The Vía de la Plata route is based along an ancient pre-roman communication axis of the Spanish West. A very important natural pass for cattle trashumance, it became a Royal Cattle Way (Cañada Real) used until very recently by sephards.
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<strong>The route goes on a North-South axis of about 800 Km and more than 120.000 square kms across 4 regions, 7 provinces, 3 world heritage cities</strong> and others that though non declared have a very rich cultural and monumental heritage.
It was declared National Historic-Artistic Heritage from 1931, and promoted as a touristic itinerary along the national road N-630, from Seville till Avilés (Asturias) in 1968 by the Noticiario Turístico (Mariñas Otero, 1991), journal from the General Direction of Tourism Promotion, that published two year later a monographic for the Camino de Santiago. In 1998 a proposal was submited for its declaration as World Cultural Heritage.
The term Vía de la Plata is translated as Silver Route and commonly thought to come from the modern Spanish word for silver (plata). The name actually derives from the Latin (Delapidata) and the Arabic word al-balat, which mean cobbled paving and described the road as engineered by the Romans.
In fact, the cultural route is closely linked to the Roman Road, especially in Extremadura where we can find so many samples of Roman heritage (the road, milestones, bridges –most of them modified-, mansio and domus, theaters, forums). Based on this richness, we find also important museums (National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida) and interpretation centres (Cáceres, el Viejo), inspired tourism business (Aqua Libera in Aljucén), cultural events (Mérida and Medellín International Classical Theater Festivals, Roman Carnival in Mérida, Emérita Lvdica, Cross country races -LXVII Millas Romanas de Mérida-)
Despite this and that large sections are more or less the same as they were two thousand years ago, and even though we find the presence of effects in the identity of some local inhabitants of their ancient roman past, the Via de la Plata’s cultural heritage has been poorly safeguarded in the last decades and is at the present still in risk of being spoiled and deroded.
The construction of the N-630 national road and recently of the freeway A-66 has caused serious damage to the ancient road. We can see a diagnosis of the route in the website of the Association of Towns in Defence of the Silver Route. The Vía de la Plata has become increasingly popular as an alternative to the Camino Francés for pilgrims walking, cycling, or riding to Santiago de Compostela.
It is also promoted by the Cooperation Network of the Towns on the Ruta de la Plata as a motor bikers route.
As a pilgrimage route to Santiago, it has been known as the Camino Mozárabe. At the present, a very important project –model of best practices in governance- is the Caminos MOzarabes project, that fosters the pilgrimage route to Santiago from the most important cities in Andalucia (Córdoba, Granada, Málaga, Huelva, Jaén, Almería).
The expansion of the Mozarabic Ways has been supported and fostered by a group of diverse stakeholders in which the Action Local Groups (Grupos de Acción Local), in particular the Centre for Rural Development (CEDER) “La Serena” has had particular relevance in the Extremadura region.
Still with moderate numbers of pilgrims a year (see table 2), the Mozarabic Ways will have a considerable impact in the Vía de la Plata pilgrimage route in the following years.
<table width=»100%» cellspacing=»0″ cellpadding=»4″><colgroup> <col width=»128*» /> <col width=»128*» /> </colgroup>
<p align=»center»><b>Pilgrims departing from it</b></p>
<td style=»text-align: right;» width=»50%»>2290</td>
<td style=»text-align: right;» width=»50%»> 37</td>
<td style=»text-align: right;» width=»50%»> 34</td>
<td style=»text-align: right;» width=»50%»> 94</td>
<td style=»text-align: right;» width=»50%»> 75</td>
<td width=»50%»>Resto Andalucia</td>
<td style=»text-align: right;» width=»50%»> 248</td>
Table 2. Source: Author with data from the Office of Pilgrim
Our case study centres in 200km from the city of Merida to Baños de Montemayor. In this 200 kms the route crosses by two world heritage cities, two important ancient thermal sites, the particular landscape of the Dehesa left aside by the mountains of the Sierra de Béjar after crossing the green and waterful Valey of Ambroz.
