Tag Archives: Trujillo

On This Day – Besalu in Catalonia

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 8th July 2013 I was in the town of Besalu in Catalonia.

Besalu Catalonia Spain

We found the Hotel Three Arcs and the receptionist told me that we could ignore the traffic restriction notices that seemed to suggest that the place was pedestrianised and bring the car into the main square but I was nervous about this because it involved driving over one of those solid steel retractable bollards that rise up from the centre of the road.

I was worried in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ or ‘America’s Funniest Videos’.  I could sense that a local driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could.  Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course and people sitting at a bar probably wondered why I had set off as though I was an Italian driver at a set of red traffic lights.

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On This Day – Trujillo in Extremadura

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 5th May 2011 we were in the Spanish town of Trujillo which I am happy to declare one of my favourites in all of Spain.

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Thursday Doors, Trujillo in Spain

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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Travels in Spain, A Postcard From Trujillo

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Travels in Spain, The Royal Monastery at Guadalupe

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On a detour during our travels through Portugal we strayed across the border and were staying in the town of Trujillo which is one of my favourite places in the Spain.

I wrote about Trujillo before.  You can click here to read the post.

This is Trujillo…

Trujillo Plaza Mayor

Today we were making the short journey from a town that celebrates military muscle to the religious village of Guadalupe about forty miles or so to the east.

For over thirty miles we drove across the dusty barren plain and sunburned fields of Extremadura, a tough land that provided the harsh conditions that gave rise to the Conquistadors and adventurers of the sixteenth century Spanish Empire.  Then there was a surprise as we approached the border with Castilla-La Mancha as the flat plain became a steep mountain with rivers and forests and mountain villages as though we were suddenly in Switzerland.

There were signposts to Guadalupe but not many visual clues.  The village is built in an obscure valley and it only finally came into view as we turned a sharp corner in the road.  Unusual architecture for a monastery it has to be said with turrets, castellated towers and tiled cupolas that could be mistaken for a fortress or a castle.  A towering pot-pourri of grand style in contrast to the rather shabby town below.

An old postcard…

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Guadalupe is the site of the Royal Monastery of Santa María one of the finest and most important monasteries in all of Spain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  On account of this it is a very busy place and it took us some time to find a parking space and we lost so much time that we only just arrived in time for the final tour of the day.

I hadn’t realised this but visitors cannot simply wander around the monastery unaccompanied because it has too many precious treasures which are kept behind locked doors so we paid up and tagged onto a tour in meaningless Spanish.  It didn’t really matter all that much we just ignored the rat-a-tat-tat of the machine gun commentary and made up our own stories about the exhibits.  Visitors are not permitted to take photographs either.

The treasures are interesting but for most people the most important part of the tour is right at the very end where passing through a sumptuous Baroque grotto there is a separate chapel with priceless paintings and dazzling artefacts.  Here is a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a black Madonna and we joined the line of pilgrims as we shuffled slowly forward, each person in the line stopping to lovingly gaze upon the statue and to place a gentle kiss upon an icon and make a wish.

Perhaps the oddest Madonna and child that I have ever seen…

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Let’s go back in time.  The history of Guadalupe began in the fourteenth century with a familiar story which goes like this – a small boy (these stories generally include young children – Knock in Ireland, Fatima in Portugal, Montserrat in Catalonia) experienced a Marian vision as the Virgin revealed herself to him.

According to legend, when Seville was captured by the Moors, a group of priests fled and buried a statue in the hills near the Guadalupe River. The boy claimed that Mary ordered him to dig at the exact site of the apparition and excavating priests then miraculously rediscovered the hidden statue and built a small shrine around it which eventually evolved into the great monastery of Guadalupe.

Could this be true?  I don’t know.  I try and keep an open mind on the matter of Marian Apparitions, does the Virgin Mary every now and again keep randomly appearing to simple people in remote towns and villages around the World? Maybe!

An interesting issue about the Madonna is that she is black and so is the infant Jesus which is just one of those pieces of evidence that some scholars rely upon to support the theory that Jesus wasn’t a sort of blond Nordic type like Leif Erikson that we all imagine him to have been in the west but rather more like a dark skinned man from the Middle East. Rather like an Arab.  If Muslims believed in Jesus and were allowed religious portraits then I am certain he would be black.

