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Without Camino pilgrims, rural villages in north-west Spain 'wouldn't have a reason to exist'

Mack

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
April 2017 Sarria to Santiago de Compostela
Australia's national broadcaster, ABC, has this on its website. A good factual read.


Amid the vast grain fields of Spain, a medieval church stands guard over the handful of mudbrick homes where about 50 people live — and twice as many travellers along the Camino de Santiago will spend the night this summer.

In north-west Spain, Terradillos de los Templarios — and dozens of villages like it — were built to host medieval pilgrims walking the 800-kilometre route across the country to the Apostle James's tomb in Santiago de Compostela.

Villages empty without pilgrims​

Nuria Quintana, who manages one of Terradillos' two pilgrim hostels, said today's Camino travellers are saving them from disappearing.

"This is life for the villages," Ms Quintana said. "In winter, when no pilgrims come through, you could walk through the village 200 times and see nobody."

In this small settlement — which was named after a medieval knightly order that protected protect pilgrims — the return of Camino travellers is helping to restore the livelihood and vitality of villages that were steadily losing jobs, population and their social fabric.

A beautiful artistic photo of a bridge over  a canal reflecting the blue sky with mountains in the background on a clear day

Pilgrims cross a bridge during one stage of the Camino de Santiago. (AP: Alvaro Barrientos)
Raúl Castillo patrols Spain's roads and villages as an agent with the Guardia Civil law enforcement agency.
"If it weren't for the Camino, there wouldn't even be a cafe open," he said.

"And the bar is where people meet.

"The villages next door, off the Camino — they make you cry. Homes falling in, the grass sprouting on the sidewalks up to here," he gestured forlornly.
Children and adults lean over a bar in northern Spain, young kids sitting on bistro stools

Raúl Castillo says Camino pilgrims often meet at the bar. (AP: Alvaro Barrientos)
From the Pyrenees Mountains at Spain's border with France, across hundreds of kilometres of sun-roasted plains to the mist-covered hills of Galicia and down to the Atlantic Ocean, once-booming towns of farmers and ranchers started haemorrhaging their populations in recent decades.

Mechanisation drastically reduced the need for farm labourers. As young people moved away, shops and cafes closed.

Often, so did the grand churches that were full of priceless artwork, the heritage of the medieval and Renaissance artists brought in by prospering town burghers.

However, starting in the 1990s, the Camino regained international popularity, with tens of thousands of visitors hiking and biking it year-round.

After a serious dip amid the COVID-19 pandemic, things are now looking up, with more than 25,000 visitors in May alone on the most traditional route, the French Way.

Julia Pavón is a historian at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, the Camino's first large city.

With daily visitors outnumbering residents tenfold in the tiniest of hamlets, their impact is huge.

Óscar Tardajos was born on a farm along the Camino.

For 33 years, he's managed a hotel and restaurant in Castrojeriz, a hillside village of stone buildings that was a centre of the wool trade centuries ago, when its half-dozen churches were built.

"Now all that works [in town] is the hospitality industry," he said.
An older man plays his guitar with his neighbors in Villarmertero sitting down in front of a building with yellow walls

Professor Melchor Fernández says the pilgrims help boost the local economy. (AP: Alvaro Barrientos)

Pilgrims shop locally​

Melchor Fernández — professor of economics at the University of Santiago de Compostela — said the Camino help create jobs and maintain the cultural heritage of the area.

"It has put the brakes on depopulation which is 30% higher in Galician villages off the Camino," Professor Fernández said.

While most pilgrims spend only around 50 euros ($76 AUD) a day, it stays local.

"The bread in the pilgrim's sandwich is not Bimbo," he said, referring to the multinational company.

"It's from the bakery next door."
According to baker Conchi Sagardía from Cirauqui, a hilltop village in Navarra, its only bakery survived because dozens of pilgrims stop by it daily.

Aside from pilgrims, the main customers of these shops are older residents of the villages, where few younger adults live.

Lourdes González — a Paraguayan who for 10 years has owned the cafe in Redecilla del Camino — said it had become somewhat of a spectacle.

"In the summer, the grandmas sit down along the Camino to watch the pilgrims go by," Ms González said.

Commercialisation concerns locals​

Her concern — shared widely along the route — is how to keep that unique pilgrim spirit alive as the Camino's popularity leads to increased commercialisation.

It has become more common for the signature yellow arrows to lead to bars or to foot massage businesses instead of the Camino.

Recently, in the town of Tardajos, Esteban Velasco, a retired shepherd, stood at a crossroads pointing the correct route to pilgrims.

Jesús Aguirre is president of the Association of Friends of the Camino de Santiago in Burgos province.

