"When the Coto de Doñana was a celestial carpet..."
Traders, farmers, stockbreeders, charcoal makers, hunters, landowners, militias, etc., are the first settlers of the environment we know today as Doñana. From the first half of the 14th century we already have documents that speak of the forest of the Rocinas described by Alfonso XI:
“In the lands of Niebla, there is a land called Las Rocinas, and it is flat, and it is all undergrowth, and there are always pigs…, there is a lot of humidity, in winter it is rainy; and in summer it is not to run because it is very dry, there is a hermitage of Sancta María de Las Rocinas, and there is another one called Sancta Olalla…”
Since this time the crossroads that takes place at El Rocío fuels a faith towards Our Lady of the Rocinas that translates into brotherhoods in the surrounding villages. In the 16th century, thanks to the legacy of Baltasar Tercero, who made the Americas and died in Peru, a chaplaincy was founded in El Rocío, which kept the chapel open in a place as remote as it was inhospitable. This is recorded in the Minutes of the Town Council of September 10, 1597:
From this legacy we conclude that before leaving for America, Baltasar Tercero, is already aware of this devotion that is professed in the lands of what we know today as Doñana to Our Lady of the Rocinas. That is to say that since the early years of the 16th century the image is sufficiently well known for a Sevillian of multiple trades who emigrates to America to leave such a legacy, for the tranquility of his soul and the souls of his relatives, to this chaplaincy.
From the last years of the XV century and first years of the XVI CENTURY the formation of confraternities and brotherhoods proliferated. The first in Almonte where an unusual event took place. In 1653 the people of Almonte vote to name the Virgen del Rocío as patron saint of the town. Having other important Marian images in the town, it was decided to grant the patronage to the Virgen del Rocío, which was located three leagues away. We cannot forget that at that time it was difficult to travel three leagues. The first transfers from the village to the town of Almonte in the event of catastrophes (6 times in the 17th century, 16 times in the 18th century and 7 times in the 19th century) also date from this period.
There are hardly any changes in the paths followed by the brotherhoods over the centuries...
The first filial brotherhoods were founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. XVII y XVIII in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Villamanrique de la Condesa, Pilas, La Palma del Condado, Moguer, El Puerto de Santa María, Rota and Chipiona. If we look at an image, we will realize that, from the beginning, the roads that lead to the hermitage of the Virgen del Rocío are the current ones. Although it is true that the brotherhoods of the province of Cadiz, in years of water, came in shallow draft boats, crossing the marsh from the Guadalquivir River, entering the Caño de Brenes, sailing through the Caño de la Madre to the foot of the hermitage itself. On other occasions, they would make the journey by spending the night in the Doñana Palace .
40: Las Peñuelas
47: Las Matas Peak
49: Dehesa de Los Arrendadores
50: Laguna de Los Arrayanes
51: Hato de Los Tellos
52: Caño Marín [En plano con el nº 54]
53: Laguna de Fr. John
54: Hato del Cañuelo
55: Shrine of the Virgen del Rocío
56: Mother and Rosina’s mouth
58: Mojonera del Coto
59: Arroyo de Sta. Maria
60: Municipality of Almonte
61: Barnabas Road
62: Hato del Rincón
64: Fuente del Rocío
65: Road from Almonte to El Rocío
66: Los Anguilleros Stream
67: Algaida de Pedro García
68: La Mata de La Grana Lagoon
69: Sale of La Canaliega
Throughout the nineteenth century the population and activity of El Rocío was decimated and there was a significant isolation. This makes the pilgrimage, the Rocío Grande, take center stage as a celebration . So El Rocío is no longer a place to take on the way, but a place to go, a destination. And it takes value as a usual summer resort for the residents of Almonte. For the residents of the surrounding area, Doñana it continues to be a source of resources, especially for livestock and hunting.
