Via de la Plata

The Via de la Plata is a long-distance pilgrimage route (the longest in Spain) from Seville to Santiago de Compostela. There was probably a pre-Roman trade route from Seville to the north coast to transport and trade tin for the making of bronze. The Romans built a more formal road of large paved slabs to connect their settlements of Merida and Astorga and the roman road was then used by the Moorish invaders as their main north-south route for the west of the Iberian peninsula. It used to be thought that the name “Via de la Plata” originated from use of the route for trade in silver from the north, but it is now more widely believed that it is a corruption of the Arabic for “paved way” - Bal’latta. The route has remained in use into modern times followed largely by the national road A630 and by the new A66 motorway but while this confirms the sense of the route as an easy passage we are not looking forward to those sections where the new roads run very close to the camino!

We shall start our route in Gibraltar, this is appropriate as it is and has been since 1740 a British Overseas Teritory, when on the death of the near penniless Habsburg Emperor Charles VI it was ceded to Britain by Spain. Several attempts to recapture it failed over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Its history is far older than that, being Moorish from 700ish to 1200ish, though being of little land strategic value it was of no interest to the Romans, though an earlier maritime power, the Phonecians recognised and held it for a while from 650BC.

 The route along the coast from Gibraltar skirts close to Cadiz and then to Jerez de la Frontera from where the British and now the rest of the world get their sherry (the name coming from the city, pronounced "Hereth". It was a Roman city but it's high point in history was in Moorish times after 700AD. It remained the frontier between Moorish Spain and the christian Kingdom of Castille until the final ousting of the Moors from Spain in the 13th century, hence the full name of the city.

Seville is one of the Moorish cities of southern Spain and was a capital of a Caliphate from the 8th to the 13th century; apparently the Moorish influence can be seen today but major Roman ruins are also present just outside the city. We should be in Seville for a major fiesta and have already booked accommodation, friends Ray and Ann will be finishing their section of the walk with us in this city. The Camino (Way of St James) starts here and hopefully is provided, courtesy of the local comunities and the Confraternity of St James, with at least rooves to sleep under after each days walking.

Merida, some 100 miles north of Seville, is one of the most complete Roman towns in existence and Betsy (and the rest of us) look forward to seeing it. As well as an amphitheatre and the most complete Roman theatre in existance (still in use) there are two reservoirs and three aqueducts that supplied the city in Roman times. One reservoir and aqueduct are close to the camino route and the aqueduct is heavily inhabited by the storks nesting that we remember from our previous caminos.

Further north still, Salamanca is the site of one of the most impressive of Wellington's Peninsular victories, gained by British and Portugese forces it can be considered to mark a turning point in the war and a major increase in Wellington's reputation as a general requiring as it did a considerable amount of pre engagement manouevres to obtain a winning position before battle commenced. This victory was enabled by various small Spanish regular and guerilla forces elsewhere in Spain occupying French forces but Spanish troops played little direct part in it, accordingly it receives less attention locally than it deserves.

 North of Salamaca we will enter the region of Castille et Leon that we passed through on our first camino this is the wheat growing region of Spain that very flat but high area we crossed between Burgos and Leon, on this route we will be much further south than the canal irrigated region we touched on four years ago, and turn left towards Ourense and Gallicia up into the mountains, hopefully by then lighter and fitter than at present.