Tag Archives: Sigüenza

Northern Spain – The Plaza Mayor and an Updated Top Ten

Cities of Castilla y Leon

Tomorrow we would be returning to the coast in Cantabria and so now we had come to end of our drive through Castilla y León and our visit to the main cities although, and I apologise for this, we had missed out Soria.

It would have been just too much of a detour as we came to the end of our travels but I have promised to go back one day and apologise for this rudeness because Soria has one of the most bizarre festivals in Spain where once a year local men demonstrate their faith and fearlessness (stupidity) by walking over red hot coals!

We had visited a lot of new cities and it was time now to reassess our top ten list of favourite Plaza Mayors.  The more places we visit the more difficult this becomes so I have now extended this list from five to ten and introduced two categories – cities and towns.

Salamanca Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor is arguably the most important part of a Spanish town or city and I really cannot think of an equivalent in the United Kingdom where we have public squares but use them in an entirely different way – all day drinking, littering and anti-social behaviour.

In Spain the Plaza Mayor 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.  This is the beating heart of a Spanish community and when we arrive somewhere new it is usually the first place we make for because sitting with a glass of wine and complimentary tapas it is the best place to be to get a feeling for the town and its people.

Plaza Mayor Siguenza Castilla-La Mancha

In the search for real Spain (not the coasts and the Costas), in the past five years, we have visited and enjoyed dozens of Plaza Mayors; Madrid, the largest, Salamanca, the second largest, Toledo, next to its towering cathedral and the tiled Plaza de España in Seville.  We liked them all and we began now to compile a list with a view to choosing our favourites.

We considered Ávila,  Mérida and ValladolidCáceres and Santiago de CompostellaOviedo and León  but after a lively debate weighing up the pros and cons and putting forward the case for each one in turn we finally agreed on the top five in each category but could not reach consensus on the actual order.

Valladolid Spain

First the cities:  Segovia in Castilla y Leon because of the Cathedral and the architecture and the little streets running away from it like spokes from a wheel, Trujillo in Extremadura, because of its unspoilt medieval charm, its grand palaces and dusty, sunburnt aura and then Salamanca with its grand baroque architecture and after that Alcala de Henara and the Plaza de Cervantes with its statues and gardens and grandly colonnaded perimeter.  These were all from previous visits to Spain but we both agreed that after this journey then we would simply have to add Palencia  because of its unspoilt charm and the timeless quality of the buildings and architecture – a real gem!

And so to the towns: the unpretentious and functional Ciudad Rodrigo and reeking of the Spanish Peninsula War in every crack and crevice, Chinchón with its open balconies and bullfights and Siguenza with its stone simplicity, cobbled alleys, sharp stairways, deep arches, shady courtyards and stone buttresses leaning across the street and leaving barely a single shaft of sunlight and which was the probably the closest yet that I have been looking for in Spain.  Almagro with its stone colonnaded arches and Tuscan columns supporting overhead galleries all painted a uniform shade of green and fully glazed in a central European style which makes this place unique in all of Spain.  Finally Tembleque which we visited on a dreary overcast day but despite that there was no ignoring the quality of its fine Plaza.

That was a difficult debate and lasted as long as a couple of San Miguels and two dishes of olives but once we had finished we drained our glasses and returned to the Meson del Cid to prepare for a second night in the town.

Chinchon Madrid Spain

 

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Central Spain – Sigüenza and the Semana Santa

Siguenza Semana Santa 2013

The first Semana Santa (Holy Week) Parade of Easter 2013 was due to begin somewhere close to the cathedral at eight o’clock and because this was something we didn’t want to miss we left the Posada in good time and made our way to the town centre via the Plaza Mayor.

A modest crowd was beginning to form and a one legged crowd control official was hopping about from one side of the road to the other rather like a man trying to herd cats and trying unsuccessfully to make sure people, who mostly interpreted these crowd control measures to be optional, stayed behind the flimsy pavement barriers.

The Semana Santa is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion.  At the heart of Semana Santa are the brotherhoods, associations of Catholic laypersons organized for the purpose of performing public acts of religious observance and to perform public penance.  They organise the street parades and also undertake many other self-regulated religious activities, charitable and community work.

