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Origin of the yellow arrows

MisterH

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When did the yellow arrows first appear? Was there a color that was used in the past? Did the current color get adopted after "The Wizard of Oz" come out with the thing about following the yellow brick road?
 
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Don Camillo

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Fully accept the story of the origin of "Yellow Arrows" in relation to the camino's but they are not unique to those pathways. In UK our long distance footpaths used to be marked with an acorn symbol. Our local walks are signed with official fingerposts which, around my neck of the woods at least, are adorned with a yellow arrow and have been for years.
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Raggy

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When did the yellow arrows first appear? Was there a color that was used in the past? Did the current color get adopted after "The Wizard of Oz" come out with the thing about following the yellow brick road?

The film director, Emilio Estevez, has compared "The Way" with "The Wizard Of Oz," but I don't know how serious he was. Perhaps it was an in-joke among the cast and crew. After all, a hero who travels with companions on a quest is a classic plotline. People have been telling that story since Homer.

I wondered if L. Frank Baum might have taken inspiration from a pilgrimage route when he wrote The Wizard of Oz. It appears not. Wikipedia points to the influence of Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, but not the Camino. Apparently, the yellow brick road was derived from a yellow brick road in Peekskill, New York, where Baum attended the Peekskill Military Academy.

When it comes to Elías Valiñas's choice to mark the Camino route with yellow arrows ... The boring answer is that arrows are widely recognized directional symbols and yellow is a color that offers a good contrast against stone walls, tree trunks, road surfaces, and fence posts. Perhaps it was just a pragmatic choice with no deep significance. I have a soft spot for the scurrilous rumor that the decision to go with yellow was because someone in the Galician road maintenance department "liberated," some supplies of yellow highway paint for the effort ... but much as I love the story, I take it with a pinch of salt, just as I do Emilio Estevez's cheeky suggestion that he cast his father as the film's Dorothy.
 
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Albertagirl

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Frances (2015); Aragones-Frances (2016); VdlP-Sanabres (2017); Madrid-Frances-Invierno (2019)Levante
The boring answer is that arrows are widely recognized directional symbols and yellow is a color that offers a good contrast
I have seen yellow arrows painted on the road in my own city, and assume that they have something to do with roadworks being carried out at the time. But they remind me of the camino.
 

Marc S.

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It seems hard to find a definite answer on why the arrows are yellow.

According to the article posted in post #2, Elias Velina chose yellow (amongst other reasons) because yellow is typically used in Galicia for signposting hiking trails.
According to a family member, however, he also chose yellow because - when in France - he saw that yellow was used to signpost mountain routes in France.

I do not know which explanation makes more sense - as I do not know in which colour trails are typically signposted in either Galicia or France.

Legend has it that the priest started painting yellow arrows seizing the opportunity using leftover paint used for signposting roads which had been given to him by some workers who worked in the area. For José Manuel López Valiña, a descendant of the parish priest of and resident of this village, the choice of this colour was by no means entirely by chance. “In the first outings to explore the terrain and signpost the Route, my uncle realised that it was necessary to use something for attracting a lot of attention and which would last for a lifetime. When he arrived in France he saw that yellow was the colour used to signpost mountain routes, so he decided to paint the Camino de Santiago (St. James's Way) route in that colour ”, he states.

 
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David Tallan

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2018
It seems hard to find a definite answer on why the arrows are yellow.

According to the article posted in post #2, Elias Velina chose yellow (amongst other reasons) because yellow is typically used in Galicia for signposting hiking trails.
According to a family member, however, he chose yellow because - when in France - he saw that yellow was used to signpost mountain routes in France.

I do not know which explanation makes more sense - as I do not know in which colour trails are typically signposted in either Galicia or France.

Legend has it that the priest started painting yellow arrows seizing the opportunity using leftover paint used for signposting roads which had been given to him by some workers who worked in the area. For José Manuel López Valiña, a descendant of the parish priest of and resident of this village, the choice of this colour was by no means entirely by chance. “In the first outings to explore the terrain and signpost the Route, my uncle realised that it was necessary to use something for attracting a lot of attention and which would last for a lifetime. When he arrived in France he saw that yellow was the colour used to signpost mountain routes, so he decided to paint the Camino de Santiago (St. James's Way) route in that colour ”, he states.

