The fiery sun hopped and skipped with the shimmer of the heat haze, as it prepared to set behind the Sierra de las Villuercas. Driving towards Trujillo a little faster as the early evening light was about to be lost, the searing heat and blinding light of the Iberian day were a distant memory – twilight and a summer squall followed close behind.

The oncoming westerly gave a melancholic feeling to the view, as Trujillo glinted against the thunderous skies, illuminated by the final rays of the sun, confirmation from above that it was indeed somewhere special. A moment of meteorological drama endorsing the town’s self-satisfaction as the home of Spain’s most famous conquistadors.

An ideal moment for the crows on their lofty perches to caw imperiously. From the ruins of the Convento de la Coria they seemingly mock the day-tripper’s ignorance of the town’s past as they weave their way through the narrow streets with guidebook, compact digital camera, or mobile phone, heads angled towards the rising towers of the towns citadels and churches.

Approaching from the west there is no light industry or heavy agriculture. The town sits on an escarpment of grey granite that rises abruptly from the farmland below, the Cerro Cabeza de Zorro; everything is built from the stone: castle, city walls, citadels, churches and houses.

And below the countryside changes with the seasons: kaliedoscopic Spring meadow flowers, the burnt grasses of Summer, verdant Autumn fields exploding after the arid months of July, August and September, and the intense activity of Winter harvesting the olives and occasional orange tree. A view unchanged since the conquistadors left for the Americas centuries ago.

And on top of the Cerro Cabeza de Zorro, Trujillo sits as it always has with little surrounding industry, only a few large grain silos and a sprinkling of urbanaziciones. In the Old Town there are no traffic lights, road signs, road markings, or street furniture. It has somehow been blessed and protected from over-development; there are no polígonos, factories, large manufacturing complexes, or industrial developments. It’s a little worn by time but nothing more intrusive.

If the Piazza San Marco in Venice is the drawing-room of Europe, as Napoleon is reputed to have said, then Trujillo’s Plaza Mayor is its war room.

There’s a wealth of historical plazas, palaces, churches, houses and statues, yet despite its undoubted charm the history of Trujillo is as uncompromising as the grey granite. If the Piazza San Marco in Venice is the drawing-room of Europe, as Napoleon is reputed to have said, then Trujillo’s Plaza Mayor is its war room. It’s one of three extremeños World Heritage Sites. It doesn’t have the magnificent grandiosity of Cáceres, or the depth of history of Mérida, but there’s a legacy that hangs heavy in the air, a potent sense of foreboding precipitated by centuries of struggle.

Trujillo has had its fair share of warriors and not only conquistadors: Diego García de Paredes, a colonel who fought across Europe and North Africa, known as El Sansón de Extremadura for his extraordinary strength, Francisco de las Casas, who protected Christopher Colombus during his voyage to America, Gonzalo de Ocampo, who quelled an uprising in the Dominican Republic, Francisco Hernández de Chaves, an interim Governor and General in Venezuela, and Juan de Silva, a military commander and Governor of the Phillipines.

Pizarro, who conquered Peru, has been shifted around the capitol city of Lima according to the groundswell of public opinion

But the list of Trujillanos conquistadors is more impressive: Francisco Pizarro, who with his brothers Hernando, Gonzalo, and Juan conquered Peru, Pedro de Hinojosa, Francisco Martín de Alcántara and Francisco de Chaves – all pizzaristas involved in the conquest of Mexico and Guatemala, Lucas Martínez Vegaso and his brother Francisco Martínez Vegaso who conquered Chile, Francisco de Orellana, Gaspar de Rodas, Gabriel de Ávila, Alonso de Sotomayor y Valmediano governor of Panama and Chile, and not least the same El Sansón de Extremadura.

They left from the Old Town to alleviate their poverty, hardship, and to conquer the world if necessary. Unyielding, tough, and resolute as the Trujillo stone, they cut swathes through the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, as well as charting the Amazon river.

The strip cartoons of the English comic Look & Learn taught a generation of children that the protagonist of the Spanish conquest was Cortés, having an insatiability for Indian gold he was nonetheless defeated week-in-week-out by the wily Aztec, Montezuma. The gracefully drawn and extravagantly curved Spanish helmets came to represent cruelty, oppression, and duplicity; whilst the Aztec’s colourful robes, feathers, and gold adornments were conversely imbued with nobility. The stories lent the Aztecs an invincibility that was far from true, yet delayed Montezuma‘s inevitable downfall by another issue of the comic.

With extraordinary wealth the conquistadors returned to Trujillo as the nouveau-riche of Hapsburg Spain, building extravagant palaces outside the town’s defenses, unlimited by the physical constraints of the Old Town wall. The sandstone acquired from distant quarries, transportation costs no longer a liability for their prosperous owners, unfettered their masons from the coarse and steely granite that built the Old Town, allowing for a bravura display of lavishly carved door and window cases, stuffed typana, twisted columns, curled cartouches, curlicued volutes, luscious acanthi, and not least their expansive coats of arms.

