We had charming first-floor rooms with stone walls and wooden ceiling beams, terracotta floor tiles, small window terraces with iron balcony rails and splendid views over the town. We had requested this particular room because we had stayed in it before and we liked the Brompi stove in the corner and as we moved in it was spitting fuel pellets and spewing flame even though this was absolutely not necessary as the temperature outside had by now nudged above 25°
Sigüenza is only a small town so we didn’t want to rush out and see it all straight away because we had plans to do that the next morning so instead we left the hotel and strolled casually to the centre past the imposing cathedral which seems surprisingly large for a small town but is a reminder that Sigüenza once enjoyed a great deal more importance and status than it does today.
Two thousand years ago the Romans passed this way and built a fort on the highest point of the place they called Segontia. It was built principally as a staging post on the important Roman road that ran from Mérida (Emerita Augusta) to Zaragoza (Caesar Augusta) making it the most important city between Toledo (Toletum) and Zaragoza and it was during the time of the Romans sometime in the fourth century that the city was declared a Bishopric capital which made it very important indeed.
After the withdrawal of the Legions the Roman city was systematically destroyed over the years by barbarian invaders from the north but was later re-established and rebuilt by the more civilised and enlightened Visigoths. In Siguenza as elsewhere they consolidated Catholicism and re-established the Bishopric, which provided stability and security for two centuries as the town re-established itself as one of the most important cities of central Spain.
During the early eighth century the Moors swept north out of Africa and conquered large areas of land in the peninsular and they reached as far as Sigüenza in the year 713 as the Muslims expanded from their established power base in Toledo. After four hundred years of greatness, influence and peace the Moors didn’t consider the place to be quite so important as the Romans and the Visigoths and the city was gradually reduced in status to no more than a minor frontier town and fortress that soldiers would probably have dreaded getting a posting to.
During the years of the Muslim occupation the whole area became a military buffer zone ruled and controlled by Muslim military detachments in the castles of Atienza, Guadalajara, Castejón (now Jadraque), Hita, Sigüenza and Medinaceli. The Moors had little use for this harsh land and the principal objective of occupation was to protect the great Muslim cities of Toledo and Cordoba from any threat of counter invasion from the north.
This was an occupation that lasted for almost four hundred years until the great wars of the Reconquista.
The seven hundred year period between 722 and 1492 is called the Reconquest and the Spanish have organised their medieval history around the drama of this glorious event which over time has become a cherished feature of the self-image of the Spanish people and it has become embellished into a sort of organised Catholic national crusade to remove the Muslims from Iberia.
Interestingly the Muslim population of Spain is currently experiencing something of a resurgence. In 1990 there were one hundred thousand Muslims in Spain but now there are over a million and many of the Moriscos of North Africa who were expelled in the sixteenth century after the reconquest are supporting a claim, based on heritage and blood-line, to be able to return.
Being a frontier town Sigüenza saw fierce fighting between Christians and Moors and during the campaigns of Alfonso VI (King of Leon and Castile) was recovered by the northern powers during their southerly advance as they conquered cities and towns of Castejón, Hita, Horche and Uceda along the valley of the Rio Henares until they reached Guadalajara which legend says was besieged and recovered by Alvar Fáñez de Minaya, one of the major heroes of the Reconquista.
Fully returned to Christianity in 1090 the town recovered its importance, a new castle was built as a fortress palace of the bishop of Sigüenza and the town played an influential part in the power struggles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries retaining power and control right up to the end of the fifteenth century until the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs, changed the political balance of power in Spain forever, the influence of the Bishops both here and in Toledo was dismantled and Sigüenza began another slow journey towards virtual obscurity.
It was difficult to imagine this today as we walked slowly around the walls of the Cathedral, pock-marked by gunfire during the Spanish Civil War, and made our inevitable way towards the Plaza Mayor and selected a table and chairs that were placed strategically in the sunshine and when the waiter arrived we ordered some beer and simply sat and soaked up the atmosphere.
The Plaza Mayor is the most important part of a Spanish town and I really cannot think of an equivalent in the United Kingdom where we have public squares of course but use them in an entirely different way.
This is the place where people meet, relax and enjoy themselves; it is generally flanked with shops and restaurants and usually has the town hall and the main church somewhere close by. When we arrive somewhere new it is usually the first place we make for because sitting with a drink and complimentary tapas it is the best place to be to get a feeling for the town and its people and so just to make sure that could accurately capture that mood we had a second beer in the sunshine before leaving.
In the evening we returned to the town to the restaurant Le Meson which we had used before and were confident that there would be something on the menu that Sue and Christine would be able to enjoy. The restaurant was closed but the staff cleared a table for us in the bar area and the first day ended with a dining success with food acceptable to everyone and a couple of juicy glasses of Rioja and by the end of the evening I was certain that Sigüenza was quickly becoming one of my favourite places in Spain and in the small town category beginning to edge above Chinchon, Almagro and Belmonte.