As I have indicated before, walking or hiking (you certainly do both) the Camino de Santiago is a far cry from the Appalachian Trail or other more wilderness adventures. The nature of the path on which you travel and the environment through which you travel are both quite varied. After 10 days of hiking I had climbed over the Pyrenees on paved roads, rocky slopes and snow-covered trails. I had followed a mountain stream through wooded terrain on a soft earthen path, walked through small towns and villages on quiet streets, climbed the Alto de Perdon on a hard, gravel surface, and walked through the streets of Pamplona where the bulls famously run each July. So entering the city of Burgos on Day 11 by way of a long, earthen path following a river that turned into a park and eventually a city sidewalk was much like a microcosm of the first 10 days.
One blogger aptly summarized the walking and hiking as follows:
Modern-day pilgrims on the Camino Francés pass through Basque country and right by the site of a battle in the French epic The Song of Roland. They walk through Pamplona (right up the street where the bulls run every July), Burgos and León (both of which have stunning cathedrals laden with images of St. James), and Ponferadda (which boasts a castle built by the Knights Templar). They also cross over mountains and a vast plain known as the meseta, pass by cornfields, sunflower fields, vineyards, and even a free wine fountain, ramble past groves of olive, fig, almond, walnut, and chestnut trees, and trudge through the mud on rainy Galicia’s frequently flooded roads and hills.
Both for modern as well as medieval pilgrims, the “magnet” drawing walkers into the city is clearly its famous cathedral. After traveling through a a variety of villages with simple, 12th century Romanesque churches, the architecture displayed by the cathedral reminds the pilgrim of the march of architecture as well as the refinements to the Gothic style, which replaced the Romanesque. The Catedral de Burgos, in fact, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Architecture historians remark how Our Lady of Burgos is a living exhibition that summarizes the evolution of Gothic architecture. The more obvious elements of the cathedral (the spires) exhibit a “high” or later Gothic with significant ornamentation.
Prior to the Gothic style, architects had to use much thicker walls to support the structure. Such building methods permitted only modest windows. The genius of Gothic architecture was the ability to build taller structure, but with simpler walls – this allowed for the large and long windows – which permitted much more light into the churches – emphasized by the use of stained glass.