In Sigüenza the Semana Santa is organised by the Brotherhood of the Vera Cruz which dates from 1536 and whose members carry the heavy wooden sculptures dressed in armour and military uniform from the days of Spanish Empire in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Only a member of the Brotherhood may take part in the Parade and although membership is open to any baptised person there are some complex internal rules that generally limit who can participate in a procession.  Very often these permissions are passed down through families like a precious heirloom and I have read that in some cases it can take many years to be granted a permission – even longer than getting membership of the Augusta National Golf Club in the USA or the surviving Hereditary Peer’s Club at the House of Lords in London.

Semana Santa Siguenza Spain

The Parade started more or less on time (which is generally rather unusual in Spain) in a dark public park at the bottom of the town and set off slowly in the direction of the cathedral, swaying and sweeping and accompanied by the rhythmic throb of heavy drums and the mournful wailing of trumpets .

First came the men in black cloaks and pointy hats who, although bearing a sinister resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan, in fact precede this rather unpleasant racist organisation by several hundred years, and whose robes are meant to depict the Nazareños or people from Nazareth.  They walked slowly as though their shoelaces were tied together and their conical hoods swayed slightly from side to side as the occupant struggled to see through the two tiny eye slits as they coped with the restricted vision of the hood.

The hoods are called capirotes and were originally designed so that the faithful could repent in anonymity, without being recognised as self-confessed sinners.

After the man who had the responsibility of carrying a rather heavy and unwieldy looking cross came the first of the religious floats, weighing several hundred kilograms each and carried by at least ten strong men who even so had to stop quite frequently to take a breather and rest the floats on wooden poles and on account of these regular stops the progress of the Parade was quite slow.

The theatrical display of pageantry and celebration moved slowly along a straight flat road but soon turned left and had to tackle a long energy sapping climb up a steep street that led to the cathedral and required ever more frequent stops.  Each time the float carriers set the structure down on their stout wooden poles, breathed a well deserved sigh of relief and took a few moments to recover their composure.  One thing was certain – these things were heavy – very heavy indeed.  Eventually some clever person in command, clever because he was not carrying the heavy lump on his shoulders, tapped a pole on the ground which meant resume carrying position and then tapped it a second time which meant commence walking.

The magnificently presented floats were punctuated with bands of drummers who beat out a steady pulsing rhythm in time with the marching of the men in military uniform carrying the pasos and then the penitents in silken gowns of pristine white and occasionally purple flowing around their ankles and they all marched, sometimes shuffled, slowly in sombre fashion to the top of the hill and eventually to the cathedral square where one-by-one each of the floats were taken inside the main doors and manoeuvred carefully into position on top of the church pews.

At one point whilst taking pictures we rather over enthusiastically managed to get in the way of proceedings and one of the carriers politely asked us to move away before the structure was set down on our heads.

The whole spectacle was wonderful, a piece of genuine religious theatre and we enjoyed it immensely, this was something that we had travelled to Sigüenza especially to see and we had not been disappointed.

After it was all over the crowd began to disperse and melt into the cobweb of shadowy lanes leading away from the cathedral and the one legged crowd control official started to pick up the overturned and ignored wooden barriers and as the Plaza Mayor emptied we walked away in the direction of the restaurant that had become our preferred choice.  This is silly I know but once we find somewhere we like we get in the habit of going back even though there are many others to choose from.  Once in Barcelona we went to the same place four nights running and I think we had paella every night as well (different varieties of course).

We expected the place to be busier tonight but once again although there were only a handful of customers in the upstairs tapas bar there was no one in the basement restaurant and they had to open it especially for us.  They didn’t seem to mind too much about that and we were glad that we went back again because we enjoyed a third good meal.

Later we returned to the room and were pleased to find that the fire had turned off so we went to bed feeling confident that we (I) hadn’t broken it!

Semana Santa Siguenza

Central Spain – Vultures, Paella and Unexpected Gaudi

Siguenza Postcard 2

It was still rather overcast and dreary as we drove out of Sigüenza through a rather dull landscape the colour of modern armies – buff, khaki, olive green and mule grey, all rather harsh with saw edged escarpments, limestone boulders rising through the earth like skeletal bones and just now and then some cultivated land close to the infrequent villages every few kilometres along the highway; it reminded me of the sheer immensity of La Mancha in such contrast to the topography of the United Kingdom.

After a short distance some activity quite close to the road caught our eye and I slowed the car down to walking pace.  At first I thought it was some Emu or Rhea and maybe an alternative sort of meat farm but as we got closer this was clearly not the case.