Of special interest and relevance to our objectives are the works based on experiences of pilgrimage, finding some recent and open access comparative studies, a priori, especially interesting to compare the Via de la Plata with other ways of pilgrimage. In this sense, Murray (2014) compares the French Way with the Via de la Plata as a consolidated route in front of an emerging one. Csák (2014), for his doctoral thesis, carries out fieldwork in the Via de la Plata and in the French Way to Santiago. They are, above all, ethnographic or auto-ethnographic monographs (Lyons, 2013) that deepen in the experience. Other articles analyse the phenomenon of pilgrimages and their dynamics, considering their sustainability (Sibireva, 2014).
An original article deals with an emerging research line in tourism studies, such as the evaluation of mobile applications and their mediation of tourism experience. The study by Nickerson & Mourato-Dussault (2015) analyzes two applications in the Vía de la Plata and others in the Camino de Santiago. The communication of the Camino de Santiago is also a research line with some literature on it. Especially interesting is also for our project the articles on the communication of the Camino de Santiago in the media and social networks (López & Fernández, 2011; Poyatos et al., 2012, Silva , 2012).
We are also interested in studies that address the relationship between tourism and rural development on cultural routes. In this sense, a document especially relevant for us is the one dedicated to the Alba Plata project (Belloso, 2007).
The text of John B. Wright introduces us to the enormous literature on the Way of Saint James in general and, more broadly, pilgrimages or pilgrimage tourism. In this we can distinguish the stories of the pilgrims (like Wright himself) and the studies on them. There are particularly interesting works to construct and contextualize the theoretical framework of research, such as Lois and Cairo (2015). In the highly consolidated field of pilgrims & pilgrimages, international networks such as Atlas (Association for Tourism and Education and Leisure Research) which has a Special Interest Group in «Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage».
Experts of Extremadura have studied and promoted the cultural management of the Vía de la Plata from different disciplines –archaeology, geology, history, rural development, environmental sciences, education. Diego Muñoz Hidalgo (2010, 2016 hemerográfico), José María Corrales (2012), in the Faculty of Teacher Training, Juan Gil Montes (1988). Gil Montes recently participated in the Seminar for the promotion of tourism and cultural management of the Via de la Plata as a pilgrimage route to Santiago organized by the project Cultour+(. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP7yQXfItqE, http://eventos.unex.es/event_detail/7223/detail/jornadas-para-la-dinamizacion-turistica-y-la-gestion-cultural-de-la-via-de-la-plata.html ).
Previously, Fundación Premysa, in 2010, also organized a Conference on Sustainable Tourism in the Vía de la Plata in the framework of the «Ecovía de la Plata» project, in which ideas were already collected that are still weighed as the project to reuse the railway from of Aldeanueva del Camino to Béjar with tourist aims.
Especially interesting for the study of the Vía de la Plata is also the effort that CEDER «La Serena» is carrying out along the Mozarabic ways to Santiago, having already held two congresses on the Camino Mozarabe de Santiago, having on its website The proceedings of the Second International Congress (http://www.caminomozarabedesantiago.es/documentos/actas_ii_congreso.pdf), in which local authorities participated in Mozzarism such as Jesús Sánchez Adalid or Miguel Alba Calzado.