And since the beginning of the 20th century, the creation of brotherhoods has not stopped growing, driven by two major events, the coronation of the Virgin in 1919 and, subsequently, the construction of the Almonte-El Rocío road This established an important flow of visitors that resulted in an explosion of Brotherhoods and the Pilgrimage, also due to the openness and expansion of the Governing Boards of the Pilgrimage. Hermandad Matriz of those years.
In 1957, the British ornithologist Guy Mountfort talks about Doñana in one of his books:
“Being located in the hinge zone between Africa and Europe, this region has been able to have a large number of species to build its current wealth and, moreover, has not suffered the disastrous impoverishment caused by successive glaciations, nor by geographic or climatic isolation. In an exceptional way, this region has also enjoyed care and vigilance for many generations, which have protected it from the destruction that modern economic exploitation has spread throughout Europe. For all these reasons, it constitutes a natural monument of exceptional importance and scientific interest, for whose preservation from disturbance and development, the present owners and Spain itself are an example to the world.”
Pilgrims arrive at El Rocío by roads that cross Doñana from the four cardinal points, by the Puente del Ajolí (or Puente del Rey), the Puente de la Canaliega, Camino de Moguer and Camino de los Llanos. Roughly speaking, from South to North, the Vía Pecuaria Vereda de Sanlúcar de Barrameda a Almonte brings pilgrims from the brotherhoods of Cádiz, in the south, and from the Condado de Huelva in the north. From East to West, the Vía Pecuaria Camino de Sevilla al Rocío, brings the rocieros from the brotherhoods of Seville and the eastern part of Andalusia and, along the Camino de Moguer, the brotherhoods from the western part of Huelva. These four points of entry to the village are the result of the dismemberment of two major roads that crossed at the same inn that was in front of the old chapel, which communicated Seville with Moguer and the neighboring ports of Palos and Huelva, on the one hand, and on the other hand the road that communicated Sanlúcar de Barrameda with Niebla. The brotherhoods of the rest of Spain make their paths through different areas, which they adopt as their own. Almost all of these paths converge at these entry points. The casuistry is very diverse and currently other traditional access roads to the village are used, such as the road to Los Tarajales or Camino de Hinojos al Rocío.
From the crossing of some points such as Malandar, for the crossing of the Guadalquivir River, the Venta de Mauro on the roads coming from Seville and the Casa de las Tres Rayas for the roads from Huelva, one enters the protected areas of the Doñana Natural Area. The brotherhoods make pilgrimages along these roads and make stops (rest stops, rest stops, overnight stays) in areas that have been previously enabled for this purpose, where there are usually more services than on the rest of the road (shadows, water basins, waste containers, etc.).
The road is not just walking or riding, it is a path to inner knowledge, where joy and memories, hard experiences and moments of happiness are mixed.
Perhaps the best known way for being the one that most brotherhoods travel is the Way of Seville.The paths of the Sevillian aljarafe gradually converge towards the Vado del Quema (Aznalcázar) passing through Villamanrique de la Condesa to reach the Raya Real and Raya de los Vázquez up to the Palacio del Rey, where most of them spend the night and continue towards the village passing through the Puente del Ajolí (or Puente del Rey). It is estimated that more than 600,000 pilgrims, from more than 60 brotherhoods, cross the roads from Seville’s Aljarafe to the village of Almonte. There are many options of paths from the left bank of the Guadalquivir to the Moralejo, and many traditional enclaves of these, such as: San Diego, Colinas, Marlo, La Juliana, Lópaz, Hato Blanco, La Calera, El Charco del Cura, Palacio…
Almost a dozen brotherhoods, mainly from Huelva and Seville, take the Camino de Hinojos to reach the Ajolí. Probably the best known enclaves are Cabeza Rasa, Pino de los Mil Duros, Charco del Cura and Moralejo.
