The biggest questions I’ve encountered since starting the Words from the Road: Madrid to Barcelona project are, “What’s the story you want to tell about Spain, and why should I care?” It’s too easy to say it’s a “human story,” or that I want to experience a place different than the States. Those things are true, but again, why should you care? If you’ve been asking this same question, here’s the story of Spain I believe needs to be told.
The Tale of Spanish Cultural, Historical Diversity
Spain, like many parts of Europe, has a history rife with interactions with different peoples. Spain was under Roman control for seven centuries, falling with the rest of Western Europe into the Middle Ages in the late fifth century as the Western Roman Empire crumbled. A few hundred years later, Muslim invaders from Morocco and elsewhere, frequently referred to as Moors, stormed the Iberian Peninsula, where they’d remain until the 15th century. Next, Roman Catholic regimes ruled over Spain until the Spanish Constitution of 1978 banned state religion in an effort to promote diversity. All of this to say Spain has experienced and adopted the different traits of many different cultures, including:
- Extreme range of architecture- Spain is home to a huge variety of different architectural styles. For example, within Cordoba you can find the Mezquita, a hypostyle mosque, alongside a wide selection of Roman archways and bridges.
- Variation in Language and Ethnic Groups- Although Spain is often described as having a homogenized ethnic and linguistic identity, that’s not exactly true. Almost all Spaniards speak Spanish, but many others speak regional, ethnic languages, like Basque or Catalan. Likewise, Spain is home to a wide variety of different ethnic groups, Canarians and Gitanos being a few of the more well-known examples.
I could go on about all the beautiful, unique intricacies within Spanish society. This variation and the need for other people to experience and understand it is the main driver behind Madrid to Barcelona, but it’s not the whole story.
So, Why Hike el Caminos de Santiago?
The only way to see Spain is via the network of ancient pilgrimage routes collectively known as el Caminos de Santiago de Compostela. For hundreds of years, pilgrims from France and Spain have taken these roads to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. Hiking a number of these trails, namely Camino Madrid, Camino Frances, and Ruta del Ebro, means enveloping myself in a centuries old tradition, while experiencing all of the modern intricacies that Spain’s history has built. This anachronism, the meeting of tradition and modernity, is the story.
Map courtesy of Santiago-Compostela.net
What’s it like to move in and out of time? What are we missing when travel television only covers the most famous, the most “exciting” parts of the country? How does it feel to go from a center of modern culture like Madrid to el Camino de Madrid where you’ll see some post towns, but you’ll spend more time alone with the land? How does a foot trail feature into a world of buses, trains, and cars?
If you want to find out the answer to these questions and experience the clash of the old and new of Spain as much as I do, please contribute to my Indiegogo campaign, Words from the Road: Madrid to Barcelona.