<li>Belloso, M. L. (2007). El proyecto Alba-Plata (1998-2004): ruta patrimonial de Extremadura. Revista de estudios extremeños, 63(2), 585-597.</li>
<li>Bernier, Claude. «la Via de la Plata, de Séville à Compostelle.» Lac-Beauport, Arion (2005): 217.</li>
<li>Bourret, Christian. «The Compostela Ways: Search for Meaning, Importance of Relations and Stakes of Sustainable Development.» 8th International Conference of Territorial Intelligence. ENTI. November, 4th-7th 2009. 2009.</li>
<li>Cànoves, G., Romagosa, F., Blanco, A., & Priestley, G. K. (2012). Religious tourism and sacred places in Spain: old practices, new forms of tourism. International Journal of Tourism Anthropology, 2(4), 282-298.</li>
<li>Corrales, J. M., & Maldonado, J. J. (2012). Historic roads border: a bet of future development based in the yesterday reality. In Spanish Journal of Rural Development (SJRD) (Vol. 3, No. Especial 2, pp. 47-54). Escuela Politecnica Superior.</li>
<li>Csák, A. E. (2014). PATHS OF AUTHENTICITY: THE STUDY OF TWO PILGRIMAGE ROUTES TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA (Doctoral dissertation, Central European University). [En]</li>
<li>García González, L. The main tourist territorial axis in the Iberian Peninsula. The difficulty of articulation, consolidation and planning of spatial tourist products. the case of via de la plata. Cuadernos Geograficos, 2004, (34):145-162)</li>
<li>Lois, M., & Cairo, H. (2015). Heritage-ized places and spatial stories: b/ordering practices at the Spanish-Portuguese Raya/Raia. Territory, Politics, Governance, 3(3), 321-343.</li>
<li>López, S. M., & Fernández, M. M. R. (2011). Análisis de la comunicación en la promoción del Camino de Santiago como producto turístico. Redmarka: revista académica de marketing aplicado, (6), 59-83.</li>
<li>Lucarno, G. (2016). The Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and The Via Francigena (Italy): a comparison between two important historic pilgrimage routes in Europe. International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, 4(7), 7.</li>
<li>Lyons, K. (2013). This Peregrina’s Autoethnographic Account of Walking the Camino Via de la Plata: A Feminist Spiritual Inquiry in Human Transformation</li>
<li>Mariñas Otero, E. 1991. La Vía de la Plata. Itinerario turístico-cultural. Revista de Estudios Turísticos, 109. Pgs. 109-127</li>
<li>Martorell Carreño, Alberto (2008) The transmision of the spirit of the place in the living cultural routes: the Route of Santiago de Compostela as case study. In: 16th ICOMOS General Assembly and International Symposium: ‘Finding the spirit of place – between the tangible and the intangible’, 29 sept – 4 oct 2008, Quebec, Canada. [Conference or Workshop Item]</li>
<li>Murray, M. (2014). The cultural heritage of pilgrim itineraries: The Camino de Santiago. Journeys, 15(2), 65-85. doi:10.3167/jys.2014.150204</li>
<li>Nickerson, R. C., & Mourato-Dussault, F. B. (2015). Managing Stored Data For Mobile Apps: Survey Of Apps And Case Study.</li>
<li>Poyatos, M. D. F., Martínez, A. A., & Martínez, B. B. (2012). Camino de Santiago y Xacobeo 2010 en los portales turísticos de las Comunidades Autónomas. Revista Latina de comunicación social, (67), 2.</li>
<li>Sibireva, E. (2014, April). Pilgrims–Potential Peril or Promising Potential for Sustainability? Sustainability Challenges in the Management of the Camino de Santiago. In ISCONTOUR 2014-Tourism Research Perspectives: Proceedings of the International Student Conference in Tourism Research (p. 169). BoD–Books on Demand.</li>
<li>Silva, X. M. B. (2012) La organización de eventos como estrategia de comunicación y promoción del territorio en tiempos de crisis. El caso del xacobeo 2010.</li>
<li>Vía de la Plata. (2016, 28 de octubre). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 07:27, noviembre 20, 2016 desde https://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=V%C3%ADa_de_la_Plata&oldid=94624732</li>
Ruta vía de la Plata: http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/ruta-via-de-la-plata/ruta-via-plata-ruta-via-plata/542598/
<em>Rutas de españa [ recurso electrónico ] II , la vía de la PlataJF. Barcelona (sp): Planeta.</em>
<em> Ávila Granados, J. In Ávila Granados J. (Ed.), La vía de la plata [ enregistrament de vídeo ]JF. Barcelona (sp): Planeta.</em>
<h3>Notes for a SWOT Analysis</h3>
Desk work, fieldwork and groups of experts have allowed us to outline a swot analysis of the Vía de la Plata as a cultural route to St. James. We can summarize the analysis so far, this way:
