Routes of Santiago de Compostela: Camino Francés and Routes of Northern Spain

Routes of Santiago de Compostela: Camino Francés and Routes of Northern Spain

A network of four Christian pilgrimage routes in northern Spain, the site is an extension of the Route of Santiago de Compostela, a serial site inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993. The extension represents a network of almost 1,500 km: coastal, interior of the Basque Country–La Rioja, Liébana and primitive routes. It includes a built heritage of historical importance created to meet the needs of pilgrims, including cathedrals, churches, hospitals, hostels and even bridges. The extension encompasses some of the earliest pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, following the discovery in the 9thcentury of a tomb believed to be that of St. James the Greater.

Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle : Camino francés et chemins du nord de l’Espagne

Ce réseau de quatre itinéraires de pèlerinage chrétien au nord de l’Espagne est une extension du bien en série « Chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle », inscrit en 1993 sur la Liste du patrimoine mondial. Ce faisceau d’itinéraires de près de 1500 km se compose du Chemin côtier, du Chemin de l’intérieur du Pays basque–La Rioja, du Chemin de la Liébana et du Chemin primitif. Le site comprend un ensemble de patrimoine bâti d’importance historique créé pour répondre aux besoins des pèlerins, notamment des cathédrales, des églises, des hôpitaux, des hôtels ou encore des ponts. L’extension englobe certains des premiers chemins de pèlerinage à Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, nés après la découverte au IXe siècle d’un tombeau attribué à l’apôtre Jacques le Majeur.

Routes naar Santiago de Compostela: Camino Francés en routes van Noord-Spanje

In 1987 riep de Raad van Europa Santiago de Compostela uit tot de eerste Europese Culturele route. Deze route langs de Frans-Spaanse grens was – en is nog steeds – de pelgrimsroute naar Santiago de Compostela. Langs de route liggen ongeveer 1.800 religieuze en seculiere gebouwen die historisch interessant zijn. De route speelde tijdens de middeleeuwen een fundamentele en stimulerende rol bij de culturele uitwisseling tussen het Iberisch schiereiland en de rest van Europa. De Route naar Santiago de Compostela getuigt van de kracht van het christelijk geloof onder mensen van alle rangen en standen in heel Europa. In 2015 werd de site uitgebreid met een aantal zeer oude routes naar de pelgrimstad.


  • English
  • French
  • Dutch
Leon Cathedral © UNESCO
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Route of Santiago de Compostela (Camino de Santiago) is a narrow route through the north of the Iberian Peninsula extending over 800 km from the Spanish-French border to the city of Santiago de Compostela, passing through five different Autonomous Communities and over one hundred inhabited towns.

The Camino de Santiago was originally a religious pilgrimage route culminating in the visit to the tomb of St James the Apostle at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). The first source tracing the Apostle to Spain dates back to the end of the 6th century. The Acts of the Apostles attribute the evangelisation of Hispania to St James. This information was later corroborated in De ortu et obitu Patrum by Isidoro de Sevilla (7th century) and in the Commentarium in Apocalypsin by St Beatus of Liebana (8th century). The discovery of the Apostle's tomb in Galicia dates to the 9th century under the rule of Alfonso II the Chaste. As a result of St Jerome’s teachings that the resting place of the Apostles should be in the province where they had preached the gospel, the remains of St. James were taken from Jerusalem to Spain. The news of the discovery spread quickly throughout Western Europe, and Santiago de Compostela became a pilgrimage site. The historical moment when the tomb was discovered, i.e. 9th century Muslim Spain, defined the scope and importance of the discovery in the Christian world of the time, swiftly transforming the place into a pilgrimage site on par with Jerusalem and Rome.

During its eleven centuries of known history, the Route of Santiago de Compostela has become a veritable crossroads, fostering ongoing cultural dialogue among the pilgrims travelling it and the towns through which it passes. This route also became an important trade axis and a place for the dissemination of knowledge. Constantly evolving, the Camino includes a set of first-class historical heritage sites, outstanding natural landscapes, and intangible heritage, a prime example of which is the oral narrative that entertained and continues to entertain pilgrims on their journey to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrimages were an essential part of European cultural and spiritual life during the Middle Ages and along the route, pilgrims were provided with what they needed to ensure their physical and spiritual well-being. Consequently, there is also a wealth of heritage associated with the Camino de Santiago, such as churches, hospitals, hostels, monasteries, traveller accommodations, crosses, bridges, and other types of construction, which today represent all aspects of artistic and architectural evolution from the Romanesque to the Baroque and constitute an indivisible part of the Camino, defining it both physically and culturally.

The importance of the Jacobean route also contributed to the economic and social development of the towns along the way, attributable to the large number of visitors and economic activities related to services offered to pilgrims. 

Criterion (ii): The Route of Santiago de Compostela played a crucial role in the two-way exchange of cultural advances between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe, especially during the Middle Ages, but also in subsequent centuries. The wealth of cultural heritage that has emerged in association with the Camino is vast, marking the birth of Romanesque art and featuring extraordinary examples of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Moreover, in contrast with the waning of urban life in the rest of the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages, the reception and commercial activities emanating from the Camino de Santiago led to the growth of cities in the north of the Peninsula and gave rise to the founding of new ones.

