March 3, 2010



The branches of the Way of St. James in Navarre

Mr Javier Martínez de Aguirre.
Complutense University of Madrid

The existence of roads used mainly by pilgrims from all over Western Europe on their way to Santiago de Compostela through Navarre is a fact confirmed by medieval documentary and literary sources. Their route through Navarre, as set out in the Codex Calixtinus, coincides with important communication routes still in use (most of which have recently been transformed into highways). But neither the road between Pamplona and Logroño, nor the one that leads from Sangüesa to Puente la Reina, passing through Monreal, overlap with Roman roads or relevant itineraries whose use can be proved prior to the 10th century.

The keys to understanding the layout of a route can be summarized in the analysis of the physical environment, in the tracing of pre-existing routes and especially in the reflection on the communication needs. As for the physical environment and pre-existing routes, the pilgrims to Santiago could have taken the old Roman road Bordeaux-Astorga through the Barranca, which avoided orographic difficulties (the Perdón pass and mighty rivers such as the Arga and the Ega). However, this pathway, which had disadvantages from the climatic point of view, was abandoned. In the 10th century, when the passage of pilgrims to Compostela was first documented, neither Estella nor Puente la Reina, nor Roncesvalles or Monreal existed as such, so that we cannot consider that the pilgrims linked local roads that connected relatively close regional centers. As has already been studied, it was the need to connect the two poles into which the kingdom of Pamplona was configured after the conquests of La Rioja at the beginning of the 10th century that led to the pre-eminence of a road linking Pamplona with Nájera. However, there is no historical evidence that the Perdón route was initially used more frequently in the 10th century than the one connecting Pamplona with Yerri through Val de Echauri. The Perdón road was still ignored by the Muslim troops in their attacks on Pamplona at the beginning of the tenth century. However, a hundred years later it had become the main artery for long-distance travel in the north of the Peninsula. It was the actions of the kings of Pamplona and their families that ended up establishing a route destined to be traveled by thousands and thousands of travelers, including a considerable percentage of pilgrims. Building The monumental stone bridge of Puente la Reina, an undoubted achievement of Romanesque engineering, and the constitution of localities that articulated the regional development of Navarre average (and in which the traveler found convenient services, from the provisioning of food or the renewal of footwear or clothing to the acquisition of horses by the most powerful) right at the crossings of the most abundant rivers (Aragón in Sangüesa, Ega in Estella) consolidated the route from Roncesvalles to the Ebro. The search for the optimum route between the bridges of Sangüesa and Puente la Reina meant that the pilgrims frequented the pass through Monreal, preferring the discomfort of the ascent to Ibargoiti to the wider and more comfortable - but also longer - traditional route between Pamplona and the eastern valleys via Lónguida.