According to ancient legend, the Iberian Peninsula formed part of the lands where the Apostle Saint James preached Christianity. After he was beheaded in 44 AD, tradition says that his disciples took his body by boat to Galicia, one of the Spanish lands he preached in.
The difficult times during the Christianity early years and the fact that most of the peninsula northern part was sparsely populated means that the exact location of the cemetery fell into oblivion. However, around the year 820 remains were found which the ecclesiastical and civil authorities attributed as being from Saint James the Greater.
This event, took place in the remote Galician woodland, which later gave place to the Santiago de Compostela city.
This city became an attractive goal of pilgrimage that would, over the centuries, lead pilgrims from all over the world to the tomb of the only apostle of Jesus (alongside Saint Peter in Rome) who is buried on European soil.
By the beginning of the 10th century pilgrims were coming to Spain on the French routes from Tours, Limoges, and Le Puy, and facilities for their bodily and spiritual welfare began to be endowed along what gradually became recognized as the formal pilgrimage route, whilst in Compostela itself a magnificent new basilica was built to house the relics of the apostle, along with other installations – churches, chapels, hospices, and hospitals.
The 12th century saw the Route achieve its greatest influence, used by thousands of pilgrims from all over Western Europe. In 1139 the first “guidebook” to the Route appeared describing its precise alignment from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela and listing the facilities available to pilgrims. These structures, ranging from humble chapels and hospices to magnificent cathedrals, represent every aspect of artistic and architectural evolution.
The tradition of pilgrimage to Santiago has not ceased since that time, though its popularity waned in recent centuries. Since it was declared to be the first European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1987.
In 1987 the Council of Europe declared the Pilgrimage Route as the first European Cultural Route and it was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.
The living heart of Compostela beats to the rhythm of the Cathedral, resting place of the Saint James. It is one of the most impressive Romanic cathedrals ever built.
The most divulged Portuguese way to Santiago passes through Oporto, and the original trace of this camino was lost a long time ago and it only recently could be identified.