Trujillo, Part 2
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Regions & Cities
Trujillo, Part 2
By John Zumsteg
Sep 1, 2003, 05:17

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The Plaza Mayor at night, Trujillo

Trujillo has followed the lead of other Spain cities in banishing automobiles from its plaza mayor. Where on an earlier trip, the plaza was a beehive of automotive activity (highly enjoyable to watch, actually), now the square is filled with families, kids running and playing football (soccer, for the North American readers), teenages strolling and a few tourists. Restaurants spill out into the sun. Many towns in Spain vie for having the best plaza mayor – for me, Trujillo wins that contest. We have spent many hours just sitting and enjoying the life of this small town, most evident in this beautiful plaza.

In the Plaza Mayor you will always, except for the earliest mornings and latest nights, see a local police officer or two. The officers add a wonderful touch to the square; you’ll see them in every small town’s Plaza Mayor, and in most plazas in bigger cities. They may provide law enforcement, but they also represent the strict and stern parent (you’ll see both policemen and policewomen), the watchful sibling, the baby-sitter, and the traffic cop to the town. They must know everybody, because it seems that each person walking through the square stops and talks to them for a minute, or at least gives them a wave. Part of the joy of an afternoon in the Plaza Mayor is watching the police officers bring some order to the square, without ever seeming to need the authority of their uniform.

From the Plaza Mayor, take a street that goes uphill to see the rest of the ancient part of Trujillo. It makes no difference which of the three or four streets you choose; they will all wander up toward the Moorish fortress that overlooks the town. As you go upward, you’ll pass more casas solares, churches, houses and a few small restaurants. You’ll also pass the Museo Casa de Pizarro, but continue to pass it. It’s highly unlikely that Pizarro ever did live in this house and the exhibits really reveal nothing of him, his town, or his part in the history of South America.

If you look up, you’ll see one of Trujillo’s trademarks: every tower of any sort has one or two or three stork nests on it. If you’re there in the spring, you’ll see the baby storks – two or three in each nest – clacking their beaks loudly calling for food, and their parents clacking back at them. When a bunch of storks do this at the same time, it makes a unique racket. These nests are 3 or 4 feet across, made of solid sticks; that the towers can support so many amazes me. I’ve heard that the storks return to the same nest each year, and the owners of the towers think it bad luck when a stork couple does not return; it means something has befallen them.

The Fortress, Trujillo
At the top of the town’s hill, you’ll come upon a fortress in excellent condition. Little is known of its history, but the earliest mentions of it indicate that the Moors built it, likely sometime in the 9th century as they defended their conquests. The Moorish hegemony over the Iberian Peninsula lasted only a couple hundred years, and by the 12th century, the Spanish royal army had recaptured the town and the fortress. The fortress has, since then, been rebuilt and enlarged and modified many times, as each conquering army corrected whatever weakness of the fortifications had allowed that army to overwhelm it.

On our first visit to Trujillo, this wonderful fort was open to visiting at all times, but now there’s an admission of a Euro. I can’t imagine that the revenue of visitors covers the cost of building the admission booth and staffing it, but nevertheless, you’ll have to pay to enter. This saddened me, for on a previous visit to Trujillo, I prowled the fortress at dawn, completely by myself; now that’s not possible.

You can see only one remnant of the fortress’s Moorish origins, but it’s a beauty. As you walk into the fortress, you’ll see a “key-hole” door that frames a tree in the courtyard. This door, whether original or rebuilt by the many succeeding armies that held this fort, clearly is of Moorish design, and was likely part of the original fortress. As you walk through this door, you join those who have passed through it for 1100 years. In the small towns of Spain, it’s hard to escape history, particularly the everyday history of those who lived here 1000, 500, 100 years ago.

Walk back down the hill toward the Plaza Mayor. You’ll see views of the surrounding countryside. Until recently, this area was purely agricultural; now you can see small industrial buildings and warehouses. Progress has come to Trujillo, but has not yet spoiled it. Walk through the Plaza Mayor (wave to the officers; they’ll wave back, even if they’ve never seen you before) and continue down the hill toward the newer part of town. What you’ll find is that there really isn’t a newer part of Trujillo. Yes, there are newer buildings and some offices, but the stores are small and distinct – no Cortes Inglés department store here. A grocery store may have only two aisles, but you’ll find some good local wine, as well as the excellent and ubiquitous vino tinto from Rioja. There are butcher shops and pastry shops and shops for children’s clothes and hardware stores and, as they have for years, they cater to the townspeople, who are more than willing to go to many small shops rather than one big department store.

Hungry? Any of the restaurants in the Plaza Mayor will serve you well (we always seem to return to the Plaza Mayor, don’t we?). Worth noting, though, especially if you’ve been elsewhere in Spain and grown accustomed to having a glass of wine and tapas in the late afternoon: in this part of Spain, the restaurants and bars serve lunch until about 4 o’clock, then there’s very little prepared food available until 9 o’clock or so. For some reason, here the tradition of tapas from lunch onward doesn’t exist, so have a good, late lunch, sit in the plaza and watch the world go by, take a siesta (the rest of the town is), and prepare for the evening.

When darkness falls on the plaza, you’ll see another of its faces. The arcades around the square, and the faces of the buildings, are lighted up, bringing a different beauty to this center of town. The paseo – the evening walk – continues here as it has for centuries and as it does in other small towns of Spain. Families of two or three generations, couples, teenagers, kids and dogs converge on the Plaza Mayor to socialize or just walk around. This is truly one of the loveliest of Spain’s small-town traditions; if you’re there, you’re part of it.

The guidebooks describe the beauty of Trujillo and what a nice place it is to visit for a day and a night if you really can’t get to anywhere “interesting.” I have a different opinion: Trujillo charmed me because it’s Trujillo and nothing more. Yes, it has a small spot in Spanish history, sending conquistadors to the new world; but more than that, Trujillo presents to us the best of Spain – the small town of people working and playing and living and enjoying life. In Trujillo, you can be part of that life, even if for only a couple days. Go to Trujillo, stay two or three days, and plan to do nothing but wander the town, sit in that beautiful Plaza Mayor, and become a Spaniard.

Back to Part 1

John Zumsteg is a Moderator and active member of the TravelSpain discussion group.

© Copyright 2003 by & John Zumsteg

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