"The Camino wouldn't have a reason to exist without pilgrimage," he said.
A yellow sign on a wall points hikers making the Camino pilgrimage in the right direction

Lourdes González is worried about commercialisation on the popular route. (AP: Alvaro Barrientos)
"One can do it for different reasons, but you keep imbuing yourself with something else."

For many, that is a spiritual or religious quest.

The incentive to keep churches open for pilgrims revitalises parishes as well in a rapidly secularising Spain.

The 900-year-old church of Santa María in Los Arcos is one of the Camino villages' most magnificent, with a soaring belltower and intricately sculpted altarpiece.

Reverend Andrés Lacarra said pilgrims often double the numbers attending weekday masses.

In Hontanas, a cluster of stone houses that appear suddenly in a dip after a trek through the wide-open plains of Castilla, there's only Sunday Mass, which is often the case where one priest covers multiple parishes.

However, this week, the church bells tolled rapturously — and Father Jihwan Cho, a priest from Toronto on his second pilgrimage, was getting ready to celebrate the Eucharist.

"The fact that I was able to celebrate mass made me really happy," he said.
A man wearing suspenders over pants and a white shirt holds out a long pamphelet displaying multicoloured stamps

A US traveller shows his Saint James passport during a stage of Camino de Santiago. (AP: Alvaro Barrientos)
International pilgrims such as Father Cho are making some towns increasingly cosmopolitan.

In Sahagún, the English teacher instructs Nuria Quintana's daughter and her classmates to shadow pilgrims and practise their language.

César Acero — who opened a hostel and restaurant in the tiny Calzadilla de la Cueza in 1990 — said: "People have become more sociable."

Loly Valcárcel — who owns a pizzeria in Sarria — said that, when she was a young girl, she "never saw all of the nationalities" that you see now.

Hers is one of the busiest towns on the Camino because it's just past the distance needed to earn a completion "certificate" in Santiago.

A yellow tinged paddock in northern spain with a flock of sheep on a blue sky day

Mechanisation drastically reduced the need for farm labourers in recent decades.(AP: Alvaro Barrientos)
Far fewer pilgrims take the ancient Roman road through Calzadilla de los Hermanillos where, as a child, Gemma Herreros helped feed the sheep that her family tended for generations.

Ms Herreros runs a bed-and-breakfast with her Cuban husband, a former pilgrim, near the town's open-air museum portraying the history of the ancient road.

She hopes the village will continue to thrive — but without losing the "absolute freedom and solidarity" of her childhood entirely.

In Hornillos del Camino, a one-street village of honey-coloured stone houses, Mari Carmen Rodríguez shares similar hopes.

A handful of pilgrims came by when she was little.

Now, "the quantity of people almost makes you afraid to go into the street", she said as she stepped out from her restaurant to buy fish from a truck — a common fill-in for grocery stores in many of the villages.

"Without the Camino, we would go right back to disappearing," she added.
 
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cycled from Pamplona Sep 2015;Frances, walked from St Jean May/June 2017. Plans to walk Porto 2020
When I was reading this article I thought, immediately, of Hontanas and how this village has thrived since it became a "camino village".
I liked this article so much I have shared it on my Facebook page. Its one of the best, yet simplest Camino articles I can remember,.
 

peregrino_tom

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lt56ny

Veteran Member
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10/22 Aragones/Frances
This is so true, and one of the reasons why the Camino Francés is different than Caminos that go through more tourist oriented areas, like the Camino del Norte - most of the towns on the Francés are very pilgrim focused.
I have to agree with you after walking about all of the more traveled routes. (I don't know if the Inglis is in this category). By far the CF is the most pilgrim friendly route.
I remember about a week or so ago that someone was complaining about how the CF was like Disneyland and how businesses were exploiting this route with souvenir shops etc. It really angered me as I am sure you guys or anyone else who have been a pilgrim for a while can remember when, the small villages especially along the Meseta were ghost towns. All you saw were old women boarded up shops and if you were lucky in many villages there may be one bar or a small tienda open. All the churches were closed and (I do not know if it is still the case) that villagers told me that the local priest is there just a few days a month because he had so many churches to visit. Now, well it is quite a different story. As I said in the other post about this. It is not massive corporations but men and women starting businesses to support their families, raise their children and to keep these villages alive and hopefully thriving.
 

