Author: Jorge Alberto Escobar de la Cuesta
THE TRAVEL STORY CONTINUES
Welcome back to this travel story.
It’s been 500 years since the birth of Jesus Christ. Christianity, born in the Middle East after his death and mercilessly persecuted by the Romans, has incredibly managed to convert a large part of the western population to their faith and the Roman Empire has collapsed, not only due to the invasions suffered by peoples of northern Europe, but devoured by their own inability to survive. Without a strong empire that imposes order, power atomized into thousands of “lords” and with an incipient religion, heir to a series of myths and tragic beliefs that bases its strength on the promise of a happy eternal life, in exchange for traveling a path of suffering on earth, bringing chaos.
MIDDLE AGES (V CENTURY – XV CENTURY)
The fall of the Roman Empire brought consequences. The most powerful empire humanity had ever known was left to be redivided and faced with unprecedented fragmentation of power. Thousands of lords arose who dominated small plots of power. Infighting and chaos increased, with its consequent economic debacle
In turn, two new religions began to dominate the world: Christianity and Islam forcefully imposed themselves on the old beliefs, of which only the one that is largely the source of both resisted: Judaism. This new religious awakening helped to change the mentality of the people, now they were more austere, more fearful and more pragmatic.
All of the above represented a huge setback for humanity, which lived through a period of several centuries of obscurantism, fanaticism and inequality. Wars, poverty and insecurity, coupled with the destruction of the enormous Roman road network and a series of plagues that carried off more than a third of the existing population, largely eliminated the desire to visit exotic places.
Although commercial exchange continued, although with less intensity than in previous centuries, since only basic goods were traded and obviously movements of armies also occurred, said trips corresponded more to solving basic problems of subsistence or territoriality. When we want to examine trips in this period, we necessarily have to refer to religious-type trips.
6. THE CRUSADES
In such a confused and fanatical time, a clash of religions and cultures between Christianity and Islam was hardly foreseeable. The Muslims proceeded to conquer the former Roman colonies in the Middle East and North Africa, including Jerusalem, a holy city for Christians, Muslims and Jews. The Christian church, the new power in Rome, set itself the fundamental objective of recovering that city for Christians, for which it decreed a “holy war” against the Muslims, calling for a “crusade” to expel them from Jerusalem.
This war led to the fact that, between the 11th and 13th centuries, under the pretext of a religious conflict, what occurred was a geopolitical conflict and one of economic interests that mobilized not only armies and religious groups, but also power groups interested in the dominance of trade in the Mediterranean, which led to the rise of power cities such as Venice and Genoa and a tense and intense exchange between East and West.
7. THE PILGRIMAGES
Since the beginning of Christianity, going to Jerusalem was the greatest dream of every believer, but given the difficulties, it was a really complicated journey. Even more so when in the 10th century it was conquered by the Muslims. With the recapture of Jerusalem in the first crusade of the 11th century, the way was once again opened for thousands of faithful to risk making a pilgrimage to the sacred city in search of the salvation of their souls. The Venetians took advantage of this fervor by establishing a “tourist” pilgrimage route, which helped to consolidate the city as the main power in the Mediterranean.
During the years in which Jerusalem was almost inaccessible, the objective of the Christian faithful was to make a pilgrimage to two emblematic cities: Rome and Santiago de Compostela, the latter located in the north of what is now Spain, where the tomb of the Santiago Apostle. This is how a route known as “the road to Santiago” was formed, which was actually a network of roads that linked the rest of Europe with that holy City.
Around those roads a series of inns and monasteries were established that offered accommodation to pilgrims.
In the Islamic world, one of the pillars of that religion is the Haijad, or the obligation to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. This also spawned a series of routes from all Muslim regions heavily traveled by caravans of travelers.
At the end of the 12th century, the power of cities like Venice was such that it already had colonies in several ports in Asia, so business trips increased strongly. In turn, the chronicles of Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant who traveled to the East and lived in the court of the Chinese emperor, became popular throughout Europe, beginning a time of great travels that marked the decline of medieval obscurantism.
It has been a thousand years of obscurantism. Starting in the 13th century, humanity was going to face its greatest enemy, which curiously was so small that it was still invisible to man: the Yersinia pestis bacterium. This bacterium, which causes the bubonic plague, transmitted by rat fleas, would violently disrupt the world with one of the worst epidemics humanity has known: The Black Death.
Humanity faced the unknown. In the next 100 years the Black Death wiped out approximately 1/3 of the population of Europe. The exact death toll is not really known, but it is believed to have ranged from 25 to 100 million people. However, its consequences for the future were momentous, because after the tragedy, rebirth arose.
We will see this in detail in the next installment.
Read Part 4