Criterion (iv): The Route of Santiago de Compostela has preserved the most complete material registry of all Christian pilgrimage routes, featuring ecclesiastical and secular buildings, large and small enclaves, and civil engineering structures.

Criterion (vi): The Route of Santiago de Compostela bears outstanding witness to the power and influence of faith among people of all social classes and origins in medieval Europe and later. 


The Route of Santiago de Compostela is completely preserved and characterised by a high level of conservation of the route itself and of the buildings and sites along the way, making it a unique example of a medieval pilgrimage route which is still in use today. The route also illustrates the integration into the environment.

The different sections of the Camino and its sites and buildings have been kept in a good state of repair because they have been continuously used. The decline in the number of pilgrims during the 18th and 19th centuries spelled a parallel decline in its state of conservation, but recognition of its historical importance in the 20th century led to the recovery of the Camino and its legal protection as a historical-artistic complex (Conjunto histórico-artístico) in 1962. Since then, an increasing number of efforts have been made to improve and protect the property, and important steps have been taken to preserve it at all levels to ensure its survival as a living cultural route of great historical importance. 


The Route of Santiago de Compostela has existed since the Middle Ages and has withstood the test of time to the present. Its existence is documented in great detail from the 12th century onwards. Book V of the Codice Calixtino, attributed to the monk Aymeric Picaud of Cluny, who accompanied Pope Calixtus II on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela around 1109, is considered to be the first guide for pilgrims travelling along the route. The work contains descriptions of the route and of the works of art along the Camino, the local customs of the people who inhabited the towns along the way, and helpful advice for pilgrims.

In comparison with other Christian pilgrimage routes, the Camino de Santiago is undoubtedly the one best preserved in its original layout. A significant part of the route still in use today is described in the written testimonies of different periods containing descriptions of places, populations, and architectural elements such as hospitals, boundary crosses, bridges, and churches which have been preserved.

No changes that could affect the authenticity of the site are envisaged given that the route is sufficiently protected as a historical-artistic complex by current regulations. 

Protection and management requirements

The property has different levels of protection. Pursuant to the First Additional Provision of the Spanish Historical Heritage Act, Law 16/1985 of 25 June 1985, the Camino de Santiago was registered as a Property of Cultural Interest (BIC, Bien de Interés Cultural) in the category of Historical Complex, the highest level of cultural heritage protection in Spain.

In exercise of their competences, the Autonomous Communities through which the route passes have defined the protection of this property in their respective territories: Galicia protects the part of the property through the Decree 227 of 2 December 2011 establishing the delimitation of the main route of the Camino de Santiago, the French Camino, from where it enters into the municipality of Pedrafita do Cebreiro to the municipal border of O Pino, with the exception of the section between Amenal and the limit of the Lavacolla airport in the municipality of O Pino. Decree 144 of 29 June 2012 establishes the delimitation of the main route of the Camino de Santiago, the French Camino, between O Amenal and the limit of the Lavacolla airport in the municipality of O Pino. Decree 247 of 22 November 2012 establishes the delimitation of the main route of the Camino de Santiago, the French Camino, in the municipality of Santiago de Compostela. La Rioja protects the part of the property through the Decree 14 of 16 March 2001 declaring the Camino de Santiago a Property of Cultural Interest (BIC) in La Rioja and establishing its surrounding area. Aragon applies the Decree 96 of 24 May 1988 of the Regional Government of Aragon creating the Technical Coordination Committee for the recovery and revitalisation of the Camino de Santiago. Navarra applies the Foral Decree 290/1988 of 14 December 1988 establishing the definitive borders of the Camino de Santiago in Navarre and its protection regime, and Castile-Leon applies the Decree 324 of 23 December 1999 defining the area to be included under the historical complex (Conjunto Histórico) declaration of the Camino de Santiago (French Camino).

In terms of management, the need for improved communication between the administrations responsible for the property led to the 1991 creation of the Jacobean Council (Consejo Jacobeo) for the purpose of collaborating in programmes and actions to protect and preserve the route, to further its promotion and cultural dissemination, conserve and restore its historical-artistic heritage, regulate and promote tourism, and to assist pilgrims.

The Royal Decree 1432 of 11 September 2009 was enacted to reorganise the Jacobean Council to fortify its duties as a management body. To this end, the Cooperation Committee for the Management of the World Heritage Site was created within the framework of the Jacobean Council and is comprised of the Autonomous Communities through which the route passes (Galicia, La Rioja, Aragon, Navarra, and Castile-Leon) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports.

Notwithstanding these arrangements, systematic actions will be needed to address the potential threats posed by the layout of motorways and the high-speed train line, the natural growth of cities and towns, and the pressure from increased tourism and number of pilgrims. Enforcement of regulatory measures and legislation will be crucial, as well as the development of environmental and heritage impact studies for new construction. In addition, urban development schemes of the municipalities along the route will need to take into account protection of the attributes of the property.