These were Griffon Vultures, three of them finishing a feast of something they had either killed or found already dead in the field.  They were absolutely huge, over a metre long from beak to tail feathers and looked like ragged and untidy brigands with shabby jackets of hanging wing feathers and scrawny pink necks but our approach alarmed them, I think they had finished their lunch anyway, and they took to the sky and transformed themselves from ungainly beasts to graceful birds and they departed on their huge three metre wingspans and began to effortlessly climb into the thermal currents above us.

Griffon Vulture

The road continued over the barren landscape until it came to the unremarkable town of Alcolea del Pinar and then we crossed the A2 Autovia and entered a flat windswept plateau of moorland and occasional forest and home to the Maranchon Wind Farm which, when it was completed in 2006 was the largest wind farm in Europe but today has to settle for being only the fourth biggest.

Marachon windfarm - Spain

Spain provides more than 12% of its energy from wind farms and we drove past hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of turbines, certainly too many to count for kilometre after kilometre after kilometre.  There were enough windmills here to give objectors in the UK a real orgasm of disapproval and protest and certainly more than enough to put Don Quixote in a spin!

After a drive of eighty kilometres we arrived in Molina de Aragon just twenty kilometres or so from the Autonomous Community of Aragon where we are still yet to visit and we pulled the car into an empty car park below the castle which stood high above us on a steep hill.  We walked towards the main gate but it was cold, bitterly cold, which should not have been surprising because (and this is interesting) Molina de Aragon holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in mainland Spain so we pulled our jackets tight and wrapped our scarves around our heads and after we had been inside and satisfied ourselves that there wasn’t anything especially thrilling to see we quickly returned to the car and drove to the shelter of the small town centre.

I would like to be able to tell you that the place was spectacular but I am afraid that I can’t – it was dull and lifeless and the streets were empty because most sensible people were sitting inside in the warm.  We followed a map which cost me 80c at the Tourist Information Office and which showed all of the old town highlights but we didn’t find anything to take our breath away so we started to walk back and then heard some lively conversation from a bodega so we pushed the doors opened, spotted an empty table and went inside.

It was wonderful and made the long drive absolutely worthwhile – a traditional bar with local Spanish wine and a plate of perfect sticky paella as complimentary tapas – and after we had finished we were very reluctant to leave!

And so we left Molina de Aragon and headed back and the first village that we came to was Rillo de Gallo and there staring out over the main road was an unusual house built in the style of Antoni Gaudi and looking completely out of place within its surroundings. This it turns out was the Capricho Rillano built by Juan Antonio Martinez Moreno and substantially unfinished which made me wonder if it had the necessary planning or development consents?

Now we drove back the way that we had come but now the sky was a vibrant cobalt blue with an armada of sail like clouds racing across the horizon in front of us but the break in the weather was only temporary and soon after we arrived back in Sigüenza the rain swept in like a dripping lace curtain left out overnight on a washing line  and it closed in around the town like a cloak and we surveyed the scene from the balcony of our room, opened a bottle of rioja, sat back and waited for the fire to burst into life.

Capricho Rillano in the style of Gaudi Spain

Central Spain – Sigüenza and the Palm Sunday Parade

Atienza Cathedral

I cannot be absolutely sure that it was because of me but I expect that it was because I had been interfering with the controls, but the fire in the room unexpectedly started the ignition process sometime around one o’clock in the morning and immediately woke us up.

The last thing we needed was this thing spitting and hissing and firing up the room while we tried to sleep so after an hour or so I returned to the controls and randomly stabbed at the buttons until it eventually stopped.  I’m not sure that I should have done that because the web site provides the following information:

“The stove technology takes different factors into consideration such as – pellet characteristics, quality, density, moisture, etc. – installation characteristics: total length of the flue pipes, diameter, bends, curves, etc.- ambient characteristics: wind, atmospheric pressure, height above sea level, etc. After detecting and analyzing these factors, the stove automatically self-configures in real time, adjusting technical parameters in order to optimize the pellet combustion and the stove operation.”

So I am fairly certain that I was responsible for its rather curious behaviour but at least it was off now and we could sleep peacefully until morning and it did come back on normally at nine o’clock so I reassured myself that I hadn’t done any permanent or expensive rechargeable damage.