I had always heard it was because it was a colour he was able to acquire in quantity for free from the people who painted the highways. he started painting them in the early 80s, 1984, I believe.
 
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Marc S.

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I had always heard it was because it was a colour he was able to acquire in quantity for free from the people who painted the highways.

Yes that is also what I always heard and it always made me believe that the choice for yellow was somehow a coincidence and just what he was able to get. (as there are more colours that are highly visible)

I was only quoting his cousin, who is claiming it was not completely coincidental why he chose yellow.
(but also based on Valina's visit to France). As I somehow consider his cousin to be a reliable source it made me rethink whether "what I always heard" is entirely true or there was possibly more to the story. I guess we will never fully find out. For the rest, no big deal for me.
 
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Raggy

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Year of past OR future Camino
2017, 2018, 2019
It seems hard to find a definite answer on why the arrows are yellow.
Q: Why do firefighters wear red braces?
A: To hold up their trousers.

[For American readers:
Q: Why do firefighters wear red suspenders?
A: To hold up their pants.

Eggplant, aubergine, let's call the whole thing off]
 
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Marc S.

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Since 2012: CF, CdN, CP, Salvador, Aragones, Via Regia, Elisabethpfad, Jakobsweg NRW, Jakibspaad.
Q: Why do firefighters wear red braces?
A: To hold up their trousers.

Well, do they ? In the Netherlands, firefighters wear yellow braces. Apart from holding up their trousers, it also fits with the colour of their trousers. :)

Anyway,thought I'd share this interview with José Manuel López Valiña - whom I mentioned earlier. Between the age of 10 and 13, he actually helped his uncle painting the yellow arrows. In the interview he shares some reminiscences about this time. Not aiming to pursue the 'why yellow' discussion, but it is an interesting read I think.

 
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(2017): May: Portuguese; Sept: Pamplona-SdC
I had always heard it was because it was a colour he was able to acquire in quantity for free from the people who painted the highways. he started painting them in the early 80s, 1984, I believe.
This is what I also have heard, many years back in time. It was leftover roadmark paint that he got for free.
 

Camino Chrissy

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I can only imagine the people who got a bit lost a "few" times along the Way prior to 1984...I surely would have been one of them.🙂
 
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mspath

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Year of past OR future Camino
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
I can only imagine the people who got a bit lost a "few" times along the Way prior to 1984...I surely would have been one of them.🙂
Camino Chrissy,
For several fascinating French accounts/memoires of early 20th c. walkers on the camino see/read the links cited in this earlier reportage
from Pèlerin Magazine.

Imagine walking as a student as
Dominique Paladilhe did in 1948 during the time of Franco; his
Notebook/Journal
is still available on line.
 
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dick bird

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Plata, Ingles, Madrid, Norte, Primitivo, Invierno, Aragones, Olvidado, Chemin D'Arles
When did the yellow arrows first appear? Was there a color that was used in the past? Did the current color get adopted after "The Wizard of Oz" come out with the thing about following the yellow brick road?
The story that Father Elías used yellow paint 'liberated' from the highway department is one of those stories you wish were true but probably aren't. I think it has gained traction because it fits the legend - Fr Elías was a firm believer in, and arguably the principal protagonist of, the idea that pilgrimage should be something for the masses, for ordinary people rather than a semi-official event presided over by the hierarchy. He probably just used yellow paint because it is highly visible. But it was pretty certainly him who first started doing it. Before that, there were no markings at all and many pilgrims arrived by train.

The other story I heard (probably also apocryphal) is that one day the Guardia Civil caught him at it. When asked why he was painting yellow arrows, he told them he was preparing for an invasion. After keeping him locked up for the night, they released him after concluding he was as mad as he was harmless.

Nowadays, more and more local authorities are putting in place 'hitos' - big granite markers to replace the yellow arrows, so they are starting to die out, which I feel is a bit sad.

