Although these days the Camino Frances is the most well travelled pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostela, the Via de la Plata is a much older route that commenced in the 12th C. This lesser known trail follows the ancient Roman ‘Silver’ road that passes through Sevillia, Merida, Caceres and Salamanca. Acclaimed as a great engineering feat it pre dates the Romans who built on the foundations laid by former civilisations.
So far most of our journey has been by minibus allowing extended time to explore the fascinating historical sites in major centres. Our first real taste of things Roman was in Italica, an archeological complex situated near Seville. This site built by Hadrian in 2 B.C. was the first permanent Roman settlement in the southern Iberian Peninsula. Of particular interest were the mosaic tiled floors in the houses of nobles. If you look closely you can see that the ancient stone mansions had a great sense of humour!
Next day in Merida we encountered the most important remains of Roman antiquity uncovered so far in Spain. This includes a well preserved amphitheatre and a theatre (or playhouse) that is still in use, an Islamic Alcazaba built on the foundations of a a Roman fortress and one of the longest Roman bridges in Spain. The remains of the Temple of Diana were a special highlight for some!
After an overnight stop in Caceres where, apart from historic focused sight seeing we celebrated the birthday of one member of our group, we arrived in the beautiful University city of Salamanca. By now we all decided that a break from archeology, cathedral spotting and other history related endeavour was in order. With the help of our driver Xavier and our Spanish guide, we found a peaceful section of the Via de la Plata where we walked for half a day along farming trails and quiet country roads. How fortunate were we to enjoy the serenity of walking through fields of cork trees, past cows dozing or munching on lush green grass and rich pastureland filled with wheat and corn meal.
This long distance walk (in perfect weather) was a fitting introduction to the third and final stage of our journey that commences in a couple of days along the Camino Portuguese.