Tag Archives: ‘el doncel de Sigüenza’

On This Day – Sigüenza in Castilla-La Mancha

Hopefully we are on the countdown to overseas travel but until that happy event happens I continue to trawl through the archives.  On 11th April 2014 I was in the town of Sigüenza in Spain…

It was raining so we took our time over breakfast and it was mid morning by the time we left the hotel and there was a simple choice – up the hill to the Alcazar or down the hill to the Cathedral.  We decided to start at the top of the town and make our way to the bottom.

Lined on each side with caramel coloured houses with terracotta tiled roofs, the Calle de Valencia followed the line of the old medieval town wall and half way to the castle we passed through the Puerto del Porto Mayor which was once the main gateway into the narrow streets of the old town and from here there was a final twisting climb to the Plaza del Castillo and the inevitable Parador Hotel.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Time

Siguenza Sundial

Lined on each side with caramel coloured houses with terracotta tiled roofs, the Calle de Valencia followed the line of the old medieval town wall and half way to the castle we passed through the Puerto del Porto Mayor which was once the main gateway into the narrow streets of the old town and from here there was a final twisting climb to the Plaza del Castillo and the Parador Hotel.

Read the Full Story…

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

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza and the Alcazar

Sigüenza Tourist Map

“The museums of Spain had a certain attraction when they were haphazard and underfunded. In Astorgia, a letter was on show written in 1052…. It was stuck in a frame with some sticky tape” –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

It was mid morning by the time we left the hotel after an excellent breakfast prepared by the owner, Juan and into a stone street bathed in mellow golden sunshine where there was a simple choice – up the hill to the Alcazar or down in the opposite direction to the Cathedral.  After a short debate we decided it might be preferable to get the climb out-of-the-way and start at the top of the town and make our way slowly to the bottom.

Lined on each side with caramel coloured houses with terracotta tiled roofs, the Calle de Valencia followed the line of the old medieval town wall and half way to the castle we passed through the Puerto del Porto Mayor which was once the main gateway into the narrow streets of the old town and from here there was a final twisting climb to the Plaza del Castillo and the Parador Hotel.

The Parador Hotels are classy places that are well beyond my limited budget and can be found all over Spain.  These were originally a State owned chain and were luxury hotels in old castles, palaces, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings that were established to promote quality tourism, to act as guardian of the national and artistic heritage of Spain and to assist poorer regions to attract more visitors.  They are no longer fully owned by the State and during the recession have begun to suffer financial difficulties but there didn’t appear to be a drastic shortage of guests this morning.

The present day castle was built in the twelfth century but there has been a fortress here since the Visigoths built the first in the fifth century.  Later as the Northern Kings led the Reconquest of Spain the Moors constructed a new castle on the same site but in 1124, the crusading ecclesiastic knight, Bernardo de Agen took possession of the castle and began the local Christian reconquest and the building of the Alcazar.

Sigüenza Alcazar

The castle was extended and remodelled at various times between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries but was partially destroyed in 1811 during the French occupation who finding the place rather easy pickings raided and sacked the town several times.  It again suffered damage during the Carlist Wars and during the Spanish Civil War when Sigüenza became part of the front line fighting during the Aragon campaign.  It had to be almost completely rebuilt after that so although it now suffers the indignity of being a hotel at least we have the Parador initiative to thank for what we see today.

It was possible to walk around parts of the old external areas but there was no getting away from the fact that the interior of the old castle is a hotel so with little or nothing to see except the reception desk, an expensive restaurant menu, some overpriced souvenirs and a couple of reproduction suits of armour we didn’t stay long and made our way down a narrow stone street towards the Plaza Mayor.

On the way we made a short detour through the maze of streets looking for the Museum Casa del Doncel, the alleged one time home of Martín Vázquez de Arce (more about him later) and after explaining several times that we were pensioners paid the concessionary fee and went inside.

I was so glad that we didn’t pay the full price because, to be honest, there wasn’t a great deal to see and it seemed as though it was either in the process of being prepared to be  a museum or it had run out of funding and was part way through the process of closing down.  It also turns out that this was not the home of Martín Vázquez de Arce anyway, it was simply the sort of house that he might have lived in and the association with him represents blatant opportunism!

On account of this it didn’t take very long to complete the tour and soon after we back outside in the sunshine at the front door of the house, a replica of which can be seen in the Poble Espanyol in Barcelona built for the International Exhibition of 1929 and  a sort of Disney World interpretation of Spain that wouldn’t be out-of-place at the EPCOT World Showcase in Florida.

Our route led us to the pedestrianised fifteenth century Plaza Mayor via a number of churches, historic houses and artisans craft shops until we eventually reached the central square of the town which although wouldn’t get into my personal top five Plaza Mayor was very pleasant indeed with renaissance architecture, iron balconies and covered colonnades, palaces and the magnificent cathedral with history dripping like Alcarria honey off the walls.

The Plaza bar was already open and doing some lazy business and we got caught by an invisible tractor beam that pulled us towards a table where we stopped for a while with the first beer of the day before setting off again through the stone pillars and across the cobbles as we left the square and made our way to the cathedral which was where we were going next.

Sigüenza Casa del Doncel

Northern Spain – Sigüenza, The Cathedral and Don Martín Vázquez de Arce

Spain Siguenza

On account of this being the beginning of holy week there were restricted opening hours for the cathedral so as we were absolutely sure that it was open this lunchtime we made our way along two streets named after heroes of the Reconquest, Calle de Cardenal Mendoza and the Plaza del Obispo Don Bernardo and then to the main doors.

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