Today was Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week and we were expecting processions in town today so after breakfast we left the Posada with a sense of real anticipation and we walked towards the Alcazar to see if we could spot the first signs of a crowd beginning to form but there was none.

We walked again from the castle to the Plaza Mayor and then to the cathedral and still there was no sign of any real activity and then suddenly and without warning at eleven o’clock the cathedral bells started to ring, gently at first but soon almost uncontrollably and the largest began swinging so violently that I feared that it might come loose and come crashing down into the Plaza so I stood well back.

From the main doors three priests came from inside in full ceremonial regalia and seemed slightly agitated and then it became obvious that they were waiting for someone else to turn up and join them. They looked at their watches and at each other and then at their watches again and gave each other a “well, is coming or not” sort of look and then suddenly a fourth man turned up, running in from the street, booted and suited and sweating slightly at the forehead. It was clearly his year to carry the cross ahead of the procession and he had nearly missed the opportunity, he bowed to the clergy and apologised several times and then the four of them set off into the streets.

Well, this didn’t look like much of a procession to us so we went back to the hotel and picked up the car ready to drive off to visit another nearby town but as we drove off out of town we came across the start of the parade so parked up to watch the Palm Sunday Procession representing the entry into Jerusalem. There was a small float with Jesus on his donkey and this was followed by children and families waving palm leaves in the air as they followed the cross and the priests through the main streets of Sigüenza towards the cathedral and the midday Mass.

When the morning excitement had died away and the crowds had dispersed and the traffic could move freely again we returned to the car and set off in an easterly direction towards the old fortress town of Molina de Aragon.

Siguenza Palm Sunday Parade

 

Central 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.

This wasn’t too much of a chore because it was only a few hundred metres past the hotel on Calle Valencia which ran the whole length of the town.  Outside the hotel an old drinking spring was bubbling and gurgling and splashing cool water like gentle rain from a fountain into an ornamental trough and we walked back up the hill to the very top of the town.  And after we had satisfied ourselves that we had captured the pictures that we wanted we looked for an alternative route back to the Plaza Mayor and found a footpath that ran around the back of the Alcazar and then dropped down below the towering cliffs on which it stood looming high above us and looking proud and impregnable.

On the way we spotted a small market and sensing a shopping opportunity and so that we should get there as quickly as possible, Kim led me down a muddy and precarious path which came to an old bridge over the Rio Henares which even after the rain was barely a sticky trickle and then to the jumble of stalls that lined the river bank.  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 gypsies and the only one that mildly interested me was a stall 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 it was only just past lunch time so we walked to the railway station to see if there was any possibility of catching a train to another city on our ‘to visit’ list, Zaragoza.  The station was curiously quiet, there were no staff on duty and the main hall was being used by a group of small boys playing indoor football.  We found a timetable but it revealed a train service so infrequent that it was practically useless so we abandoned that idea and decided to drive to nearby Atienza instead.

Atienza Spain

The drive to Atienza followed the western section of a circular tour which is part

The journey to the nearby town 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 after a climbing section of hairpin bends with rear view mirror views of Sigüenza bathed in sunlight the road reached a plateau with a long straight road, a ribbon of charcoal tarmac cutting through the fields 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 the most attractive colours that rolled rhythmically and desolately away in all directions with a stunning 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.  We chased mauve and purple shadows as they shifted across the hills as the sun picked out towns and villages like a searchlight in the sky.

Eventually we arrived in tiny Atienza and walked through the stone town with its crumbling colonnades and rusting iron balconies and then 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 (the Peninsular War) and now two hundred years later it is waiting its turn in the programme of castle restorations and I got a sense that it might have to be patient.

There was quite a steep walk from the car park to the ruined towers and with rain on the next hill sweeping down the valley towards us like a curtain of chain-mail we quickly abandoned any thoughts of walking to the very top and dashed for the shelter of the car and drove back to Sigüenza through yet more changeable weather.

It was late afternoon now so after stocking up on wine and beer and olive oil crisps we sat in the room, read our books and waited for the fire to ignite.  By six o’clock there was no sign of life so I investigated the controls and although they were all in impenetrable technical Spanish I stabbed a few buttons and generally interfered with the settings without having a clue what I was doing and eventually it made some encouraging noises and I achieved ignition!

