The name. Although many types of products were transported along it, including metals, the Silver Route, despite its name, does not owe its name to the precious metal. The most widely accepted theory is that the name is due to a phonetic confusion. In the Andalusian period, this route was called al-Balata (the paved road). Probably, after the Christian conquest, the Castilian pronunciation led to the confusion of balata with plata (silver).
There are 12 routes to Santiago de Compostela, the Via de la Plata being one of the oldest and longest. It is 705 km long. It consists of 26 stages, starting in Seville and ending in Astorga. There it joins up with the French Way, having to cover another 260 km divided into 11 stages before reaching Santiago de Compostela.
Along the roads there were distance markers called milestones that were placed every 1480 metres. This measure was the length of a Roman mile and was equivalent to a thousand double Roman steps, taking into account that each double step measured 148 cm. The milestones are cylindrical granite columns engraved with the name of the emperor at the time the road was built, in addition to the mile number. There are still a large number of milestones on the Silver Route.
There are various theories as to why it is a universal symbol of the pilgrim. Some believe that pilgrims wore them because their shape made it easier to fetch water to drink. Although popular legend has it that when the body of the Apostle was brought by his disciples to Galicia to be buried, on arriving at the coast, they saw a wedding where games were being played on horseback for entertainment. The groom’s horse bolted and they both sank into the water. To everyone’s astonishment, rider and horse were found safe and sound, covered with a multitude of scallop shells, next to the disciples’ boat. This was considered a miracle and it was established that all pilgrims making the pilgrimage to the Apostle’s tomb should carry a scallop shell with them, as a symbol of protection and identification.