Having written several posts in this blog and a book about stairways, I planned to keep an eye out for stairways while walking the Camino de Santiago. As it turns out, I saw and walked on stairways from the very beginning to the very end of the Camino. I had no idea that there would be so many of them.
I spotted my first stairway when I stepped out of the van that shuttled me from the Biarritz Airport to St. Jean Pied-de-Port. The stairs were across the street from the Pilgrim Office where many peregrinos (pilgrims) stop to get a pilgrim passport and have their passport stamped before they start walking. (More information about peregrinos and pilgrim passports can be found in the previous blog post.)
Since I had until the next morning before I started walking to Santiago, I wandered around St. Jean Pied-de-Port to see if there were more stairways. With St. Jean being a fortified medieval town built on a hillside, finding more stairways was not difficult.
I climbed stairways leading to the top of the restored walls, stairways from lower parts of town up to the wall, and even a 229-step dirt and wooden beam stairway that followed one of the walls up the hill.
When I started walking the Camino on the following day, I saw stairways in many if not most of the towns along the way. I found that towns (big and small) along the Camino were built for walking. Except for boulevards, most of the streets were narrow, some streets were too narrow for cars, and housing was very compact with many people living in apartments. As a result the streets were full of people walking, and stairways were a natural part of the fabric to connect streets and walkways built on hills.
Here are some examples:
I found some stairways by pure happenstance. On my fourth day of walking I was at a place west of Pamplona where many peregrinos make a detour from the Camino to check out a church in the small town of Eunate. Even though the guidebooks recommend making the detour, I stayed on the Camino as I had already passed many churches and knew I would pass many more.
And it was a good thing that I did stay on the Camino; otherwise, I would not have gone through the town of Obanos. There, after watching a game of pelota in the local fronton, I bumped into a man around my age named Dean. He mentioned to me that he was from Arizona which is next door to where I live in New Mexico. I asked him where in Arizona he lived and he told me that it was a small city that I had probably never heard of named Sierra Vista.
I answered, “Are you kidding me, I know Sierra Vista like the back of my hand!” I then told Dean about the six trips my dog Petey and I made to Bisbee last year, which is very close to Sierra Vista, to put together a book on the public stairways of Bisbee. I then told him that the book is sold at the Hastings bookstore in Sierra Vista. Right as the word “Hastings” came out of my mouth we passed a very long and recently built public stairway joining the Camino from the left.
As a stairway aficionado, I told Dean that I had to check out the stairs and would catch up with him later. By my count, the stairs had 152 steps and connected the Camino to the road down below.
In another case, right after saying good bye to a very good Camino friend, who had to leave the Camino for business reasons, I noticed a stairway at the edge of the plaza in front of the huge cathedral in Burgos. I followed that stairway as it wound around the cathedral and soon spotted another stairway going uphill away from the cathedral. I followed that stairway until it ended at a road after 85 steps. Just on the other side of that road was another stairway going up through a park. That stairway went up 162 steps to an old medieval fort.
On my way back to the Camino route and on the walk out of Burgos I passed several more stairways. So who knows how many more stairways there are to discover in Burgos.
It turns out that Santiago, at the very end of the Camino, is also a stairway city. The Camino route goes down a stairway to enter the outskirts of the city. The route then passes several more stairways on its way to the cathedral. And at the very end of the Camino you go down a set of steps to reach the plaza in front of the cathedral. I found even more stairways the next day while wandering around Santiago.
As you can see, if you are a stairway aficionado, you will like walking the Camino.