Also called Camino Mozárabe, the Via de la Plata is the longest of all the Camino routes to Santiago. In Galicia, the route travels through the provinces of Ourense, Pontevedra and A Coruña, crossing nature reserves of great cultural and ecological importance. Due to its length, this itinerary offers alternatives and a number of accesses into Galicia from Northeast Portugal through the basin of the Sil River, which has been the traditional entry to Galicia since ancient times. The Southeast Way is actually an extension of the Roman road known as the Vía de la Plata, which connected Emerita Augusta (Mérida) with Asturica Augusta (Astorga), and crosses the western part of the Iberian Peninsula from South to North, travelling over the basins of the Tajo and Duero Rivers. The Way was laid out in early Christian times, taking advantage of older roads, in keeping with the practical nature of the Romans. During the early Middle Ages, the route was still in use, first with the Visigoths and later under Islamic rule. The term Vía de la Plata (Silver Way) has its roots in the original etymological meaning from the Arabic ‘Bal’latta’, a term used by Moslems to designate this wide, stoned-paved public-way, with its solid design, leading north to the land of the Christians. It was used, in part, by the infantry of Córdoba during the military expedition conducted by Almanzor against Santiago in August 997. The term Vía de la Plata therefore makes no reference to this precious metal.
In the late Middle Ages, the route was once again Christianised by the Andalusian Mozarabs, who found the pilgrimage to Santiago to be less perilous following the conquest of Seville and Cordoba by Ferdinand III. The story recounting the return of the bells to the Cathedral of Santiago is related to the Vía de la Plata. With this symbolic act, the route between Córdoba and Santiago entered a new era, and as of 1250 it was used by pilgrims from Andalucía and Extremadura. Some would continue on to Astorga, linking up with the French Way, while others would take the cut-off leading to Puebla de Sanabria- A Gudiña-Laza/Verín-Ourense-Santiago, which made the route shorter and more direct. The way that passes through Laza is 214km in length, whereas the route through Verín is 233 km. A third possibility takes pilgrims through Northeast Portugal, towards Braganca or Chaves, entering Galicia in the southern part of the province in the direction of Verín, continuing along towards Laza or Xinzo de Limia. These itineraries all converge in the city of Ourense. From there, the route continues to San Cristovo de Cea. Many pilgrims sought the hospitality offered by the monastery of Oseira. Others preferred to hurry on to Dozón. From this location, they would set out for Lalín, Silleda, Ponte Ulla and Santiago de Compostela. As for the military orders in charge of safeguarding the Way, one of the most important is the Order of Saint James, on the Laza-Xunqueira-Ourense route. The Santiago commandery of Barra protected the stretch going from Codesedo, at the foot of Monte Talariho, where there is a roadside shrine, to Vilar de Gumareites. The Order of Saint John of Jerusalem (later the Order of Malta) set up a priory in 1170 and was responsible for protecting the Vilanova Bridge and the way at the far end of this royal town. The late 12th century Romanesque church is still standing, and, with the medieval bridge, constitutes a historical group of monuments. The Knights Templar were based in Santa Marina de Augas Santas and shortly before they were repressed, they had begun to build a church on the site of the ‘Forno da Santa’.