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, through the Plaza Mayor where there was a children’s candle lantern launching and live music and then below the exterior of the cathedral where the church bells were ringing in anticipation of Palm Sunday tomorrow.

We were right, it was too early for the restaurant to be open for business but they assured us it would open shortly and gave us complimentary drinks so that we wouldn’t slip away while they prepared the dining room and eventually it was ready and we enjoyed a second good Castilian meal at Le Meson and then returned to the room where the fire in the corner was standing cold and silent.

Siguenza Spain plaza Mayor

Central 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.

The seven hundred year period between 722 and 1492 has long been known to historians of Spain as the ‘Reconquista’ and the Spanish have subsequently 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 has become embellished into a sort of organised Catholic national crusade to remove the Muslims from Iberia.

In legend the focal point of the story of the Reconquista is the heroic tale of Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar or El Cid, the National hero of Spain 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 undoubtedly a great warrior and soldier he was only one of many who contributed to the Crusade.  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 somewhere in Castilla and began at a young age to serve the Mendoza family of Guadalajara, the city where his father worked as a secretary to the family and lived in the city of Henares.  He was the epitome of the gallant and 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.

He died a young man when in July 1486, only twenty-six years old he fell into an ambush by the Moors at Acequia Gorda and although according to a contemporary chronicler he fought bravely and killed many Arabs 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 workshop in Gudalajara, was placed over his grave in his memory.

For a small town the cathedral is an immense building, built to symbolise the power and authority 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. These chapels include particularly San Pedro with a wrought iron grille by Juan Francés, the Anunciación, with Mudejar details, and the San Marcos chapel.

Sigüenza, The Cathedral and Don Martín Vázquez de Arce

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 with his tunic decorated with the red cross of Santiago as he lies gently on his side while reading.  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 I could very clearly see the statue through the locked gates I wasn’t inclined to wait around.  And neither was Kim especially as a family of gipsy beggars was following her around the pews with their hands outstretched and the eyes assessing pick-pocketing opportunities so we completed our visit and left the cathedral and Kim handed over our loose change to a stooped and whiskered old lady dressed in black at the door who she declared, in her opinion, to be a genuine hard-luck case.

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More posts about El Cid and the Reconquista:

El Cid and Alvar Fáñez – another hero of the Reconquest

El Cid and his horse Babieca

El Cid and his Wife Ximena

El Cid and La Tizona

El Cid and Saint James

El Cid and Alfonso VI

El Cid and the Castle of Belmonte

El Cid – The Film Fact and Fiction

El Cid Burgos

Central Spain – Sigüenza, the Alcazar and the Plaza Mayor

Siguenza Parador Castle

The soporific combination of a dark room and a quiet street with only whispered footsteps outside meant that we slept until quite late and were only woken when the fire in the corner of the room cranked into life at nine o’clock.  This didn’t matter however because breakfast wasn’t served until half past.

The breakfast turned out to be quite excellent consisting of tostado con tomate, ham, egg and cheese, pancakes and Madeira cake all served fresh.  The only problem that arose was with the tea and this I concluded was a consequence of the absence of English guests staying at the Posada.  I was offered green, peppermint or a variety of different fruit teas but no English breakfast or simple black.

We eventually established what it was that I wanted and I felt bad about that when the waitress was sent out hurriedly to the shops to buy some.  After she returned I finally got my pot of tea but it was served luke warm and I was forced to conclude that in remote parts of Spain they are not very good at making tea!  It didn’t spoil the breakfast though.

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 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.

Siguenza Spain Town walls

The Parador Hotels are classy places well beyond our 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 Christian repopulation and the building of the Christian 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. 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 is 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 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.

The weather was proving very inconsistent and there was no way of confidently predicting which way it would go as it changed without warning through intermittent periods of sunshine, cloud, blue sky and then squally showers when rain fell like tiny lead fishing weights and the temperature fluctuated wildly.

To dodge the showers we reached the pedestrianised fifteenth century Plaza Mayor via a number of churches, historic houses and artisan 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, teetering balconies and covered colonnades, palaces and the magnificent cathedral with history etched deep into every stone and dripping like honey off the walls.

There was no real activity in the Plaza today and it was too cold for the bars to set up their tables outside so it didn’t take us long to wander through the stone pillars and across the cobbles and we left the square and made our way to the cathedral which was where we were going next.

Siguenza Spain Plaza Mayor