Pilgrims have been walking the 800km Camino de Santiago across northern Spain for hundreds of years and in recent years those numbers have been growing as hikers from around the world discover the trail. The tiny villages along the way can thank this new generation of adventurers for their survival.
Camino pilgrims help rural Spain’s emptying villages survive
Amid the vast grain fields of Spain, a medieval church stands guard over the handful of adobe homes where some 50 people live — and twice as many travellers along the Camino de Santiago spend the night this summer.
Terradillos de los Templarios, and dozens of villages like it, were built to host medieval pilgrims walking the 800km route across Spain to the Apostle James’ tomb in Santiago de Compostela. Today’s Camino travellers are saving them from disappearing.
“This is life for the villages,” said Nuria Quintana, who manages one of Terradillos’ two pilgrim hostels. “In winter when no pilgrims come through, you could walk through the village 200 times and see nobody.”
In this hamlet named after a medieval knightly order founded to protect pilgrims, and all along the route, the return of travelers — after pandemic-related disruptions — is helping restore the livelihood and vitality of villages that were steadily losing jobs, population, even their social fabric.