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motorway aires: 7

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motorway aires[1]
Hastingues, A64

The pilgrimage of Compostelle,
and a local bastide

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Motorway aires are designed to provide a suitable environment for relaxing, refreshing and recovering during the long, hard journeys. As well as facilities of often dubious nature, picnic tables and seats, a telephone kiosk, there are often optional extras such as a play area or a display related to some local interest or event.

marker at

Hastingues aire, A64

At the western end of the A64 autoroute [motorway] that hugs the Pyrenees from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Mediterranean Sea in the east, is a clean, well-maintained and well-appointed aire with an exhibition centre, fuel station, shop and snack bar, picnic areas - one with a children’s slide, and even ‘cooling showers’.

The focus of this aire is on the pilgrims’ route that starts from many points in Europe, and goes down to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, Spain.

Pilgrim statue at Hastingues aire, A64

Pilgrim statue

The approaches to the neat exhibition centre symbolise the various routes to Saintiago de Compostella. They are also a giant version of the international pilgrimage shell logo, which is widely and thematically used at this aire.

logo for the Saint Jacques de Compostella pilgrimage.

sketch map locating hastingues aire

Sketch map locating Hastingues aire.

Hastingues nord aire, with its exhibition centre, is only accessible from the west-bound side of the motorway, going towards Bayonne. If you are approaching from the east and wish to visit, you will have to overshoot to Peyrehorade, exit the motorway and come back on the west-bound direction. The east-bound aire is very sparsely appointed by comparison.

Hastingues aire is in Département 64 - Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

saint james and the pilgrimage of compostelle

The exhibition centre houses displays showing the pilgrim routes, the history of this pilgrimage and of the apostle James the Greater, the focus of these pilgrimages, together with statues and a few related historic artefacts.

James the Greater was one of Jesus’s companions. There are various versions of his connection with Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, Spain. One is that he was banished there. Another is that after his execution, James’s body was banished to the (then) furthest point from Rome: Compostella on the tip of Spain. Then there is a less plausible version starting after James’s death, with the body being put in a boat to drift from the Holy Land, ending up on the Galician coast.

Compostella was a popular medieval pilgrimage destination. This pilgrimage route has been rediscovered, recovered and expanded in recent years. This was the medieval version of the tourist industry. Thus, it paid places to discover ‘holy relics’ to bring in the customers. There are even said to be five different monasteries in England who claimed to possess the result of the circumcision of Jesus!

A note on names:

  • Saint James is called Saint Jacques in French and Santiago in Spanish. In Gascon, he is called Saint Yaguen.
  • (This apostle St James is St James the Greater.)
The pilgrimage of St James is called:
  • El Camino de Santiago del Compostella, in Spanish, and
  • Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, in French.
  • There can also be the spelling, Santiago de Compostela.
  • The words compostum and compostela mean cemetery in Latin.
  • road means chemin in French and camino in Spanish.

Pilgrims walk old paths through France and Spain to reach Saintiago de Compestella (or de Compostelle, depending on the nationality of the speller), where it said that the apostle James the Greater was buried. Many of the pilgrims are christianist, this long walk widely believed to afford them special spiritual benefits for their future.

the pilgrim's scallop shell

Traditionally, the pilgrims hang a large scallop shell on the back of their rucksack, around their neck, on their hat, or from their stave or walking stick. The scallop shell is was a badge of protection and laissez-passer for the pilgrims who were travelling through often desolate and wild country harbouring brigands and bandits. The origins of using a scallop shell go back centuries, there being several suggestions.

  • The apostle, James the Greater, travelled to northwest Spain to preach to pagans in the area of Padron in Galicia. On his return to Jerusalem, James was beheaded by King Herod for blasphemy. Following his execution, James’ headless body was taken to Galicia for burial. A knight on horseback was walking the cliffs above the Atlantic as the boat with James's body neared the coast. The horse bolted on seeing the boat, plummeting into the sea with the knight. James is said to have miraculously intervened and saved the knight, still on his horse, and they emerged covered in scallop shells.
  • Previously, many pilgrims continued on from Santiago to Finisterre, about 70 km away on the coast. Finisterre was regarded to be the end of the earth: ‘Finis’ - end, ‘Terre’- earth. There, they collected scallop shells that abound in the ocean. The shells were then be used as proof of completion of their pilgrimage.
    By the 13th century, street sellers and shops took advantage of this growing tradition and started to sell scallop shells in Santiago.
  • logo for the Saint Jacques de Compostella pilgrimage. Scallop shells are now used in many designs to mark and indicate the route, whether on road signs, embedded on pavements, on churches and other buildings associated with the pilgrimage.