I have walked part of the Chemin D'Arles. In France they have a system of white over red/red over white (for the opposite direction) with angled lines for changes in directions and a slash through for going the wrong way on the GR (grande randomment = big ramble) routes including many of the French caminos. A little more complicated but it does work better. Feel free to dissent vociferously with this point of view. Attached are three of my favourites. P1000663.JPG P1000358 (2).JPG P1000146.JPG
 

filly

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
... and this reminds me of staying in the former infirmary within the confines of the bullring in La Roda on the Camino de Levante. (an unforgettable experience!)

In one corner of the whitewashed and basic room was a collection of spray cans of yellow paint and metal cut-out stencils of arrows, used by the great friends of the Camino for weekend ‘marking expeditions’.

My thanks to all the Associations which keep up the invaluable work.
 

dick bird

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Plata, Ingles, Madrid, Norte, Primitivo, Invierno, Aragones, Olvidado, Chemin D'Arles
... and this reminds me of staying in the former infirmary within the confines of the bullring in La Roda on the Camino de Levante. (an unforgettable experience!)

In one corner of the whitewashed and basic room was a collection of spray cans of yellow paint and metal cut-out stencils of arrows, used by the great friends of the Camino for weekend ‘marking expeditions’.

My thanks to all the Associations which keep up the invaluable work.
It didn't really occur to me until I'd done a couple of caminos, but those arrows don't paint themselves, and they don't last forever. That vast army of volunteers, who put in thousands of hours and often expense from their own pocket to keep the camino going, are invisible to us pilgrims. So, absolutely, our thanks and a hearty salute to the asociaciones and friends of the camino.
 

Kathar1na

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
Far from wishing to diminish Elías Valiña's paintwork and other stellar work, the thought occurred to me that the yellow arrows reenforce the idea that one walks to Santiago but not back home from Santiago. Only one direction ...

Two other early pioneers of marking the Ways of Saint James in Spain were Don Javier Navarro from Roncesvalles and Andrés Muñoz Garde from the first Spanish Camino association, established in Estella. Interestingly, Andrés Muñoz writes that the Camino in Spain had been marked with yellow arrows since July 1982. Before that, I think, the path across the Pyrenees had been marked by the red/white bars used for long-distance hiking paths, as they are used in France where the GR from Le Puy to SJPP and beyond had already been created much earlier. You can still see the faded white/red signs on rocks and trees between SJPP and Roncesvalles.

Click here for Muñoz's article in the Estella documentation of November 1990. This seems to be an interesting document, btw, I see now that it contains another communication about route marking, and other potentially interesting information about the situation along the Camino Francés in 1990 and in the 80s.
 
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trecile

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It didn't really occur to me until I'd done a couple of caminos, but those arrows don't paint themselves, and they don't last forever. That vast army of volunteers, who put in thousands of hours and often expense from their own pocket to keep the camino going, are invisible to us pilgrims. So, absolutely, our thanks and a hearty salute to the asociaciones and friends of the camino.
In September 2016 as I was leaving León before the sun was up I spotted this volunteer refreshing the arrows near the cathedral.
20160911_072151_copy_384x512.jpg
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2018
Two other early pioneers of marking the Ways of Saint James in Spain were Don Javier Navarro from Roncesvalles and Andrés Muñoz Garde from the first Spanish Camino association, established in Estella.
My first credencial was from Los Amigos Del Camino D. Santiago Estella (although it was given out in Roncesvalles and designed specifically for pilgrims starting there).

Beyond the history of yellow arrows, it would be interesting to look into the history of credenciales used to collect stamps (as opposed to letters from one's home parish establishing one as a pilgrim, but not necessarily used to collect stamps along the way).
 

mspath

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
My first credencial was from Los Amigos Del Camino D. Santiago Estella (although it was given out in Roncesvalles and designed specifically for pilgrims starting there).

Beyond the history of yellow arrows, it would be interesting to look into the history of credenciales used to collect stamps (as opposed to letters from one's home parish establishing one as a pilgrim, but not necessarily used to collect stamps along the way).
David,

It would be more than interesting!
Here is are earlier useful threads to begin such a study.



