Tag Archives: Atienza

Travels in Spain, Castles and Fortresses

Castles of Spain

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in Spain because, according to the Official Tourist Board there just about two thousand five hundred. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and whilst France claims roughly five-thousand this figure includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number.

My blogging Pal Brian has some interesting observations on French Chateaux and I think you might be interested to visit this post and then more of his site…

Chateau Saumur … a love-hate experience!

When or if you come back click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Castles of Spain

Weekly Photo Challenge: Castle Wall

Medina del Campo Spain

Castles of Spain

Read the full story…

Castles of Spain

San Vincente De La Barquera

Medina del Campo Spain

Atienza Castle Spain

Jadraque Castle Central Spain Guadalajara

Torija castle Central Spain

Sigüenza Alcazar

Jadraque Castle Guadalajara Spain

 

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza to Atienza on the Ruta de Don Quixote

Atienza Spain

The drive to Atienza followed the western section of a circular tour which is part of the Ruta de Don Quixote, in fact stage ten of the route which sprawls across all of Castilla-La Mancha and is the golden thread that binds the Castilian tourist industry together in a ribbon of castles and windmills.

After climbing a section of road of hairpin bends with dramatic rear view mirror views of the terracotta roofs of Sigüenza the road reached a scenic plateau with a long straight road, a long endless stretch of charcoal tarmac cutting without tiniest deviation through the fields, separating east from west and riding the contours of the land like a gently undulating roller-coaster.

Either side of the long straight road there were vast open fields with attractive colours that rolled rhythmically and desolately away in all directions with an artist’s palette vista of subtle hues and variations of tone; champagne and parchment, butter-milk cream, dusty olive, lavender grey, gleaming gold and russet red all lying crushed under the burden of what was now a vivid blue spring sky.

Eventually we arrived in tiny Atienza and drove through the stone town with its crumbling colonnades, weathered heraldry and rusting iron balconies and eased the car to the very top of the town where a castle in a commanding position overlooked the plateau in all directions.

The castle had played an important role in the Reconquista but had been destroyed by French troops during the War of Independence and now two hundred years later it is waiting its turn in the programme of castle restorations and while it remains vulnerable to the steady reclaiming creep of nature I got a sense that it might have to be patient.

It was a steep climb from the stony car park to the top of the castle but we were prepared to tackle it and set straight off.  We had hoped to take a break half way to the top where there was a museum inside an old church but just as we arrived the attendant was locking the door and she pointed out the visiting times on a notice which indicated that it would not reopen now until late afternoon.

She was very apologetic and I felt sorry for her, I got the impression that she had been waiting there all morning for visitors and then we arrived slap bang on afternoon closing time.  She wasn’t prepared to be flexible on the matter however.

Atienza Castle Spain

And so we continued to the top along a looping shale track that collapsed under our feet with every step and which provided ever more dramatic views the higher that we climbed until we eventually arrived at the main gate and made our way inside the ruins of the castle.  At the very top was a partially restored tower built on a slab of granite rock and we negotiated the stairs and made our way to what seemed at this point to be the very top of the World.

Atienza Castle Spain

The views were stunning and it was easy to see how important this castle was, first for the Muslims and then for the Christians once it had been captured.  We could see for miles and one thing for sure was that no one was going to sneak up on a defending army here!  There is a story that even the great Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar (El Cid) didn’t feel up to tackling it, declared it impregnable and marching his army around it under cover of darkness to avoid a pointless and lengthy siege.

Actually, I have always wondered about that – why did medieval armies go to the trouble of besieging a castle when they could just go straight round it without a fight, blockade it and wait for the occupants to simply run out of food?

After climbing to the very top we made our way back town to the small town which was collectively snoozing in the afternoon sunshine and after we had walked the handful of streets Christine (who had declined most of the breakfast) declared herself so hungry she could eat her own arm so we found a tapas bar that was still open and I made my usual mistake of ordering way too much food and so we sat for an hour and enjoyed the food, the sun and a San Miguel and then left and made our ponderous way back to Sigüenza.

On the journey we made a couple of stops; first at some abandoned industrial buildings and man-made lagoons at the village of Imon which seemed curiously out of place.  We challenged each other to guess what they were, Kim said a sewage works which was an absurd suggestion, Christine thought a salmon farm which was just as unlikely and Sue, grasping at straws suggested a lido.

They turned out to be old salt mines which had once been the most important in all of Spain.

They had been closed in 1996 and although an information board outside the locked gates declared them to be a ‘place of cultural interest’ it seemed as though someone had neglected to inform anyone of this decision and it looked very much to me as thought they were in need of some urgent attention to prevent them falling down altogether.

Next we left the main road and visited the village of Palazuelos where a stout castle stood large and overshadowed the main square.  The whole place was closed for this afternoon and so was the castle surrounded by fences and warnings that it was dangerous to go inside.  So we contented ourselves with a brief circuit of the main square and then returned directly to Sigüenza where we made directly for the Plaza Mayor and the pavement bar with tables in the sunshine.

As it approached evening meal time we left the Cuatro Canos and as we judged it too early to eat in a town where the restaurants didn’t appear to open until way past nine o’clock (being English we like to eat at about seven) we decided to walk the long way round to the town centre and we talk a third stroll to the castle under the waxy glow of the ornamental street lights and through the labyrinth of narrow streets, curious corners, dead-ends and intriguing alleyways and through the Plaza Mayor and eventually made our way to a restaurant that we had earlier selected for this evening.

