Many visit Spain for the weather and the food, but with religious tourism booming , a number of companies are now targetting this fervent market of approximately 300 million people. With this in mind the Ruta Mariana now connects five sanctuaries in three countries, Andorra, France and Spain.
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Tourism is sun and sand, peace and calm. Tourism is culture and art, heritage and history. Tourism is nature and landscape, sports and activities. Tourism is food and wine, festivals and cohabitation. But tourism is also faith, religion and pilgrimage. A much more important motivation than you may think. Currently, 300 million tourists worldwide each year travel to holy places, of which around half head to Christian tradition related sites, generating an economic impact of about €13,000 million annually.
It is estimated that more than 10 per cent of trips made by Spaniards have religious motivation, representing about 17 million visitors a year to the many destinations of pilgrimage. The study of the average daily expenditure in relation to the purpose of the journey reveals that the largest disbursement occurred in the religious travel (€57.90). The impact on the religious tourist destination, revitalises the hotel and restaurant industray; These are very faithful tourists (pun intended) contributing to the seasonality and diversification of supply.
It is estimated that Spain has 12,300 shrines and chapels of which 4,300 are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, according to the Conferencia Episcopal. The most visited are the cathedrals of Toledo, Seville, Santiago de Compostela and Burgos. There are also numerous religious holidays including Holy Week. Some of them are declared of International Tourist Interest such as Misterio de Elche and Corpus Christi in Toledo. Then there are the religious pilgrimages such as Romería del Rocío, Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza, San Benito Abad, Octava del Corpus and San Isidro, la Virgen de Gracia or the Nuestra Señora de la Barca, among others. There are also various jubilee destinations, such as Tarragona (Catalonia), Utrera (Andalusia) that have occurred recently. Moreover, Santiago de Compostela, Caravaca de la Cruz (Murcia) and Santo Toribio de Liebana (Cantabria) regularly hold jubilee years. Meanwhile Seville held the Macareno. Several monasteries have been declared World Heritage: Guadalupe in Extremadura; Poblet, in Catalonia; Monasterio and Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, in Madrid; and the Monasterios de Yuso y Suso, in La Rioja.
Religious tourism welcomes the Ruta Mariana.
Ruta Mariana, an itinerary of cultural and religious interest, links the shrines of Pilar, Torreciudad, Lourdes, Meritxell and Montserrat, a journey of faith guided by spirituality and devotion, providing the traveller with a great touristic, heritage, rural, gastronomic and natural richness that develops in territories spanning three neighbouring countries: Spain (Aragon and Catalonia), France (Hautes Pyrénées) and the Principality of Andorra. It is therefore a plural and multicultural itinerary with major attractions and a wide range of complementary, each sanctuary having its own qualities and characteristics.
Today the Ruta Mariana is one of the most visited pilgrimages and recognized in Spain and France as well as in other countries of Europe and Central and South America. This route, which annually increases its number of visitors, hosts annually among its five sanctuaries around 12 million pilgrims, reflecting the broad appeal and importance for both pilgrims and tourists.
For centuries, religious motivations have shifted men and women from one place to another. This type of motivation, far from lessening, is constantly increasing and the faith and devotion of the “faithful” are strengthened day by day. Advances in communications and transportation, the new and varied proposals from shrines, existing attractions around them and the development of tourism as a mass phenomenon have contributed to today’s reality. The shrines themselves have evolved and adapted to the needs of visitors, improving their access and facilities to provide better services and surrounding themselves with a perfectly planned structure.
These destinations have been adapted to the new trends of the traveler, and are not only prepared to welcome the pilgrims, but also the other visitors keen to appreciate the the spiritual significance of the place itself, as well as the cultural, artistic and natural heritage the sites possess. Religious Tourism mixes culture and devotion, art and spirituality, nature and meditation. Pilgrims and tourists rub along to encompass a different viewpoint of the areas they visit. These shrines are located in city centres and in prime rural locations, within a natural environment of great beauty.
But as well as nourishing the soul, we must also pay attention to the body. Good food is one of the riches that comprises the Ruta Mariana. On this tour you have the opportunity to appreciate both the Aragon and Catalan cuisine and that typical of southern France and Andorra, based primarily on products and local recipes. The variety of regions and peoples, the plurality of environments and the history of each place, means the supply of products and dishes is endless. The rich lands through which the route passes make it possible to have high quality product combining for a perfect range of aromas and flavors. Oils, wines, vegetables, mushrooms, truffles, rice, meat, fish, ham or sausages are a sample of the products used in the culinary creations of this land.
Aragon to France
On the banks of the Ebro Basilica del Pilar, one of the most important shrines of the Catholic world, to which millions of pilgrims come every year and people come from all corners stands. Given its status as urban sanctuary, located in the center of Zaragoza, El Pilar is a must for everyone who visits the city. The towers and domes that shape the external shape of the basilica are recognized from anywhere. The current sanctuary is the result of centuries of history, different construction methods and alterations.
