Walking along the old paths

Hiking slowly
Shadows over the Sahara

We arrived at sunset. In the desert, the sun had begun its descent, stressing the dark outlines of our voluminous bodies and animals projected in shadows of the reddish Sahara sand. The guide helped us down from the saddles of the dromedaries that had transported us to the vicinity of the camp where we would spend the night under the stars. While we tourists chatted, our Berber escort politely said goodbye and began to walk through what appeared to us being nothing if not just a sole lot of sand dunes, till we saw a tiny black dot disappearing into the horizon.

Understanding the culture of a people highlights its normality without reducing its distinctiveness, as taught by Clifford Geertz, and if there are experiences on foot that are difficult to try, finding your way in an ocean of dust or walking through a forest in the dark without losing your way, the action of walking with its naturalness is our own and accompanies us throughout our existence.

Walking: a transformative experience

Walking is always a transformative experience. One of the most famous descriptions of walking is given by Jean Jacques Rousseau in his Rêveries du promeneur solitaire, where he wrote down his reflections, inebriated by the beauty of nature and gathered in perfect silence, disturbed only by the song of birds or the murmur of streams, sinuously seeking the way to the sea. Moving with slow steps is measured on paths, among clods of earth or stones, in the mountains or on the plains. In silent introspection, one rediscovers nature and immerses oneself in it; it regenerates, heals the wounds of the soul, predisposes to contemplation and reflection. It could also be added to meditation (for those who are initiated).

It is a gesture that escapes the tyranny of speed by restoring intensity to life. Walking may also become a test, with oneself, with the natural environment, of which the walker perceives the power, prompting him to evaluate the risks, his own limits, resistance and courage.

The attraction for the primordial nature built up by our minds rests on the myth of the lost paradise, which is disappearing in the face of the advance of modernization and whose surviving traces are being sought, far from the cultivated fields and pollution of the cities. The mountain fascinates and teaches us that there is no single way to reach it, and that getting close to it is only possible with one own means, however large or small, writes Francesco Tomatis in his Filosofia della montagna.

Discovery of the Altiplanic Lagoons (Socaire - Chile)
Discovery of the Altiplanic Lagoons (Socaire – Chile)

Walking can also be a sharing and socializing experience in the landscapes we cross. Young and old, alone or in company, have for centuries walked the Way of St James of Compostela, of which the best known route is the Camino Francés, which starts in France and ends in Spain, at the feet of apostle James the Greater tomb. The Via Francigena, on the other hand, connects Canterbury to Rome, crossing England, France, Switzerland and Italy, reching St Peter tomb.

Paths in Italy

Tourism, which has always been attentive to new market products, has rediscovered the practice of walking to promote the territory. The infrastructure of historical, naturalistic, cultural and religious routes that zig-zag the country from North to South is marked out by the Digital Atlas of the Cammini d’Italia and promoted by the Ministery of Culture, Regions and Autonomous Provinces. Paths, mule tracks, roads and country lanes enable travellers to know in depth the places they walk through, the narrative formed by historical traces and present life, sounds, smells and tastes. The past and the future meet in the present marked by steps, in the mobility defined as slow tourism.

United by the same passion, interest groups such as the Rete Nazionale Donne in Cammino and its social community Ragazze in Gamba are born. Created by Ilaria Canali in 2019, it aims to promote women in this sector and has 85,000 members. Founded in 1995 and coordinated by Giovanni Germano, Cammina Molise it promotes the Molise region by making villages, cultural contexts and forms of community life visible together with enhancing their conviviality. The event, which has been exported to Argentina, where there is a large community of Molisian emigrants, has allowed families to reunite and reawakened the desire to know the lands of their ancestors, encouraging so-called tourism of the roots or tourism of the origins.

Fragment of life in Cammina Molise 2019
Fragment of life in Cammina Molise 2019

In the heart of the Apennines Il cammino nelle Terre Mutate, designed by Movimento Tellurico, Associazione Proletari Escursionisti – Rome and Federtrek, runs for about 250 km from Fabriano to L’Aquila as a path of solidarity and knowledge, both of the natural environment and of the people who live in the places stroke by the 2016 earthquake. Last but not least, the Piedibus del Ben Essere, devised by Erminia Battista, is a health development workshop in motion promoted by the Prevention Department of USL Umbria 1.

These initiatives remind us that it is never too late to start walking and knowing our nation from a social, economic and cultural perspective, as Alfredo Di Giovanpaolo teaches in the episodes of the programme Cammina Italia, Il reportage lento nel paese reale the slow on Rainews.

Barbara Tagliolini

Art historian and anthropologist (DEA at EHESS Paris), has a background in international cooperation. She works in sustainable tourism design in Chile for multinational companies, municipalities and indigenous communities and in Italy as a consultant in the field of tourism, communication and cultural development of the territory. From 2003 to 2009 she taught Cultural Mediation Techniques and Museum Education for Tourism at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. Author of various essays and publications, she is also a licensed tourist guide in Rome.