Via Francigena

The Year of the Via Francigena

Picture of Redazione AEVF
Redazione AEVF

The Via Francigena is currently the focus of international attention, as demonstrated by the number of pilgrims (especially recently) that have set out from Canterbury to Rome, some continuing to the south of Italy to Jerusalem. They come from North and South America, Asia and Europe, and many have already traveled the paths to Santiago several times.

THE VIA FRANCIGENA, A EUROPEAN CAMINO. Along the Via Francigena, the concept of Europe emerged, first by virtue of its religious connection and then by the lay. This millennial journey is synonymous with soul searching and spirituality, and by connecting different cultures, it is also a way of knowing, understanding, reclaiming memory and roots; a journey that retraces the steps of the bishop Sigeric through 1,000 years of history along the more than 1,000 miles from Canterbury to Rome, passing through England, France, Switzerland and Italy.  A journey that continues towards the coast of Apulia, Santa Maria di Leuca, towards Jerusalem, connecting with the Via Egnatia and the eastern Silk Road.  Just within the last few days the Via Francigena has been reconfirmed as a Cultural Route of the Council of Europe.

The Via Francigena is an extraordinarily beautiful path, unexpectedly new and original even for those who already know the places visited, as it changes one’s point of view and rhythm.  When one arrives in these places on foot, walking slowly, the perception of the goal itself changes.

THE BOOM OF THE FRANCIGENO WAY. The ‘boom’ taking place on the Via Francigena is clear, in particular in this special year dedicated to walking launched by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Tourism and the Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. Surely this “peaceful explosion” linked to the Francigena and the slow routes is connected to a new social trend that sees walking as part of a lifestyle focused on mental well-being and the ability to regain possession of one of the most valuable assets of all: time. Walking also means opening up to the world and exploring paths that may be familiar to you with new eyes. As reported by the sociologist David Le Breton “The act of walking brings human beings to the happy consciousness of their own existence, plunging them into an active form of meditation that calls for the full participation of all the senses… Often walking is a means of becoming reacquainted with ourselves! “

Thanks to the efforts of institutions, associations, volunteers and professionals working on culture, hospitality offered to pilgrims is steadily increasing, greater attention is being given to signage and maintenance, and the route is beginning to feel more connected to the identity of the territories that are crossed.  The local communities, in fact, represent the most important element in the provision of hospitality and information along the Via Francigena. The Francigena is also generating important socio -economic development of the territories, and supports the creation and development of other major routes. Not surprisingly, the Via Francigena incorporates many small towns and villages that become vital places thanks to the enhancement of a European route like this and by networking with each other.

ONGOING PROJECTS. Good news for walkers is the new official guide created by Terre di Mezzo, in collaboration with the Italian regions and the European Association of the Vie Francigene. The guide, which will soon be made available, will also be published in English later this year.  Future projects include an official guide on the section from Canterbury to the Great St. Bernard Pass.

Another reason why the Francigena is currently experiencing so much popularity is the proliferation of travel literature. A fast growing phenomenon that has seen a diffusion of literature related to the Francigena, from novels to guides, travel journals to cultural blogs, from specialized magazines to those offering cultural insights. This trend is also manifesting itself in other forms such as festivals for music, culture or related to the rediscovery of traditional crafts, skills and food. First among all of these is the “Via Francigena Collective Project” (produced by AEVF and Civita), a network of Francigena cultural events taking place from Canterbury to Santa Maria di Leuca, extending to other paths, from May to October, and coordinated by AEVF and the Associazione Civita di Roma. The sixth edition of the Festival 2016, directed by Sandro Polci, envisages a program of nearly 700 events which will animate the Francigena in the next months.

Other important projects in the pipeline related to the development of the Francigena include: increased accessibility (remembering the great commitment of Peter Scidurlo on this issue), the signing of the bike path with CicloVia Francigena and projects related to the development of the Via Francigena on horseback. In short, there are currently several exciting projects in progress for the further development of this European cultural route. Two special projects in particular confirm this: the recent establishment of the organizing committee for the nomination of the Via Francigena as a world heritage site by UNESCO and the work started for the extension of the certification of the Via Francigena South Cultural Route of the Council of Europe.

WALKING ON FRANCIGENA TODAY. Walking on the Francigena today means believing in a strong cultural, territorial and tourist cooperation consisting of social cohesion and environmental development, with particular attention to symbolic issues of Europe. The Francigena helps to strengthen the democratic dimension of exchange and cultural tourism through the forging of networks between associations, local and regional authorities, universities and professional organizations, as well as in preserving the diverse heritage of themes and alternative tourist itineraries.

Everyone has the right to travel the route, to love it, know it and get closer to it, without any distinction of creed, class or motivations, as has been the case for over a thousand years.

Buon cammino. 

Luca Bruschi