Thomas1962

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2010/2011/2012/2013: Madrid -Salvador -Primitivo 2014: EPW 2015: Amsterdam - SdC
What an absolute obnoxious title. It is not to any outsider, nor to any single inhabitant to judge wether a village has a reason to exist. One could say: "without tourism Venice has no reason to exist", or "without Europe the USA has no reason to exist, or vv..." It is really to the people living there wether there is a reason to live there Fact is that different camino's do Chang some villages, for good and for bad. The influence from the camino on villages is just within a very tiny, tiny line from less the 100 meters wide thhrough villages. Any next village not on the camino exists without camino, no pilgrim would have a clue of it's name. Don't over estimate it.
 

CPURKS

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
future Camino Frances
This is so true, and one of the reasons why the Camino Francés is different than Caminos that go through more tourist oriented areas, like the Camino del Norte - most of the towns on the Francés are very pilgrim focused.
Doing the Camino Francrs for my first time this past June I truly enjoyed the small hamlets that we visited. I felt this was a major part in our pilgrimage and contributed largely to the Camino experience. I'm glad to know we are helping sustain them.
 
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wayfarer

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2012, 2013, 2014.
What an absolute obnoxious title. It is not to any outsider, nor to any single inhabitant to judge wether a village has a reason to exist. One could say: "without tourism Venice has no reason to exist", or "without Europe the USA has no reason to exist, or vv..." It is really to the people living there wether there is a reason to live there Fact is that different camino's do Chang some villages, for good and for bad. The influence from the camino on villages is just within a very tiny, tiny line from less the 100 meters wide thhrough villages. Any next village not on the camino exists without camino, no pilgrim would have a clue of it's name. Don't over estimate it.
It's an insulting clickbait title, they existed just fine without us during Covid.
 

jungleboy

Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Time of past OR future Camino
A few in the past; more in the future!
Your comment made me curious about who wrote it for which audience:


:cool:
It looks like the English was the original after all then. I couldn't find the English version on the AP app and saw the Spanish version, which was dated 12 days before the ABC published its English version. So I thought perhaps the Spanish one came first, but apparently not.
 

Mack

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
April 2017 Sarria to Santiago de Compostela
What an absolute obnoxious title. It is not to any outsider, nor to any single inhabitant to judge wether a village has a reason to exist. One could say: "without tourism Venice has no reason to exist", or "without Europe the USA has no reason to exist, or vv..." It is really to the people living there wether there is a reason to live there Fact is that different camino's do Chang some villages, for good and for bad. The influence from the camino on villages is just within a very tiny, tiny line from less the 100 meters wide thhrough villages. Any next village not on the camino exists without camino, no pilgrim would have a clue of it's name. Don't over estimate it.
Why is it "obnoxious"when it is quoting a person from the area? The content puts it quite clearly as to why the Camino is important to the residents of northern Spain.
It's an insulting clickbait title, they existed just fine without us during Covid.
It's not insulting or obnoxious. It is simply a quote from a local. Are they not allowed to express what for them is a fact of life? The economy on a lot of Camino Frances does depend on the camino as is articulated in the article.
 

jungleboy

Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Time of past OR future Camino
A few in the past; more in the future!
What an absolute obnoxious title.
It's also misleading at best or incorrect at worst, even within the context of the article. The quote in the article, from Jesús Aguirre, president of the Association of Friends of the Camino de Santiago in Burgos province, is: "The Camino wouldn't have a reason to exist without pilgrimage."

The headline writer has taken the "wouldn't have a reason to exist" part of the quote and changed who it applies to, from the camino doesn't have a reason to exist without pilgrimage, to the villages don't have a reason to exist without the camino.
 
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I sympathize with @Thomas1962’s comments although I would not express it in quite such harsh terms. These articles, including the studies done by the USC on the economic impact of pilgrims in Galicia, make us feel good. Foncebadon is an often quoted prime example. Only 2 or 1 inhabitants were left a few decades ago and now there are 28 inhabitants again. It was a village of primarily agricultores, ganaderos y arrieros - of farmers, herdsmen and mule drivers - and now its economy is based on providing services of the hospitality sector. There are some photos of “then” in this article (https://laregionleonesa.com/foncebadon-el-pueblo-que-resurgio-del-camino/) - the Foncebadon of those days is gone for good I think. I have mixed feelings about all this “praise”.
 

JabbaPapa

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Sorry, but "no reason to exist" is not true.

I have been walking through Spain well outside of the Francès, sometimes even well outside any routes where they are used to pilgrims, and the economic revival is common to most pueblos, not just those on the most touristic Ways of Saint James.

Yes, we pilgrims did help jump start that revival along the trails that we frequent the most, so that the pueblos along those routes benefited earlier from the general revival than others, but it is quite clear that there are deeper causes for it than are alleged.
 

wayfarer

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Why is it "obnoxious"when it is quoting a person from the area? The content puts it quite clearly as to why the Camino is important to the residents of northern Spain.