Jesus Black or White

It seems to work well both ways I think but that surely is the point, Jesus can be whatever you want him (or her) to be…

Another interesting fact is that Christopher Columbus named the island Santa María de Guadalupe in 1493 after the Our Lady of Guadalupe and today there are many places called Guadalupe all over South America and the Southern United States, all of them a legacy of this tiny Spanish town.

Our visit to the monastery over there wasn’t a great deal more to do in Guadalupe and to be honest we didn’t care for the place a great deal, it seemed closed and impenetrable, secretive and somewhat eerie, even a little hostile and we felt uncomfortable.  We took a pavement table in the village centre but this turned out to be the sort of place where the staff seem to find customers an inconvenience, service to be optional and no tapas for us so after a swift drink we were glad to leave without leaving a tip, return to the car and drive back to the Parador Hotel in Trujillo.

I am really glad that I visited the Royal Monastery of Santa María of Guadalupe, I didn’t get any sort of Divine thrill I have to say, I am not a religious person at all, I only go to Church for weddings, christenings and funerals and remain sceptical about things such as this but if so many people believe in it then that’s fine by me.

Read my post about Spain World Heritage Sites here

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Travels in Spain – Francisco Pizarro

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“…the breed of men who conquered a continent with a handful of adventurers, wore hair shirts day and night until they stuck to their flesh, and braved the mosquitoes of the Pilcomayo and the Amazon” –  Gerald Brenan

It is a mighty statue, a magnificent statue, matched only by that of mighty El Cid in Burgos, and I challenge anyone not to admire it.  I am happy to declare it to be my favourite!

Here is the gigantic figure of Pizarro  sitting astride his proud stallion and dominating the entire square of Trujillo, head up, untidy jutting beard and plumes flowing as though trying to stay attached to his helmet whilst at full gallop.

The statue captures the flare and the audacity of the conquistadors and in his hand he carries a menacing sword but in a message that here was a man who lived and died by the steel the statue has no scabbard which seems to suggest that he rarely ever put the blade away.

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Travels in Spain – Statues

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Favourite Places in Spain, Santillana del Mar in Cantabria

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“Le plus joli village d’Espagne”  –  Jean Paul Sartre

In my last post as I left Trujillo in Extremadura I made reference to my favourite places in Spain so I thought I might take some time to share these with you.  I begin with Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, almost four hundred miles north of Trujillo and in a very different part of Spain.

Santillana del Mar is a most picturesque town and often appears in any top ten of best villages in Spain. This may of course have something to do with the fact that the French writer, philosopher and all-round clever dick, Jean Paul Sartre declared it to be the prettiest village in Spain, although I am not absolutely sure just how much of Spain he visited and just what he was comparing it with or how he came to this rather sweeping judgment.  Perhaps it was just a lucky guess!

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There is apparently an old saying that Santillana del Mar is The Town of Three Lies, since it is neither a Saint (Santo), nor flat (llana) and has no sea (Mar) as implied by the town’s name. However, the name actually derives from Santa Juliana (or Santa Illana) whose remains are in the kept in the Colegiata, a Romanesque church and former Benedictine monastery.

Travels in Spain, Trujillo in Extremadura

As we began the long journey to Castilla-La Mancha I looked in the rear view mirror and decided that I needed to find a spot for Trujillo in my list of favourite places in Spain.

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Travels in Spain, Trujillo and The Spanish Conquistadors

Francesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura Spain

“…the breed of men who conquered a continent with a handful of adventurers, wore hair shirts day and night until they stuck to their flesh, and braved the mosquitoes of the Pilcomayo and the Amazon”  Gerald Brenan

Our plan now was to visit the town of Trujillo that we had missed two days ago because of changes to our itinerary on our way to Cáceres.  After we had stopped for fuel we drove north skirting the Parque Naturel de Cornarvo but to be honest there was little to get excited about across the flat dusty plains of Extremadura and nothing to divert us as we drove the thirty miles or so towards our destination.

Trujillo, on the Tozo River, a tributary of the Tagus, is sited on the only hill for miles around and about forty kilometres east of Cáceres.  Although the Autovia passes close by it is not an especially busy tourist city so when we drove in and followed signs to the Plaza Mayor we found parking surprisingly easy just a few yards away from the main square.

