Don Quixote is the national glory of Spain. No one who does not know that has the right to call himself a Spaniard. There is a monument to him in Madrid…he was our first revolutionary.” Gerald Brenan – South from Granada
My previous post described a short encounter with the Ruta de Don Quixote on a drive between the neighbouring towns of Sigüenza and Atienza but this was not the first time that we had followed other parts of the route…
In 2009 we were staying in Belmonte, further south than Sigüenza and it was going to be a long day so we rose early ready for a quick start and as usual my first job was to check the weather. The air felt fresher and from the hotel window I could see cloud to the east, which was a bit of a worry, but the lady on Spanish breakfast television seemed confident that it was going to be fine and out to the west it was clear blue and that was the direction in which we were heading.
After breakfast and check out we packed the car and started on the one hundred and fifty kilometre drive to Toledo. I instinctively knew that it was going to be a good day.
In the hotel there had been pictures of a castle and a row of windmills at the next town of Consuegra so as it came into view we left the main road and headed towards the top of the hill where they stood like watching sentinels overlooking the town. From below, the castle looked magnificent but on close inspection it was in a bit of a sorry state of disrepair but from here there were terrific views over the great plain of Castile and it was easy to see why this was once a very important military place as it guarded the direct route from the south to Toledo and Madrid. The castle was once a stronghold of the Knights of San Juan, the Spanish branch of the Knight’s Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
Now we were on the ‘Ruta de Don Quixote’ which is the golden thread that binds the Castilian tourist industry together in a ribbon of castles and windmills stretching all the way from Cuenca to Toledo.
As well as the castle, Consuegra is famous for its windmills which remained in use until the beginning of the 1980s. They were originally built by the Knights and were used to grind the grain that was grown on the plain and they were passed down through the generations of millers from fathers to sons. The eleven Consuegra windmills are some of the best examples of Spanish windmills in Castilla-La Mancha and although it was a little cool at the top of the hill it was a good time to see them because there were very few visitors this early in the morning.
Don Quixote is a novel written by the seventeenth century Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and is regarded as the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age. It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants. As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.
In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”.
Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it rather heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we drove along I resolved to have another attempt upon returning home.