We stopped in the wee town of Trujillo, with its population of less than 10,000 because of the interesting description in the Lonely Planet. It read, “Wander into Plaza Major here and you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled onto the film set of a medieval blockbuster.” It went on to describe Trujillo as one of the most captivating small towns in all of Spain. Who could miss seeing a place with that kind of advance billing?
I’ve seen a ton of stone buildings, forts and castles, but I know I will never tire of seeing more. We tucked the car into a tiny space on a street in the residential part of the village and set off on foot through the gate and into the old walled town. As we passed through I noticed a small sign indicating it was the Cuesta de la Sangre and was surprised that I knew the word ‘sangre’ (blood). Spanish words are creeping into my vocabulary little by little, and it’s not just because I am enjoying a jug or two of sangria (means ‘bloodletting’) now and then.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when we entered the Plaza Major and found it filled with the steel frames of tents being erected for an upcoming festival. To my dismay, the square looked more like a film set that I would ever have cared for, and we weren’t even going to be able to stay for the excitement to come on the weekend. I would have loved to be able to photograph the plaza without all the obstructions, but at least there were very few people around and I would be able to study the facades of the buildings and search for the details described in our guidebook. This is the childhood home of a famous (infamous) conquistador Pizzaro and there is much in the square to honour his name and his family.
Instead of spending our initial time in the plaza, we headed up hill when I spotted a castle looming above our heads. It was a nice walk up a terraced slope to reach the main gate, and the view of the farms below our vantage point was delightful. The admission was a measly €1.40 and we happily handed over our coins. The 10th century castle of Muslim origin was surprisingly small inside; the interior was just a small square surrounded by high crenulated walls. There was a small cistern and armory in one corner, but no other buildings or rooms to speak of. It didn’t matter; I was delighted anyway.
We climbed a very steep set of stairs and walked around the perimeter of the castle. There were a few unusual elements in the construction, but when we came to a small hermitage perched atop the walls at the corner overlooking the town, our efforts were rewarded ten-fold. The sunlight was streaming through the stain-glass windows and the yellow-painted walls were glowing with the sun. There were fresh flowers surrounding the image of the Virgin of the Victory, the patron saint of Trujillo.
While we were walking along the battlements, I heard the sounds of small bells below me. When I looked down, I saw an elderly man walking with the aid of a cane, herding a small flock of sheep up through the stone-lined pastures and on into a new place to graze. With no other visitors in the castle, and the old gentleman below, it was easy to just stop and enjoy the peace and quiet in this place that must have seen little peace and quiet during the centuries gone by. We spotted a lovely garden surrounding the cathedral and decided to walk through it and enjoy the flowers before descending further towards the plaza and its treasures.
It was a lovely walk, through almost deserted lanes and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We could take the time to admire the small doorways and windows that opened onto the lanes, as well as the pots of flowers decorating the windowsills. Some doorways were so low, I wondered if we had stumbled into Hobbitton by mistake. We came upon a mid-sized plaza, in the upper town, and in the center was a large stone drinking trough, I imagine it was built for the knights to water their horses, and was later used for the townspeople to water their flocks of sheep. I can’t imagine why else it would be built so low and so long.
At last we arrived back at the Plaza Major. There seemed to be a little more activity with the tents, but no one seemed to be in any hurry to finish the job. It was only Tuesday morning and the weekend was still days away. There is definitely a different sense of urgency in Spain than we see in North America, and that’s a good thing if you ask me. As we walked around the plaza admiring the building, I kept consulting the Lonely Planet for information about this historic town. We didn’t make an effort to visit any of the small museums or churches, we’d seen so many already and we knew we would be spending some time in the cathedral at Guadalupe later in the afternoon.
I learned some interesting things about this little town, or at least its most famous citizen. Francisco Pizzaro was the illegitimate son of a minor noble family. The family crest is carved in several places throughout the square, a shield with a pine tree and two bears. Pizzaro had been part of a contingent of 2500 followers of Nicolas de Ovando from Cáceres. Ovando was appointed governor of all the Indies after Columbus made his ‘discovery’. Cortés was also along for the spoils. In fact, over 600 citizens of Trujillo followed these adventures and settled there, naming their villages after their hometown far off in Spain.
I won’t go into all the gory details of conquest of the New World, but Pizzaro eventually returned with his lover, Inés, the sister of the Inca emperor Atahualpa. Their likenesses are carved along a doorway on the Plaza Major. Nearby is another bas-relief depicting scenes from South America, with slaves in chains standing in proud defiance. Once again, my eyes were drawn to a large seashell carved above a window. This is the symbol of the followers of Santiago, the saint who has inspired pilgrims to visit his shrine in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.
At last we arrived at the foot of a monstrous statue, labeled as the town’s hero Pizzaro. I smiled to myself when I read that the statue was sculpted by an American artist, Charles Rumsey. He intended it to be of Hernán Cortés and planned to present it to Mexico, but Mexico was less than pleased with the exploits of Cortés and declined the gift. Instead, it was given to the town of Trujillo as a statue of Pizzaro, and the town was grateful indeed.
We had seen enough to get a taste for this lovely town, though in some ways, I did regret we couldn’t be there during the coming festivities. As we drove away, we passed a lovely bullring, no longer in use, but the main gate was open so we stopped and slipped inside for a moment. It struck me as odd that the name for the bullring included the word ‘piedad’ (mercy), when I doubt much mercy was ever shown to the bulls that died there.
We looked at our clock and found it was already after noon and we had a long day ahead of us. We had to drive to Guadalupe, an hour and a half away, visit the cathedral there and then continue on to Ávila. If our luck continued, we would find a great place to spend the night there. We had already picked out a small boutique hotel, based on the description in our guidebook. So far, we had been thrilled with our choices in Extremadura, and had been fortunate enough to finds rooms available wherever we planned to stay, without making reservations.
As it turned out, we were just ahead of festivities in several of the towns, and had we been travelling a week later, I think we might have been sleeping in our rental car. Note to self, in the future, we should probably make more use of the tourist offices and the internet to find out when the various festivals are held to ensure we don’t wind up without a place to sleep. There’s only so long the Kapoor luck can hold out; we shouldn’t press it on the small things.