised areas, rural landscapes, Basque-speaking areas, regions where the Basque language disappeared centuries ago...

Enormous geographical, historical, socio-economic and cultural diversity in an area of barely 200 kilometres. The remains of an old Roman road and traces of ancestral shepherd trails are witness to the fact that this route was of capital importance, well before Christianity started honouring the Apostle and making pilgrimages to Santiago.

In the 13th century, when Gipuzkoa became a part of Castile, Alfonso X, a Castilian king known as "the Wise", who mixed his wisdom with a strong dose of practicality, founded fortified towns all the way along the road.This meant that this important commercial route could be kept in good condition, thereby leading to its important growth. But not even the most ambitious maintenance plans could prevent the pilgrims from having to suffer the climb up to the tunnel of San Adrián, a short but winding stretch forming the last trial before reaching the more welcoming paths of the Alavese plain.

Testimonies written by some of the travellers left not a shadow of doubt. Maybe Manier exaggerated on considering in his 1730 "Voyage a St. Jacques de Compostelle" that San Adrián was "one of the highest mountains in the world", but the passage gouged out of the rock definitely left an impression on most travellers.

In spite of having lost its protagonism some two centuries ago, this route is still an interesting green and golden trail, like the valleys of Gipuzkoa and the plains of Alava, which constitute a common axis where diversity, far from dividing, enriches the traveller.

http://www.eitb24.com/noticia_en.php?id=57726
 

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