The Torreciudad is located in the province of Huesca, near the town of Barbastro. Its privileged location on top of the mountain has provided a beautiful and evocative natural setting with a wonderful view of the reservoir of El Grado. This modern Mariana shrine is located a few metres from the old chapel that gave rise to the devotion of Our Lady of Torreciudad back in the eleventh century. The name (formerly Turris Civitatis) comes from an old watchtower from the Arab era, whose ruins lie near the hermitage. Torreciudad is today a meeting place and pilgrimage for thousands of people and is among the most visited sites in the Pyrenees.
Across the ridge the Sanctuary of Lourdes is the second Catholic pilgrimage destination after Rome and also the second most visited site in France. It is located in the small town of Lourdes in a valley surrounded by greenery and freshness. The beautiful landscapes, nature, tranquility, relaxation and above all faith and devotion in the Virgin of Lourdes are features that accompany the way of life of this area. The Sanctuary of Lourdes is a cosmopolitan place, a universal sanctuary whose strength lies in the diversity of its people. Pilgrims and visitors who come to Lourdes come from all continents. Each year, more than 6 million people come to this place, among whom include young people and especially the sick who come in search of relief and hope.
The ancient and modern
In the heart of Catalonia, on the summit of a mountain, is the image of the Virgin of Montserrat, patroness of Catalonia. In this natural park, full of pine and oak, and populated by squirrels and wild boar, there are numerous itineraries and guided tours to find the key sites. At its peak is the Sanctuary where they worship the Black Madonna, the carving of the Virgin, in Romanesque style, dating from the twelfth century. Located 20 kilometers northwest of Barcelona, the monastery was founded by Abad Oliba in the year 1025. The architectural ensemble consists of several squares and basilica, originally from the sixteenth century although it was rebuilt in the nineteenth. Right there exists a hospice for pilgrims and visitors. Nearby is the Benedictine Monastery, with its beautiful chapter, the neo-Romanesque cloister and refectory, renovated in 1925 by the architect Puig i Cadafalch.
Among the group of buildings around the monastery, stands the museum, which includes a rich set of artistic objects. Divided into different sections organized in a didactic way, it offers the possibility of guided visits. It houses an interesting collection of Italian paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as Flemish, Spanish and French art. It also exhibits liturgical elements of different styles, and biblical archeology from the Middle East and Egypt. It has a magnificent collection of icons, as well as the Nigra Sum collection, a permanent exhibition on the evolution throughout history. But perhaps what is most surprising is the section of modern painting and sculpture, which brings together a representative sample of the Catalan artists who worked between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. The initial core from 1982 consists of works from the collections of Josep Sala and Ardiz as well as figures like Martí Alsina, Vayreda, Gimeno, Rusiñol, Casas, Nonell, Mir, Anglada Camarasa, Picasso and Dali. A few years later, the collection added a representation of French impressionist painting, including works by Monet, Sisley, Degas, Pissarro, Rouault and Poliakoff. The section is completed with works by other artists such as Singer Sargent, Sorolla, Julio Romero de Torres and Zuloaga. The authors represented make the Museum of Montserrat one of the best art galleries in Catalonia with regard to Catalan modernist painting and the French Impressionists.
In contrast to one of the oldest shrines of Spain, Meritxel sanctuary in neighboring Andorra, is offered as one of the most modern and striking. Andorra, the so-called “country of the Pyrenees” breathes nature from every pore, pulsing to the rhythm of this great green heart that surrounds each of its corners: rivers, lakes, fountains, meadows, valleys, mountains. It is an ancient country, boasting a rich cultural heritage with outstanding examples in each of its towns and valleys towers and Romanesque churches, museums and monuments, cultural routes, festivals and traditions, etc. Of course, it is also a shopping paradise. In Andorra, also you can eat well and enjoy its own gastronomy with French and Catalan influences and of course, practice almost any sport, winter and summer.
What is not so well known, however, is that Andorra is also a leading center of religious pilgrimage. Who knew! But in this great little country, surprises appear where they are least expected. In the middle of the Principality, surrounded by nature and wrapped in beautiful spots, you are at the sanctuary of Meritxell, symbol and emblem of the passion of an entire people. The church sanctuary was recently recognized with the dignity of ‘Basilica’, a title granted by Pope Francisco. The set consists of the old church of Meritxell, Romanesque, and the new sanctuary, designed by architect Ricardo Bofill.
In 2014, the sanctuary of Meritxell has joined the Marian Route, which has allowed it to become an important destination for religious tourism and become part of this global destination visited by both believers and art lovers nature. Thus, the Andorran sanctuary is incorporated into this project with the idea of opening the country to religious tourism and have the opportunity to make known all the religious, cultural and natural heritage it has.
For more information about the Ruta Mariana, visit the website at http://rutamariana.com
Elle, along with Alan, is the owner of Spain Buddy and the busy web design business – Spain Web Design by Gandy-Draper.
Born a “Norverner”, she then spent most of her life “Dann Saff” before moving to Spain in 2006. Elle’s loves are Alan, the internet, dogs, good food, and dry white wine – although not necessarily in that order.