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El Camino Francés (French Way)

Cathedral of Santa María, León ©Ministerio de Educación Cultura y Deporte / Juan F. Morillo.

The Camino Francés or French Way is the best known and most highly travelled of all the different Camino de Santiago routes. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1993.

The Camino Francés was not fully established until the 11th century, under the rule of King Sancho III "the Great" of Navarre. A route marked out with the relics and bodies of saints was overlaid with epic imagery: the apostle James appeared to Charlemagne in dreams and explained to him the meaning of the Milky Way as the key to finding his tomb, and invited him to save the lands that are now Spain from the dominions of Islam. The route thus replicated the itinerary attributed to Charlemagne and Roland, and which would give legitimacy to a reality of the time: the presence of Frankish settlers and merchants, and barons from Aquitaine and Burgundy for the Reconquest. The Camino Francés emerged as the result of such mystifications.

Numbers of pilgrims greatly increased during the 11th century, leading the kings of the different lands to work towards easing their passage. The Bula Regis Aeterni, issued by Pope Alexander III, not only confirmed the privileges granted together with attainment of plenary indulgence, but also turned the Camino Francés into the main route leading to Santiago de Compostela.Salto de línea This way was conceived of as a space for veneration that also incorporated a cultural space, a form of art that was inherent to the Camino de Santiago. It was also turned into an important commercial route and a means for the dissemination of knowledge: everything that was said, preached, sculpted or painted along this way reached many people and places.