Extremadura Trujillo Alcazar

The pace of life in the plaza was delightfully soporific with a just a few visitors wandering around and others sitting with local people in the bars and cafés around the perimeter. It was pleasantly warm but I would suspect that in high summer this large exposed granite space can become an anvil for the blistering sun and, unless you have the heat tolerance of a lizard,  it would be important to find a spot in the shade.  This was genuine Spain, this was Spain in the raw, stripped down to the bones.  I liked Trujillo almost immediately and without any hesitation.

All around the square there are grand palaces and mansions and outside the sixteenth century red brick, blood stained Iglesia de San Martín in the north-east corner is the reason why, a great equestrian statue of the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizzaro.  Everything about the statue is fierce and warlike, a giant muscular warhorse, a mighty warrior with aggressive jutting beard and elbows, wicked long spurs, visor raised with flowing plumes, his sword drawn and ready for action.

It is an interesting coincidence that many of the sixteenth century explorers and adventurers who carved out the Spanish Empire in South America came from Extremadura and as well as Pizzaro, Hérnan Cortés, who defeated the Aztecs and founded Mexico, Hernando De Soto, who explored Florida, and Pedro de Almagro, who accompanied Pizzaro, all came from this south-west corner of Spain.

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Because of these adventurers Trujillo flourished in the sixteenth century but it declined again just as quickly and has been largely forgotten since and the palaces, the castle, the stone mansions, the columned arcades and the baking plazas are sitting there almost exactly as the conquistadors and soldiers of fortune left them.

It is a magnificent statue, matched only by that of El Cid in Burgos, and I challenge anyone not to admire it.  I think I could have stayed and admired that statue all day long, it epitomises the spirit of the Spanish Seaborne Empire of the Sixteenth Century.

The statue captures the flare and the audacity of the conquistadores and in his hand he carries a menacing sword but there is a message that here was a man who lived and died by violence the statue has no scabbard which seems to suggest that he rarely ever put the blade away!

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Francisco Pizzaro was born in Trujillo and became a conquistador who travelled along much of the Pacific coast of South America. With an army of only one hundred and eighty men and less than thirty horses he encountered the ancient Incan empire and brutally and quickly conquered it, killing thousands of natives, including the Inca King Atahualpa and stealing immense hoards of gold, silver, and other treasures for the King of Spain and for himself including the Inca King’s wife who he took for a mistress.

As a consequence of Pizzaro’s adventures, Spain became the greatest, richest and most powerful country in the world at the time and as well as conquering Peru and founding the city of Lima, he also added Ecuador and Colombia to the Spanish Empire thus providing immense new territories and influence and spreading Roman Catholicism to the New World.

We walked out the Plaza Mayor and followed the steep cobbled lanes as they twisted their sinuous way up past buildings constructed of attractive mellow stone, past the inevitable Parador and more churches and mansions until finally we were at the top at the Alcázar of the Moors who controlled this city for five hundred years before the Reconquista.

Inside the castle we walked around the high stone walls and stopped frequently to admire the uninterrupted views over the dehesa of Extremadura spreading endlessly in every direction in a ragged patchwork of agricultural green, gold and brown where distant villages floated on the vastness all the way to Portugal.

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Walking back down to the plaza was a great deal easier than the energy sapping climb but we got lost in the web of tiny streets and surprised ourselves by emerging at an unexpected entrance to the square which was jam-packed with cars on account of it being the end of school for the day and parents were collecting their children to take them home.  It was a little past lunch time and we were overdue something to eat so we examined the menus at the pavement restaurants and when Kim was satisfied with our choice we found a seat in the sun and ordered some local dishes.

As the Plaza slowly emptied and peace and quiet was restored it was nice sitting in the sunshine enjoying the sights of the square in a city blessed with great architecture and a theatrical history but mercifully not overrun with tourists. It was lovely and if I was planning the trip again I am certain that I would squeeze at least an overnight stop in Trujillo into the itinerary and we would have stayed longer this afternoon but we had a long drive ahead of about one hundred and fifty miles because now it was time to start to drive back east towards Castilla-La Mancha which was going to be about a three hour drive.

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