The Camino de Sanlúcar brings together the 12 brotherhoods that make the pilgrimage from the province of Cádiz, in Bajo de Guía. At this point they cross the mouth of the Guadalquivir in a barge to enter the Doñana National Park through Malandar, passing through Faginao, Poblado de la Plancha, Marismillas, Cerro del Trigo, Cerro de los Ánsares, Corral de Félix, El Sopetón, Palacio de Doñana, Raya de las Perdices, Guaperal, Manecorro and Puente de la Canaliega. From the mouth of the river, it crosses forests of junipers, mastic and pine trees, dunes, clayey soils and sandy areas that make this a hard road for animals and pilgrims. For the pilgrims of these brotherhoods, the Guadalquivir River is a real frontier between the ordinary world and the joy of entering the Sanctuary that is Doñana and the entire rociero environment.
The Road to Moguer and Huelva It runs through the western part of the Doñana Natural Area and enters the Rocío through the Tinajas, the most significant places on this road are the Milanillo, the house of the Tres Rayas, Montemayor, Pino Galés, Bodegones, Pino Gordo, the flowerpots, Villarejo, and the final stretch, where all the brotherhoods coincide, from Los Cabezudos to El Rocío, passing through Gato and La Charca. This last part runs parallel to the Arroyo de la Rocina along the northern part of the same. These woods are home to the setting of the Legend of the Apparition recounted in the Brotherhood’s 1758 rule book:
Along these roads the predominant landscape is made up of eucalyptus and pine forests with low scrub and marshy vegetation in the wetter areas of irrigation channels and ponds; and forest tracks and firebreaks that cut through the territory from time to time. The wagons adorned with paper flowers and the carts pulled by mules “a la larga” are characteristic of the brotherhoods of Huelva.
The Almonte and Condado Road or Camino de los Llanos, is the continuation of the Vereda Sanlúcar de Barrameda-Almonte after passing through the village. These brotherhoods end up converging in Almonte and travels three leagues, which crosses first the arena of the village with its vineyards, olive groves and crops, then the Olivarejos bridge, which gives access to a second stretch of pine forests, passing through El Pastorcito, Venta Camacho, and arriving at Merco, the path takes two variants, on the right side of the road that reaches El Rocío by the electrical substation, or crossing the road to the left side of the road to pass through the plots of the Almonte-Marismas Plan and reach El Rocío by the Camino de los Llanos. The Hermandad Matriz de Ntra. Sra. del Rocío de Almonte is the first to enter the village, on Wednesday of the Pilgrimage, to receive all the filial brotherhoods that will be arriving between Thursday and Saturday of the presentation of the brotherhoods. It is characteristic of this Brotherhood to carry the Simpecado on horseback surrounded by a multitude of horsemen and pilgrims on foot.
Since ancient times the texts that reach us speak of the hardness of the road, of the hot sands, of the dust that, at times, drowns, of the cold of the night, of the humidity of the marshes. The road is not just walking or riding, it is a path to inner knowledge, where joy and memories, hard experiences and moments of happiness are mixed. The truth of the way is there, accessible to the one who seeks it. Although we can also find people who are just passing through and who are blind to the palpable reality.
The rocieros dream of returning to the sands of Doñana year after year, as described by the poet Juan de Dios Pareja-Obregón in a few letters:
we have to dream what is missing
to return to the path
of that marsh that sings.
Of that marsh that sings
as a pilgrim lark,
that dreams of flying very high
and nest at La Rocina.
walk and light my footprints,
because I’m looking for Almonte
the glow of a star.
Its light bathes the roads
with a dream of sandy beaches,
and they say Hail the pines
and Hail Mary the wheat fields.”
From the same author comes the idea of the inhabitant of Doñana, who is, irremediably, a rociero:
get on your way soon,
your true path
to take you among the pines,
A sample of the unity involved Doñana y El Rocío is reflected in the proposal presented by the Department of Culture of the Andalusian Regional Government in 1997 to include El Rocío and its roads as UNESCO Cultural Heritageand thus extend the recognition of Doñana as a World Heritage Site since 1994. So that the destinations of the protected areas of Doñana are linked to El Rocío and its paths. There are many examples of this alliance, such as the annual joint campaigns of “Doñana. It’s your way“