This declared itself to be a two star Michelin restaurant and therefore not the sort of place that I would normally select because it seems to me that the first star means drastically reduce the  portions to a size suitable for someone suffering from anorexia and the second means double (or triple) the prices but everyone else liked the look of it and I was outvoted.

It was nice enough but to be honest I would have preferred the earthy honesty of  the wooden tables of Le Meson to the starched white tablecloths of the fancy restaurant and secretly I think the others probably agreed with me.

Siguenza Spain plaza Mayor

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza, the Cathedral and Don Martín Vázquez de Arce

Spain Siguenza

“…Sigüenza, ninety miles from Madrid, remains a quiet spot in an empty landscape.  It sits among narrow valleys celebrated by Camilo José Celar in his ‘Journey to the Acarria’”  –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

As this was the beginning of Holy Week and because of a frenzy of worship there were restricted opening hours for the cathedral so as we were sure that it was open this lunchtime we made our way along two splendid old streets named after more heroes of the Reconquest, Calle de Cardenal Mendoza and the Plaza del Obispo Don Bernardo to the weather scarred main doors that were thrown back on their creaking metal hinges on account of the Semana Santa.

The seven hundred year period between 722 and 1492 is known in Spain as the ‘Reconquista’ and in legend the focal point of the story is the heroic tale of Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar or El Cid, the National hero of Spain,embellished by history to become a giant of a man and revered by many as being single-handedly responsible for the victory of the Catholic Kingdoms over the North African Moors.

But whilst El Cid was by reputation a great warrior and soldier he was only one of many who contributed to the Crusade and there were other equally heroic figures and one of these was Don Martín Vázquez de Arce who is celebrated in Sigüenza cathedral.

Don Martín Vázquez de Arce was born three hundred years or so after El Cid (The Reconquista took a very long time) somewhere in Castilla and began at an early age to serve the Mendoza family of Guadalajara, the city where his father worked as a secretary to the family whilst living in the city of Alcala de Henares. By all accounts he was the epitome of the heroic knight, trained in the arts, literature and warfare.  He served as a Page of the first Duke of the Infantry and accompanied the Spanish troops in various campaigns in the Vega of Granada.

Sigüenza, The Cathedral and Don Martín Vázquez de Arce

He tragically died a young man when in July 1486, only twenty-six years old he fell into an ambush by the Moors whilst campaigning and although according to a contemporary chronicler he fought bravely and killed many Muslims the Spanish knights were heavily outnumbered and he was eventually overcome and slain.

Six years later, in the year that Granada fell and the Reconquest was complete his body was recovered by his father and moved to Sigüenza where he was laid to rest in a private chapel and a wonderful monument made in the finest stonemasons workshops in Guadalajara was placed over his grave in his memory.

For a small town the cathedral is an immense building and one of the most important late Romanesque buildings in Spain which was built to symbolise the power of Bishop Don Bernardo who began construction in the twelfth century.  It has three naves and a main chapel with an ambulatory and a dome and around the outer walls are a series of commemorative chapels which reads like a who’s who of the local campaigns of the Reconquista.

Eventually we came to the jewel of the Cathedral, the Chapel of St. Catherine which houses the sepulchre of Martín Vázquez de Arce where in what is regarded as one of the finest examples of Spanish funerary art is his alabaster statue decorated with the cross of Santiago as he lies serenely on his side while casually reading a giant book. The authors of the Spanish Generation of 1898 (a group of patriotic artists and philosophers) drew national attention to the statue by naming him ‘el doncel de Sigüenza’ – the boy of Sigüenza.

This statue is so important and so valuable that it isn’t possible to just wander unaccompanied into the chapel and there was a forty minute wait and a €4 entry fee so as we could very clearly see the statue through the locked gates I wasn’t inclined to wait around and contented myself by extending my arm as far as I could through the metal railings to grab a picture.

In the streets outside the cathedral there was a lot of activity and everyone seemed to be going in the same direction so we joined the line of people leaving through one of the medieval town gates and spotted a small market and with the scent of purchase in their nostrils and sensing a shopping opportunity the girls quickened their pace towards the line of flapping canvas and sagging wooden boards.

The first part of the market was vegetables and market garden stalls and in a second section there were second-hand clothing and junk stalls run by gipsies and the only one that mildly interested me was one that was selling various infusions as alternative remedies and reliefs for almost every known common ailment.

Leaving the market it occurred to us that we had practically done everything there was to do in Sigüenza and we really wanted to leave something for another day so we returned to the hotel to collect the car and drive to the nearby town of Atienza.

Siguenza Cathedral

Weekly Photo Challenge: Up Top

The medieval castle of Atienza in Central Spain stands on top of an impregnable fortress hill.  On the top of he highest tower is a flagpole…

Atienza Castle Spain

Northern Spain – Sigüenza to Atienza on the Ruta de Don Quixote

Siguenza Spain

In a day of unpredictable weather the sun was shining when we stepped out of the dark interior of the cathedral with only occasional summer cotton wool ball clouds in the sky and because it had been rather overcast when we first walked to the castle we decided to do so again.

Read the full story…