They say that the contours and features of the scallop shell represent the converging of people from all over the world, bound for a common destination, the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Shaped like a cup for drinking water, or a bowl for eating out of, the scallop shell was also used by pilgrims of long ago for these functional purposes. Today’s pilgrim wears the scallop shell, usually hanging from a backpack, to symbolize that we are pilgrims. And the scallop shell is one of the directional symbols that aid in navigation along the Camino de Santiago.
Navigating your way along the 482-mile Camino Francés is done by following several types of directional symbols and signs. These include the scallop shell and yellow arrow symbols, cement markers, and signs with town names and distances. With these directional symbols and signs, you technically don’t need maps or guidebooks, but I found my guidebook that included maps to be quite helpful anyway in planning my days, including figuring out the mileage I wanted to walk each day, and finding food and lodging.
Yellow arrows are a symbol placed on sign posts and railings, on the sides of homes, buildings, and walls, on sidewalks and paved roads, on rocks and stones, on tree trunks, electrical poles, and lamp posts, and on cement markers. They could basically be anywhere. In Spanish, these yellow arrows are called flechas, and they point you in the right direction.
Cement markers are a few feet high and contain the scallop shell or yellow arrow, or both. Some also have the name of the town you are near, and how many kilometers you have left to go till you reach the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Each province along the Camino seemed to have their own variations of these cement markers.
People place symbolic rocks, abandoned shoes, or other remnants of their journeys on top of cement markers. And people also add their artistic expressions to the markers, such as hearts and rainbows.
Other aids in navigation are signs with upcoming town names and the number of kilometers to get to the town, and signs with “Santiago” on them telling you how many kilometers to the cathedral.
Occasionally other directional symbols and signs of the Camino de Santiago that people created to make the walk a communal experience include the words “Buen Camino” set in cement, and hearts and arrows made out of rocks.
Please note that even with all the directional symbols and signs of the Camino de Santiago, I would still recommend having a guidebook.