Polish Way - Camino Polaco

   Camino de Santiago - the most famous pilgrim way begun in Latvia or probably in Estonia and lead through Poland, Germany, France into the west - to the Santiago de Compostela in western Spain, where, according to tradition, there is a St James grave. St James was also named Elder James.
   The Spanish during many centuries had fought with Muslims, in order to maintain the dominance over Iberian Peninsula. They named James - Matamor - Moors Slayer, because they St James personally supported them during the fights. Since IX century St James is a Spain patron, and nowadays - one of symbol of United Europe.
   During Middle Ages James was a very popular Saint. There are 155 St James churches only in Poland, and thousands of pilgrims from all over the Europe went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Some of them passed few thousands kilometres. Tradition says that the road to Santiago starts from the door of own house or from parish.
   Late medieval Christians treated pilgrimages with admiration - says dr. Anna Supryniuk, historian, from the Toruń Copernicus University. They had a deep religious faith, but also a curiosity of the world behind the horizon and the fondness for adventures. Today situation is similar but proportions moved for the benefit of curiosity of the adventures and curiosity of the world, that is guaranteed by this long road.
   Medieval pilgrimage way - Camino de Santiago or St James Way, has almost lost his religious nature and became a trekking way available for everyone, regardless of faith. None however questions catholic or Christian nature of the Way. Spanish says: "Muchos empiezan el Camino como turistas y terminan como peregrinos" that means "many begin the Way as tourists but finish as pilgrims" Camino de Santiago that was given by Christianity for Europe is nowaday important element of European identity.
   During last years popularity of Camino steadily increases also because of Polish Pope John Paul 2nd, who visited Santiago de Compostela twice, and also went on the pilgrimage in the part of the Way.
   In 1987 St James Way was proclaimed The First European Cultural Way. In 1993 it was inscribbed to the Unesco world cultural heritage list. European council made an appeal to state governments, city governments and non-governmental organizations to restore and maintain St James Way. Appeal has got a very good European response.
   Today, apart from Spain, St James Ways are present in Portugal (Camino Portuques), France (Camino Frances) and Germany (Jakobswege). Also in Poland, where pilgrimage tradition to Santiago was almost forgotten, there are activities to identity and restore old pilgrim ways including main one - Polish Way (Camino Polaco) - from Ogrodniki, close to Lithuania border, through Olsztyn, Toruń, Gniezno, Poznań into Słubice on the border with Germany. Camino Polaco will be connected to European network and will become a part of the main way - Camino Europeo.

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   28 of April 2007 was a date of official opening of the first part of Polish Way, from the St James cathedral in Olsztyn to Gothic St James church in Toruń. This 240 km part of the way was divided into 9 stages, each one of the length from 18 to 37 km. It is not easy to pass 9 stages during 9 days. Pilgrims in weaker form may divide they way into more stages. This can be supported by existing network of hotels, hostels, B&B, agricultural farms. In Spain many hostels were established next to monasteries and churches, often with financial support from European funds. In a Polish Way between Toruń and Olsztyn, for the time being, there is a Pilgrims House in Gietrzwałd, however when the Way will gain popularity and infrastructure there will be more church hostels, which is important for Catholics.
   Polish Way has been built using existing identified tourist tracks, mainly on the international pedestrian way E-11 and other local ways. The way of Olsztyn - Toruń leads through attractive tourist regions - Warmia, Western Mazury, Brodnica Lakeland, Vistula Pomerania; on the field ways, local tracks, forest ways, through river Drwęca valley, through lakes banks that are spotted at each stage of the way.
   Currently there are works to identity and mark up remaining parts of Polish Way - from Ogrodniki into Olsztyn and from Olsztyn into Słubice. Initiative of reconstruction of Polish Way came from Preservation of Historic Monuments Association - non-governmental organization established in January 2005 in Toruń. In spring 2007 all activities related with reconstruction and mark up of Polish Way were taken over by MAP (International Explorers Agency). MAP was established in 1994 in Toruń. All reconstruction initiatives are supported by fellows of Polish Club of Camino de Santiago since the beginning.

   I wish to everyone that will set off on o journey to Camino Polaco, or maybe further to Santiago de Compostela on a great Way Camino Europeo - Buen Camino - Good Way.

Włodzimierz Antkowiak, e-mail
Toruń, 28.05.2007 r.
Przekład: Paweł Skoworotko, Tczew