"Not all who wander are lost", said J. R. R. Tolkien, and for those adventurous souls who've discovered the physical, cultural and emotional delights of a dedicated walking holiday through the magnificent, storied landscape of Europe, they ring particularly true. |
Modern day travellers have the opportunity to traverse the same paths and ancient routes pilgrims forged centuries ago on a walking holiday, but many may not know just how significant these routes were to the shaping of Europe's common identity and history.
An Ancient Tradition
With the rapid spread of Christianity across Europe in the 10th and 11th centuries, pilgrimage became an entrenched aspect of medieval culture. People began travelling in great numbers to pay homage to the great sacred sites, creating a complex network of roads across the east, west, north and south of the continent.
Leading to Rome, Santiago, Jerusalem, Utrecht, Cluny and Canterbury, and linking countless other destinations, these pilgrim roads formed the basis of many routes still followed today on a modern walking holiday.
Growth and Prosperity
As pilgrim numbers grew, so too did the communities and hamlets along the routes, quickly evolving into cities with churches, monasteries, hospices and houses. Infrastructure like bridges and roads sprang up to accommodate the constant flow of pilgrims and now also the military and merchants.
As people passed through these cities and along the routes, they brought with them differing cultural, political and religious ideas, which spread amongst local residents. As well as this dispersion of knowledge came an increase in commerce and the exchange of not just ideas, but also technological innovations.
Creating a European Identity
The routes – known as the caminos – became the lifeblood of trade, knowledge and cultural conversation, creating a new shared European identity. This was revealed in the artistic and architectural styles found throughout the continent, including what is today known as Romanesque but what at the time was referred to as arte nueva. Prominent for more than three centuries, it is generally accepted as the first tangible sign of the common identity.
Another aspect of the emerging European commonality was the link between the movement of pilgrims and the spread of the literary works of important writers and scholars of the times, like Chanson de Roland, Chanson d'Orgier and King Arthur.
Perhaps the most significant link was created by the great literary figure, Dante Alighieri. While he referred to himself as a pilgrim in his most famous work, the Divine Comedy, he also devoted his opus Vita Nova to defining the act and meaning of pilgrimage. He created the concept of three different types of pilgrims based on their routes and destinations: Palmieri – who travelled to Jerusalem; Peregrini – who travelled to Santiago; and Romei – who travelled to Rome.
Modern Day Pilgrims
While the Europe explored on walking holidays is certainly very different to that experienced by the pioneering medieval travellers, the concept of exploration, adventure and cultural exchange is the same. And if we continue to wander even though we are not lost, are we all not just modern day pilgrims?
Antonio Nobile is Tour Operator & Researcher at Caspin Journeys, a specialist provider of small group walking holiday tours of Italy, England and Spain. Following in the footsteps of the company founders Pino and Caroline, he has exceptional insider knowledge and a personal devotion to all the tours he organises.
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