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Cultural heritage along the route includes three important world heritage cities (Mérida, Cáceres, Salamanca) and very important monumental and historical heritage, particularly important the ancient Rome heritage for our case study.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>It crosses also important thermal sites, very diverse cultural and natural landscapes. Cultural and natural heritage besides the route is also very important.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>People’s hospitality is a brand mark of the region, but also the highest indicator in tourism surveys.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>The route is one of the earliest promoted in Spain as a touristic route and one of the five routes now-a-days promoted also by national agencies.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>There are two strategic partnerships working in the promotion and safeguarding of the Via de la Plata and other for the Mozarabic ways.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>With more than 10,000 pilgrims a year, the route is one of the most consolidated, but still with space to grow in a sustainable way.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Still is a flow of pilgrims that make them feel alone in the expected conditions for meditation.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>The management and governance of the Mozarabic ways is a model of good practices that will impact the flow of pilgrims going through the Via de la Plata.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Cases of good practices of private cooperation between hospitaleros.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>The route is too hard in hot season. There is a serious risk for health and some fatal accidents have happened because of heat strike.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Cultural Heritage as the miliarios (milestones) or the ancient roman road are not safeguarded nor protected. There is not a public interest for it, and private interests often impose over the public rights. From the Association of Towns in Defence of The Silver Route, it is a constant reclaim over the years:</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>This Association highlights the following problems: “Wire fences, fences, and wrought-iron gates (open or closed); absence of bridges making the transit really difficult in certain rivers and streams, and even impossible in certain times of the year, crops and land consolidation; disappearance and re-use of milestones; wrong or poor signposting; water supply: the absence of fountains; provision of services” (http://www.laviadelaplata.es/la_via_de_la_plata.php?ididioma=2&tipo=asociacion)</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Lodgements are insufficient and spare. They are not well managed and/or rentable so they often close. This makes some journeys too long to get to the next lodgement.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Slowness of legal procedures for tendering hostels is also a factor that makes them to be closed for months.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Some parts of the route go by car roads, with narrow or none roadside for walking, making it risky for pilgrims.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Governance is difficult and not collaborative. The two Strategic Partnerships compete and do not co-work. The Cooperation Network of the Towns on the Ruta de la Plata do not specially support the route as a pilgrim way because of northern towns and cities interests.</li>
<li>Local inhabitants are not aware of the value and importance of their cultural heritage.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>The saturation of the French Way that expulses pilgrims to other routes in high season</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>The growing worldwide attraction of the St. James ways</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>The great amount of resources still unexploited for tourism.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>The insertion of the route in national and international programmes for joint marketing.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Entrepreneurship measures and support may have an impact in the services provision.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Lodgements can close for their precarious profit and lack of profitability.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Weather conditions can cause more fatal accidents.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Cultural Heritage can be more spoiled and eroded.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Big numbers of pilgrims can change the quite character of the way.</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Association of Towns in Defence of The Silver Route (http://www.laviadelaplata.es http://www.laviadelaplata.es)</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Cooperation Network of the Towns on the Ruta de la Plata (http://www.rutadelaplata.com)</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Camino Mozárabe de Santiago (http://www.caminomozarabedesantiago.es)</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Eroski Consumer Guide (It is the one mainly followed by pilgrims in internet): (http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/los-caminos-de-santiago/via-de-la-plata/)</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Gronze guide: http://www.gronze.com/via-plata</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>The Confraternity of St. James Step by Step to Santiago: http://www.csj.org.uk/planning-your-pilgrimage/routes-to-santiago/routes-in-spain/via-de-la-plata/</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Camino Ways.com: http://caminoways.com/ways/via-de-la-plata-camino-mozarabe</li>
<li style=»padding-left: 30px;»>Spain.info: http://www.spain.info/es/que-quieres/rutas/grandes-rutas/rutas/ruta_via_de_la_plata.html</li>