Regions & Cities
Dawn comes quietly to the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo. A few vans deliver the day’s supplies to the restaurants, a few people walk through on their way to work or home or somewhere. Shadows fill the plaza, as the sun hasn’t reached above the buildings on the east side of the square. On the west side of the square, the sun strikes the very tops of buildings, just as it has done for over 400 years on these same buildings. The largest, the casa solar built by Hernando Pizarro when he and his Inca bride returned from his bloody conquest of Peru, sees the sun first and turns golden in the bright early morning light.
Quickly, the rays of the sun light up more of the western buildings of the square. As in small towns everywhere in Spain, the awakening daily life of the square marks the awakening daily life of the town. More people walk through the plaza, now going in different directions – some toward the main part of Trujillo; others away there. The police officer appears and assumes his role as caretaker of the plaza. Cars arrive to find parking places; the police officer directs them, or at least tells them when they’ve parked somewhere they shouldn’t. Restaurants open for the traditional Spanish breakfast of a toasted roll and coffee (orange juice for tourists, a quick shot of colvados for the locals). The Plaza Mayor of Trujillo greets the day.
Spain has world-class cities: Madrid thumps all night long, going to sleep at 5 in the morning; in Barcelona, Catalan culture and architecture thrive; Seville holds tightly and beautifully to its Moorish heritage. But the real world of Spain resides in the small towns and villages that have changed little in the last 500 years. Yes, cars have arrived and, yes, modern buildings and stores and factories surround the ancient centers, but the heart of Spain lives in the Plaza Mayors (main squares) of towns such as Trujillo, where the patterns of life reflect centuries of Spanish life. Visit Madrid and Barcelona and Seville, but come to truly know Spain in Trujillo and Segovia and Arcos de la Frontera and Ubeda.
We got to Trujillo on a lucky break. Eight months earlier I’d tried to make reservations at the Parador in Trujillo, but it was full, and I knew of no other reasonably good hotels there. Disappointed, I booked us into Salamanca for 3 days, when I really wanted to spend just two days there and the third in Trujillo. When we arrived in Salamanca, though, the weather had turned sour. Wind and rain, cold weather, and “the most beautiful Plaza Mayor in Spain” almost fully covered by scaffolding made us realize we didn’t want to stay. Paradores always offer good accommodations (though often more expensive than other hotels) so we reviewed our Parador brochure, made a list of Paradores within a day’s drive and walked down to the Salamanca Parador. There, I asked for our first choice: “Could you get us a room in the Trujillo Parador for 2 nights?” One phone call and came the reply, “If you’re there by 6 o’clock, they have a room for you.” We raced back to our room at the Hotel Amoeba (no, that’s not it’s real name, but it’s close, and the odor in the room made us conclude that there were more than a few amoeba’s around), packed up, checked out, (“Really, sir, the weather will improve in a few days.”) and headed south. The weather did improve a bit as we came to Trujillo, but it made no difference; we would have fallen in love with the town in a blizzard.
No more than five- or six-thousand people live in Trujillo. The town has some modern industry around it, but mostly it looks and feels like a town that has just been itself for a thousand years. And as a true Spanish town, life revolves around the main square – the Plaza Mayor. Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor may be the most beautiful, and Madrid’s the biggest and most historic, but there’s no plaza mayor in Spain that I love more than Trujillo’s. Walking through the rest of the town only made me love Trujillo more. Could I live there? Please?
One guidebook describes Trujillo as a “perfect set piece of a Spanish town,” but a set piece it is not. Trujillo lives and breathes. Here’s a short tour of Trujillo; I only hope I can do the town justice.
Start in that wonderful Plaza Mayor. The life of the town seems to revolve around it. People come and go all day; surely every resident of Trujillo must walk through the square at least once and probably twice each day. Two sides and most of a third have restaurants and a couple small stores; the restaurants, of course, have tables outside, but it was a bit too cold to sit outside this trip. The remaining side is formed of homes built by the returning conquistadors – the conqueror of Peru, Fernando Pizarro, and his six half-brothers who accompanied him came from Trujillo. The largest building on the Plaza Mayor, Pizarro’s casa solar (sun house) on the southwest corner, has his coat of arms on the walls, as well as carvings that mark the history of his conquest of Peru.
Now, I have to tell you that if you’ve come to Trujillo for tourist sights, you might think about turning around and heading for somewhere else. There aren’t any here, really. No museums worth a visit, no spectacular vistas, no soaring churches. What you’ll find is a town much as it’s been for 500 years. As you walk up into the old town toward the fortress, you walk in history.
A huge statue of Pizarro watches over the Plaza Mayor, but a funny story about the statue takes away some of its pretensions. It seems that the American sculptor originally went to Mexico and asked if the Mexican government would like this beautiful statue he’d cast of Cortez, conqueror of Mexico. Now, as one would imagine, Cortez is not exactly a hero in Mexico, and the government declined the gift. So, the sculptor went to Trujillo and asked the town fathers if they would like to have this beautiful statue he’d cast of Pizarro, conqueror of Peru and a native son of the town. Trujillo was, of course, honored that this American sculptor would honor their town, and accepted. True story or not, it’s an impressive statue.
Continue to Part 2
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