It's not insulting or obnoxious. It is simply a quote from a local. Are they not allowed to express what for them is a fact of life? The economy on a lot of Camino Frances does depend on the camino as is articulated in the article.
Basing an article/title on a comment from one local is lazy reporting at best.
 
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Long ago a journalist I knew remarked that there was often no connexion between the title of an article and its content. Indeed, his political reporting often featured titles in total contradiction to the content of his article.
 

Zordmot

3rd CF in May 2022
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April-May 2022
It’s a time of transition for many small towns in northern Spain, that’s for sure. What they have been is clear. What’s coming next is uncertain. I heard a report on NPR last year that a billionaire had purchased one of these towns. In one small town last month I thought I’d ask about an older man who offered free walking sticks to pilgrims featured in that BBC series. The answer came back that the average age of the residents in that town is now 93 and there has been a raft of funerals in the last few years. Hopefully these towns will discover ways to attract families. You gotta feel sympathy for some of the overworked owners/baristas in some of these towns as pilgrims descend en masse in mid-morning. There is no workforce from which to hire. As work becomes more and more online and as housing prices in Europe continue to explode hopefully there will be a resurgence of interest in these beautiful homes and properties. I can remember living on the south side of Chicago when they were selling lots for $1 and now it’s become very hip to live in those revitalized neighborhoods. I predict the same in Spain.
 
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dick bird

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What an absolute obnoxious title. It is not to any outsider, nor to any single inhabitant to judge wether a village has a reason to exist. One could say: "without tourism Venice has no reason to exist", or "without Europe the USA has no reason to exist, or vv..." It is really to the people living there wether there is a reason to live there Fact is that different camino's do Chang some villages, for good and for bad. The influence from the camino on villages is just within a very tiny, tiny line from less the 100 meters wide thhrough villages. Any next village not on the camino exists without camino, no pilgrim would have a clue of it's name. Don't over estimate it.
A village is an economic unit as well as a social unit. If there is no economy, the village ceases to exist. This is happening all over Spain as agriculture becomes more capital intensive and there are fewer and fewer jobs. The Camino provides revenue and jobs and helps to sustain the community by supporting the bars and cafes. Villages exist because people live there and if there is no work they move away. This is why, off Camino, Spain is full of depopulated villages.
 

Mack

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
April 2017 Sarria to Santiago de Compostela
Can I point out that the title of this thread is different to the title of the article?

The title of the article is "Camino Pilgrims Revitalise Rural Spain's Emptying Villages".
The title of the thread is a direct copy from the ABC website. Any editorial change was by them.
 

jungleboy

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Can I point out that the title of this thread is different to the title of the article?

The title of the article is "Camino Pilgrims Revitalise Rural Spain's Emptying Villages".
The title of the thread is a direct copy from the ABC website. Any editorial change was by them.
Yes, well spotted. The original AP headline is as Kanga said but when ABC Australia republished the story, they changed the headline to the problematic one we have been discussing.

AP:

045E66F6-3876-4D8B-8FC3-498E9C6450A3.jpeg

ABC:

859DDB78-1D4F-4D36-BDF3-506D90E8EEE8.jpeg
 
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dick bird

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Arguably the original title is also misleading as it is only the villages along the more popular caminos that have benefited. Depopulation is a serious problem across Spain and elsewhere there are thousands of villages inhabited only by a few elderly residents or entirely abandoned.
 

JabbaPapa

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Arguably the original title is also misleading as it is only the villages along the more popular caminos that have benefited. Depopulation is a serious problem across Spain and elsewhere there are thousands of villages inhabited only by a few elderly residents or entirely abandoned.
Not at all what I have found out in the Spanish sticks.
 

bullingtonce

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Why is it "obnoxious"when it is quoting a person from the area? The content puts it quite clearly as to why the Camino is important to the residents of northern Spain.

It's not insulting or obnoxious. It is simply a quote from a local. Are they not allowed to express what for them is a fact of life? The economy on a lot of Camino Frances does depend on the camino as is articulated in the article.
Sometimes it is better to look for the good in an article or in a person; this perspective almost always generates a better outcome. And I agree, if the locals speak, then why not respect what they say. It is their town, not the outsider's town. Having said this, the challenges a rural, remote area faces is endemic world-wide. Whether this forebodes good or ill, well time will tell but because it is happening most everywhere, it appears to be a natural phenomenon. Life, as always, is interesting to observe if one but pays attention to it.
 

SeaHorse

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Frances 2015 (SJPDP-Finisterre), planning Norte
Just look at property prices on the Camino and just a few km off it. Maybe you can't buy a whole village for a fiver any more but the difference still is very noticeable.
 
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