[A future document will describe the Compostela pilgrimage in greater detail.]

Two statues of pilgrims. The nearer wears  the pilgrim's symbol of a shell.

Two statues of pilgrims. The nearer wears the
pilgrim’s symbol of a shell.

The pilgrim journey can take many months. In the past, it was fraught with danger from robbers and from traversing the high Pyrennean passes. Hostels along the way provided food, shelter and care for the pilgrims. Pilgrims were absolved of some or all of their ‘sins’ after participating in religious ceremonies at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostella.

Note, according to legend, the pilgrims found their way by following the Milky Way. The exhibition centre has a path of stars on its ceiling to reflect this astral signposting, visible in the photo above.

James the Greater and Giles weighing souls, with interference from the 'devil'.

James the Greater and Giles weighing souls, with interference from the ‘devil’.

The tableaux [tableaus] in the exhibition centre show stages along the pilgrim’s route in the Middle Ages, and other more magical incidents related to James the Greater and the pilgrimage. One such is shown above, where James is using the greater charitable and religious buildings built by Emperor Charlemagne to help tip the scales so a soul will not go to hell.

Hastingues bastide village

Through a small side gate and about ten minutes easy walk up the hill from the aire, is Hastingues, a bastide village. Bastides were built to protect the inhabitants from outside attack.

Bastides were founded during the Hundred Years War between England and France, mainly in South-Western France. The bastides were mainly set up on frontier and disputed lands to establish a border and a defensive presence. People were subsidised to settle there, in a manner very similar to the kibbutz settlements in Israel.

Although Hastingues is not amongst the best examples of a bastide town, it still has several of the characteristics of these fortified settlements: perimeter walls, grid layout of fairly narrow streets, open central area for a market, built on a hill, houses built with a narrow separating gap (an androne) between them to limit the spread of fire and enable rain and waste water disposal.

For more, go to bastide towns: Monpazier, pearl of England.

Fortified gateway to Hastingues bastide.

Fortified gateway to Hastingues bastide.

Hastingues bastide street, near Hastingues aire, A64

One of the streets in Hastingues, on the brow of the hill.

An androne between two houses at Hastingues

An androne between two houses at Hastingues.

Sketch map showing access to Hastingues bastide from Hastingues Nord aire, A64.

Sketch map showing access to Hastingues bastide
from Hastingues Nord aire, A64.

end notes

  1. aire: in this context, an area —
    aire de loisirs: recreation area;
    aire de pique-nique: picnic area;
    aire de repos: rest area;
    aire de services: services , motorway (GB) or freeway (US) service station.

New translation, the Magna Carta

on first arriving in France - driving motorway aires, introduction
travelling by rail to and within France individual aires                                             
A75 autoroute from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers and its aires Les Pyrénées, A64 Poey de Lascar, A64
A89 autoroute from Bordeaux to Clermont-Ferrand and beyond - aires Pic du Midi, A64
Hastingues, A64
Dunes, A62
Mas d’Agenais, A62
A7 - aires on the busy A7 autoroute from Lyons to Marseille Pech Loubat, A61
Port-Lauragais, A61
Mas d’Agenais, A62
Garonne, A62
A9- aires on the motorway to Spain Ayguesvives, A61
Renneville, A61
Catalan village, A9
Tavel, A9
A62 - aires on the autoroute of two seas three aires on the canal du midi, A61 Lozay, A10
Poitou-Charente, A10
A65 : the autoroute de Gascogne, from Langon to Pau Carcassonne, A61 Les Bréguières, A8
A64 and A61 - aires on the other autoroute of two seas  
A83 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A63: the French Wild West, Bordeaux to the Spanish border - formerly the N10
A837 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A20 - aires on the Occitane autoroute, from Brive to Montauban
A42 and A40 motorways - aires from Lyon to Switzerland and Italy A87 motorway and its aires in Poitou-Charentes

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