Spain’s cultural heritage can be experienced in any number of ways. One of these is traveling the great routes that crisscross the peninsula. Far from mass tourism, these roads reveal the most authentic aspects of our country to the traveler, exhibiting its personality, both artistic and natural, rural and urban.

The history of Spain is the history of its settlers and the roads they traveled, physical and spiritual paths which left their mark on the country’s traditions, architecture, culture, and beliefs.

These peoples have each left their influence on different areas, and created paths linking them. Among the fruits of these activities are the routes which cross the peninsula from north to south, or east to west (the Vía de la Plata, the Caliphate Route, the Routes of Sefarad). Other routes have grown up around common elements which have developed over the course of history (the Castilian Language Route), or focus on the enjoyment of natural surroundings (Green Spain, the Pyrenees).

The Pyrenees have always served as a defensive bulwark for the Iberian Peninsula. Behind their walls are found wonderful landscapes: enormous crags piled atop one another or spread out at the foot of colossal rock faces cut by cascades and streams; pines and beech trees, dense forests, fields of ferns, green grasslands fed by the crystalline waters of numerous bubbling springs, according to the description by Lucient Briet. These fine, harmonious landscapes are filled with unique species like the bearded vulture or the edelweiss; popular or mythological characters such as Olentzero and the zangarrones of the valleys of Navarre, and the diaples and basajarau in Aragon; and the architectural expression of the Romanesque churches of the Vall de Boí in Jaca, Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Aínsa, and more.

It is in these rough Pyrenean lands that the most famous of Spanish routes beings: the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James). This pilgrimage route has long served as an umbilical cord linking Spain and the rest of Europe, along which the Romanesque, the Gothic and other European cultural and philosophical currents would flow into Spain. The route begins in the mountainous lands of the Pyrenees, and gradually levels out over Navarre, La Rioja, and Castile-Leon, where the flatness of the plains are an aid to retreat and meditation. Upon reaching Galicia, the landscape and nature begin to presage the proximity of the holy site, Santiago de Compostela.

Castles, monasteries, inns, churches, palaces, and villages fill the route with artistic monuments which reflect the splendor of long ago.

The Castilian language arose along the Way of Saint James, at the monasteries of Suso in San Millán de la Cogolla (La Rioja) and Santo Domingo de Silos (Burgos), emerging from the cultural currents flowing along the route. The Camino de la Lengua Castellana (Castilian Language Route continues to the universities of Salamanca, where Nebrija published the first Spanish grammar; Valladolid; and Alcalá, which saw the birth of key literary works of international importance. Avila joins the aforementioned cities thanks to the verses of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross.

Galicia, where the end of the Way of Saint James had left us, is a good example of España Verde (Green Spain). Here the sea, mountains, and inhabitants have created a unique landscape, shaped by the different peoples who have settled these areas over their history. Green Spain is the sea as enjoyed from the Rias Baixas area, or along the Esmerelda and Basque coasts. It is gastronomy: traditional in Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria, and especially innovative in the Basque Country.

Green Spain is villages set in natural surroundings and touched by an unceasing rain, with enchanted woods inhabited by magical creatures such as xanas, cuélebres, and duendes. Green Spain is also tradition and superstition: meigas (witches), aquelarres (witches’ covens), hot queimada punch, cider, and local sports.

The Vía de la Plata departs from Asturias, to be specific, from Gijón. This route originally connected the cities of Astorga and Mérida. In Astorga, the original Vía de la Plata road linked up with the roads heading to the northern coast via Oviedo, and on to Gijón. This road has therefore been the main north-south route along the western part of the peninsula since Roman times. As a result, the cities along its path have been bestowed with an incredible and matchless legacy of bridges, cathedrals, palaces, and other structures over the centuries. Several of these cities have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as Cáceres and Salamanca.

The Vía de la Plata ends in Seville, where in 1829 Washington Irving discovered the dreamy soul of Andalusia’s past, made up of captivating palaces, and enveloped in the legends of lost times. The route runs between Seville and Granada, where the writer traveled in search of the soul of the legendary Al-Andalus.

Granada sees the end of the ruta del Califato (Caliphate Route), following a journey of two hundred kilometers through the lands of Cordoba and Jaén. The route departs from the city of Cordoba, ancient capital of Andalusia, which has preserved sumptuous marvels such as the Great Mosque. Further along the road lies Montilla, city of wines, with its castle and House of the Inca, or Baena, with its immaculately whitewashed houses.

Granada receives us at the end of the road, and sets before us not just the Alhambra and the Generalife, but also its cathedral and the Albaicín and Sacromonte quarters, so filled with legends that it is really quite difficult to believe they actually exist.

Cáceres and Cordoba could both serve as a starting point for discovering the cultural legacy of the Jewish people who inhabited Spain for centuries through the Caminos de Sefarad (Routes of Sefarad). Hervás, Girona, Toledo, Segovia, Tudela, Tortosa, Ribadavia, and Oviedo all had numerous and influential Jewish communities.

If the Way of Saint James is the route to end all routes, Spain has the honor of being the country to end all countries, at least as far as the UNESCO is concerned. It has the greatest number of cities which have been declared World Heritage Cities. The majority of these lie along the great routes we have just traveled: Santiago de Compostela, Alcalá de Henares, Avila, Cáceres, Cordoba, Salamanca, Segovia, and Toledo. In addition, we have Cuenca, Eivissa, and San Cristóbal de la Laguna, a clear demonstration that all Spain is one great route, one well worth traveling.



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