The origin of the most important medieval and literary route in Spain



The origins of the Way of El Cid

The modern origin of the Way of El Cid as a route for intrepid travellers dates back to the end of the 19th century, when Archer Milton Huntington, the North American sponsor of the Hispanic Society of New York, travelled around much of our country following the stages of exile described in the Poem of el Cid (Song of el Cid). Shortly afterwards, at the beginning of the 20th century, Ramón Menéndez Pidal and his wife, María Goyri, travelled around Castilla with the same intention and excellent results.

Although each one is different, they are both examples of what we could call the 'proto-history' of the Camino del Cid as a tourist-cultural route. Since then, many visitors have followed the steps of El Cid described in the poem with greater or lesser accuracy.

In the 1950s, there were tourist guides for the route and, particularly at the end of the 1980s, various proposals were made by pioneers of cycling tourism, including Luis Markina or Juan Antonio García Barrachina. The routes were very different and differed considerably from each other, but they all focused on reaching Valencia with the Song of el Cid a traveller's guide.

With this as a precedent, the Provincial Council of Burgos launched the idea in 1996 of setting up a hiking route to connect Vivar del Cid with San Pedro de Cardeña, passing through the city of Burgos, which were the three basic milestones of the first stanzas of the poem.

The route, which was originally 18 km long, was the origin of the current route. For this to happen, another seven provincial councils had to join the project (Soria, Guadalajara, Zaragoza, Teruel, Castellón, Valencia and Alicante) as part of a process that came to fruition in 2002 with the legal incorporation of the Way of El Cid Consortium. Finally, in January 2004, the consortium set up a management team with offices in Burgos to coordinate the actions taken to date, assist with new projects and ensure the route’s continuity.

Medinaceli, Soria.Medinaceli, Soria. 

The Way of El Cid, a literary route

The Way of El Cid is essentially a literary route since it comes from the Poem of El Cid, even though the underlying history is evident in many sections. This 'historical nature' is evident not only in places where history and legend come together (the poem mentions many towns and villages linked to the person known as El Cid), but also very specific country areas, such as the section in Zaragoza between Ariza and Calatayud. Although there are no reliable records confirming that El Cid travelled through the basin of the River Jalón, it is evident that the poet did and that stanzas 546 and following describe roads that existed at least at the end of the 12th century or beginning of the 13th.

The main reasons why the Poem was adopted as the main reference when designing the routes on the Way of El Cid in preference to locations with an important place in the history of El Cid, such as Zamora, are as follows:

  •  It was not possible to design a reliable historical route owing to the lack of sources and their inaccuracy. We do not know the roads El Cid may have taken in history on his travels owing to the inaccuracy of sources, ignorance of many of the roads that existed at the time and the necessary changes that had to be made for geostrategic or other reasons.
  • In the highly improbable case that these routes could be defined, their great length would prevent them from being used as a tourist resource, since, besides the provinces represented in the consortium, El Cid travelled through others that include Zamora, Murcia, Oviedo, Seville, Barcelona and the autonomous communities of La Rioja and Navarre. The exception to this rule is the province of Alicante, which is fully integrated in the Way of El Cid. The Alicante route ends in Orihuela and runs between the towns of Villena and Elche, places not mentioned in the Poem but fundamental to the history of El Cid since they were where he spent his second exile, the one that would finally lead him to take Valencia and, consequently, after his death and thanks to literature, be transformed into myth.
  • Since its origins, this route has been traditionally associated with that followed by El Cid in the Poem. The great importance of the Poem (not only for its magnitude as a literary work, but also for its integration in Spanish culture) exceeds the figure of El Cid in history and has led to him being known all around the world.

 Elche, Alicante.Elche, Alicante.

The configuration of the Way of El Cid

The configuration of this cultural tourist route has entailed two main challenges: the inaccuracy of the poet when describing the routes and the diversity that comes from the narrative itself: El Cid and his men did not travel directly to Valencia, but rather, due to 'geostrategic' reasons and especially for the sake of the plot, they took detours to the riverbank towns on the River Jalón (stanzas 546 and following), the basin of the River Henares (446 and following) and the Teruel lands of Montalbán (stanzas 952 and following), among many others.

In general, except for Alicante, the Way has been marked out based on the first two poems, excluding the third one, which is set mainly in Toledo.

With only a few exceptions, travellers will come across all the scenarios mentioned in the poem on this route. In some cases, some villages have been associated with the same place name, as is the case of El Robledal de Corpes. The location of this place, which is where the imaginary affront to El Cid's daughters (2747) occurs, has captured the attention of many academics. In fact, its location has more to do with tradition than anything else, which is why, as scenarios of the affront, the Way has included Castillejo de Robledo, in Soria, and Robledo de Corpes, in Guadalajara, both of which have important verbal traditions in the matter. Which of the two places was in the poet's mind? For now, it will be the evocative capacity of the traveller that decides this and similar questions.

 Montalbán, Teruel.Montalbán, Teruel.

The definition of the routes

The routes were defined based on the plot of the poem, which describes various journeys along different routes: that of El Cid to Valencia, the cavalry raids of Álvar Fáñez and the unfortunate journeys of El Cid's daughters, among others. As a result, it was decided to join these routes into a collection of roads whose main protagonist would be the scenarios of the Poem rather than its plot: this would make it easier for travellers' journeys.

For the route, three criteria were used in the following order of priority:

  • First criterion: literature. First of all, the place names mentioned in the Poem were located when possible.
  • Second criterion: history and El Cid. In many cases, the places mentioned in the Poem are insufficient for designing a route, since between one place name and another there may be distances of more than 40 km. In these cases, the towns and villages related to El Cid in history have been included. For example, between San Pedro de Cardeña and Spinaz de Can, in Burgos, there is Santo Domingo de Silos, a town associated with El Cid in history, since he and his wife donated land to the monastery, whose Romanesque cloister was built in the times of Rodrigo).
  • Third criterion: history and tourism. When the towns and villages mentioned in the Poem and those related to El Cid in history are insufficient, places of historical-medieval interest have been added. This is the case, for example, of Sigüenza, in Guadalajara, a reference point between Castejón de Henares and Anguita.

Romanesque cloister in Santo Domingo de Silos, BurgosRomanesque cloister in Santo Domingo de Silos, Burgos

Rev. ALC: 18.05.18