Further useful sources for earlier Credential history are cited within several posts in this 2016 thread begun by fellow Forum member Rebekah Scott


https://www.caminodesantiago.me/com...m-why-change-the-100-km-rule-to-300-km.39220/

Stay safe and happy research!
 
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Marc S.

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Click here for Muñoz's article in the Estella documentation of November 1990. This seems to be an interesting document, btw, I see now that it contains another communication about route marking, and other potentially interesting information about the situation along the Camino Francés in 1990 and in the 80s.
Interestingly, Andrés Muñoz writes that the Camino in Spain had been marked with yellow arrows since July 1982.

Interesting document. I also found this English article by the International Congress of Jacobean Associations about modern camino history (which is probably using the same sources as the Estella documentation)

Quite interesting that many articles on the internet claim that Valina started using yellow arrows in 1984 - probably a matter of copy and paste while nobody knows anymore what was the original source for this information. When Munoz says it was 1982, I tend to regard him as a more reliable source.

Although it has been sometimes referred to as a 'myth', it seems more and more plausible that Valina got yellow paint as it was left over (as there seemed to be a reason why there was a lot of spare yellow paint at the time). According to the document:

The yellow color of the arrows is related to the change in road signs that took place in Spain in 1971, to adapt to the European Traffic Code. Spanish roads were then marked in yellow, instead of the white used in Europe. For this reason, the Ministry of Public Works (MOPU) had many yellow cans and drums left over. Elías Valiña obtained the painting of some works that the MOPU was carrying out in the Piedrafita del Cebreiro area.

More interesting details to be read in here :

 
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Kathar1na

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
Quite interesting that many articles on the internet claim that Valina started using yellow arrows in 1984 - probably a matter of copy and paste while nobody knows anymore what was the original source for this information. When Munoz says it was 1982, I tend to regard him as a more reliable source.
You have to read Muñoz' comments carefully ☺️. He writes: I believe that all the Associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago include the conservation and signposting of the Camino in their statutes. It should be noted that the Camino has been signposted in Spain with yellow arrows since July 1982. The standardisation of this sign was approved by several assemblies of such associations.

He makes no reference Elias Valiña. I don't know if you noticed it but the preceding comment is from the Federacion Española de Montañismo who also wanted to mark paths, in particular in the Pyrenees. I probably mentioned it already, I do know that Father Navarro from Roncesvalles retrieved/recreated the trail of the Camino in his area and he did some marking himself. So perhaps Elias Valina did not come up with the idea of the yellow arrows but he certainly made them popular.

Thanks for the information about Spain switching from yellow road marking to white road marking in order to comply with the European Traffic Code. The availability of cheap cans of yellow paint from the authorities makes more sense now.
 
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Marc S.

Active Member
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Since 2012: CF, CdN, CP, Salvador, Aragones, Via Regia, Elisabethpfad, Jakobsweg NRW, Jakibspaad.
So perhaps Elias Valina did not come up with the idea of the yellow arrows but he certainly made them popular.

You are right Andres Munoz does not mention Valina as the one who came up with the idea of yellow arrows. I should have read more carefully. :oops:

But he does not mention either who did come up with the idea. (and of course it is also possible that several people had come up with a similar idea during the same period).

Concerning Father Navarro, Munoz mentions the following:

Regarding the involvement of Andrés Muñoz, the Association of Navarra, in its magazine Estafeta Jacobea nº 70 of 2002, collects the following:
«... the yellow arrows multiplied and where the paint stroke was not possible, it was replaced by pieces of a yellow plastic tape, an idea also by Andrés, who had seen its use to mark routes, in races and marathons, and that he sponsored El Águila beers.


Which leaves room for speculation about what other idea Father Navarro had previously come up with....
 
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Thanks for the information about Spain switching from yellow road marking to white road marking in order to comply with the European Traffic Code. The availability of cheap cans of yellow paint from the authorities makes more sense now.
Unfortunately, I do not have a link to my source now, but it was stated somewhere that Elias Valiña was given surplus yellow road paint from the Spanish road authorities, as it was no longer needed by them, due to the change from yellow to white. The free consept was obviously of importance for using yellow, it may seem.

But it is very likely that there was more than one person in this choice of color, as others have mentioned.
 
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