There are larger and more grandiose plazas in Spain but for composition alone the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo is exceptional

Pizarro‘s family house in the Old Town is conversely modest, typically solid, with a heroic gothic entrance. Every part of the house with the exception of the ceramic tejas curvas is granite: substantial quoins, sturdy lintels, simple facing stones, spartan embellishments, and not least the paving slabs that surround the house. And it’s not just Pizarro‘s house, every other house, citadel, and church is built from the same stone. At times difficult to know where one building ends and another begins, as though Trujillo has been hewn from the monumental mass of the Cerro Cabeza de Zorro itself.

And if the palaces of the Plaza Mayor are dazzlingly sumptuous wedding cakes with fluted columns and flourishes of piped icing sugar (with Pizarro and his warhorse the bride and groom), then the Old Town is a rustic bread pudding; compact, stolid, dense, inviting, and wholesome, the odd currant thrown in to add piquancy.


Now opinion is divided about Spain’s conquest of Pre-Columbian America. Those who would preserve the heritage of Pre-Columbian civilisations see the conquistador as a destroyer of indigenous culture and and question the hegemony of Catholicism over the ancient pagan religions.

The Old Town can’t compete with the splendor, grandeur and nobility of the Plaza Mayor but has a charm and remarkable consistency, unaffected by the modern day liabilities of commercialism and bad taste

Indeed, Pizarro who conquered Peru, has been moved around the capitol city of Lima according to the groundswell of public opinion. His statue has passed from grand boulevards, to suburban parks, from the side of the river, to government buildings. Yet, having lost none of his popularity in Trujillo the Plaza Mayor is still home to an identical statue with the same thrusting sword, feathers flying in the wind, and muscular bronze horse.
But the passage of time hasn’t been kind to his compatriot who discovered the Amazon, originally called the Río de Orellana. Someway from the plaza by the town’s cistern tank Francisco de Orellana’s decapitated head sits on a granite plinth. In fairness it’s the highest point of the pueblo, with the exception of the castle, and faces the west door of Santa María la Mayor, though at some distance.

it has a charm and consistency unaffected by the modern day liabilities of commercialism and bad taste

Yet Pizarro too suffered neglect, he wasn’t commemorated with a statue on his return, neither during Hapsburg Spain or the Renaissance. Trujillo’s favourite warrior waited until 1929 for an American, Carlos Rumsey, to gift his sculpture to the Plaza Mayor. The statue completes what is said to be the most beautiful plaza in Spain. There are larger more grandiose plazas but for composition alone the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo is exceptional.

And although the Old Town can’t compete with the splendor, grandeur, and nobility of the Plaza Mayor, it has a charm and consistency unaffected by the modern day liabilities of commercialism and bad taste. The twin towered church, formerly the mosque, of Santa María la Mayor, the Palacio de Escobar, one of the oldest fortified palacios in Trujillo, the Casa Chaves Cárdenas, the Museo de la Coria, formerly the Convento de San Francisco el Real, the Ciudadela de los Altamiranos, and the Ciudadela de los Bejaranos.

The castle, the most combative fortification, is nearly lost above the town, hidden within the unimaginable number of ubiquitous granite blocks. From all approaches its understated profile appears like the natural crest of the hill.

Apart from the Ermita de la Virgen de la Victoria within the bailey of the castle, whose figurine of the Madonna piously oversees the principle gate, the castle is nothing more than eight towers and a crenelated curtain wall; though the circumference measures nearly a kilometer, there is no keep, nor any windows, though there is a small bell tower and large cistern tank.

Through the bars of the gates some of the film crew are visibly busying themselves organising the large amount of equipment some way within the castle

This morning its iron gates are chained, posters announce the castle’s temporary closure, as the Game of Thrones entourage has arrived to take advantage of the town’s imposing medievalism. Through the barred gates some of the film crew, with faded black jeans and t-shirts, black boots, basketball caps, and heavily tattooed forearms, giving credence to the myth of the roadie, busy themselves arranging large amount of equipment some way within the castle, whilst others empty pantechnicons parked in front of the gates, removing  huge crates, lighting rigs, and painted scenery.

Power cables, on temporary catenary wires umbilically connect the castle with the pantechnicons’ generators, that hum almost imperceptibly over and above a hammer banging away at scaffolding within the bailey.

Disinterested residents either ignore the commotion or wander around the other side of the town without any knowledge or interest in it, but the day-trippers gather inquisitively at the approaches to the castle, turned away as they have been some distance from the gates.

The Game of Thrones, calendar of extraordinary events, and the regular concerts throughout the year sit uneasily with the antiquity of the Old Town, and regularly wrong-foot the crowd hoping to enter the castle, though in truth the Old Town and castle are unaffected by such charmless intrusions, and likewise the crowd are not put-off, sidelined by the televisual phenomena they’re happy to vicariously observe at a distance.

 

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Trujillo - The Old Town

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Trujillo - The Old Town 39.460500, -5.884130 Calle de Santa Maria Extremadura, Spain (Directions)