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Milestones on the Camino de Santiago: What are they and where can you see some examples?

Learn about the origin of these ancient granite pillars that can be found along the length and breadth of the Camino de Santiago

Miliario del Priorato, Zamora - Wikimedia Commons/Estevoaei

Miliario del Priorato, Zamora - Wikimedia Commons/Estevoaei

What were the milestones?

A milestone, also called milestone, is a cylindrical column, usually made of granite, which was placed on the edges of Roman roads. These columns were used to measure distance, as one was placed every Roman mile (1480 m). 

They were intended to indicate the distance between that point and the nearest major city, as well as the distance to Rome. All this was engraved on the column itself, along with the name of the emperor who had it built and the governor responsible for the road works.

During the last centuries of the Western Roman Empire, these milestones were also used as a political tool between the different emperors and the candidates for emperorship. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Empire they continued to be used well into the 6th century.

Milestones on the Pilgrims Way to Santiago de Compostela

Since all the territories through which the different routes of the Way of St. James pass once belonged to the Roman Empire, we can find several remains of milestones on what were once the roads that connected the different towns and cities of the empire.

The route with most of these signs is the Vía de la Plata, with more than 200 pieces, as most of this Jacobean route runs parallel to an ancient Roman road that linked the north and south of the Peninsula. The most popular is located between the towns of Casas de Don Antonio and Aldea del Cano, some 25 km from Cáceres. It is popularly known as "el Cartero" (the Postman), as it was formerly used as a post box.

Miliarios en Lobios, Galicia - Wikimedia Commons/Alvaro Perez Vilariño

Miliarios en Lobios, Galicia - Wikimedia Commons/Alvaro Perez Vilariño

In Galicia we can also find some of these milestones, such as the one in the parish of Boimorto, near Melide. Near Redondela, a crossing point on the Portuguese Way, we can also find another milestone from the 2nd century, known as the Miliario de Vilar.

In the Parque do Xurés, right on the border between Galicia and Portugal, we can find one of the largest concentrations of milestones in the same place. It is not known for sure why all these pieces are concentrated in this place. It is suspected that it was the place where the milestones were carved and then placed in their corresponding place or that they were simply gathered in this place when someone considered that they were no longer useful.

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