World Heritage sites on the Way of Saint James
Among the things which make the Way of Saint James a life event that everyone dreams of repeating are the numerous unique experiences you’ll have as a pilgrim. Many of these are bound to be related to culture and with the outstanding monuments you’ll discover on your journey. Indeed, you’ll be able to visit as many as nine sites which have been distinguished with the World Heritage designation.
The UNESCO recognises as part of the World’s Heritage any asset whose conservation is considered to be a top priority due to its outstanding universal value. This is the reason the Way of Saint James has been awarded the World Heritage designation. But you’ll also have the chance to discover many other such sites. Here are a few to note down:
- Monasteries of Yuso and Suso: these are located in San Millán de la Cogolla (La Rioja), less than ten kilometres from the French Route of the Way, in the district of Cirueña. They are known as the cradle of the Castilian language, as it was here that the first written evidence of this language was recorded. Take a walk around the town and discover its majestic Romanesque buildings.
- Burgos Cathedral: this is one of the best examples of the Spanish Gothic style, and the only cathedral in Spain to receive the UNESCO World Heritage designation for the building itself. You’ll be able to see it in the city of Burgos, which stands on the French Route to Santiago.
- Atapuerca archaeological site: this is the most important archaeological site in Europe. It lies about 20 kilometres outside Burgos, but you’ll have a chance to find out all about it thanks to the Museum of Human Evolution in the city itself. As well as an exhibition of the findings from the sites, there is also a shuttle bus to take you to Atapuerca.
- Vizcaya suspension bridge: this is one of the oldest transporter bridges in the world, and although it dates from the 19th century, it is still fully operational. The bridge links the town of Portugalete and Getxo in Vizcaya (Basque Country), and the Northern Route passes through both towns.
- The Palaeolithic cave art of the Cantabrian Coast: it comprises the Altamira cave and another 17 caves which are scattered through the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias. The paintings they contain are about 14,000 years old, and most of the caves are very near the Northern Route to Santiago. The most important –Altamira– is in Santillana del Mar, where you can visit the museum and a life-size replica of the cave. - Monuments in Oviedo and the Kingdom of Asturias: these are important examples of pre-Romanesque religious architecture in Spain. You can visit them on the Primitive Route through the city of Oviedo (Asturias), where you’ll find the churches of Santa María del Naranco, San Miguel de Lillo and San Julián de Prados.
- Roman walls in Lugo: these are of particular interest as the whole of the outer perimeter is still standing, and represent the foremost example of the last Roman fortifications in western Europe. You can visit them on the Primitive Route on its way through the city of Lugo (Galicia).
- Old town of Santiago de Compostela: this is the ultimate destination on the Way of Saint James, and here pilgrims will find one of the most beautiful town centres in the world, according to the UNESCO itself. The city was rebuilt in the 11th century and revolves around its spectacular cathedral. The ancient streets, lined with Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, has a particularly special atmosphere.
In addition to these key sites actually on the Way of Saint James itself, there are numerous other places with the World Heritage designation nearby, including the Mudéjar art of Aragon, the Tower of Hercules in A Coruña (Galicia), or the old cities of Salamanca, Segovia and Avila; and extensive natural areas such as Las Médulas (León) and the Pyrenees (Aragon).
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