The small city of Herencia, just south of Madrid, turns 775 years old this year. Located in Ciudad Real, Castille-La Mancha, Herencia has just shy of 10,000 residents. Officially established in 1239, Herencia has a somewhat murky origin, but it is believed that its charter was founded with a modest 150 residents under the Kingdom of Castile after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, a battle that ultimately led to the Christian reconquest of Spain. There are remains of forts from the area prior to that time, but beyond that it is speculative and relatively undocumented.
An exhibition in honour of Herencia’s anniversary has opened in the small museum located within the park on the northeast side of the city. Its mission is to preserve and advertise the town’s history. Drawings were found in a nearby cave, “La Rendija,” in the Sierra hills in southern Herencia, dating back to the Paleolithic era.
Due to its proximity a handful of the occupants commute to Madrid, while the root of Herencia’s economy is based in agriculture. The region also has a notable cheese industry and an industrial complex lies to the northeast of the town.
On the city outskirts are the agricultural fields, vineyards of grapes and olive groves, which are meticulously maintained. The engines of farm equipment repeatedly break the stillness. Often in the evening around nine, after the sun has set, is a time that the ground is relieved of the heat which saturated it since morning.
You may find yourself gazing at the quiet upkeep of fields by mules harnessed patiently and standing resolute while waiting to work and earn their worth.
Beginning in September, inhabitants also flock to the fields to harvest grapes by hand. There are a number of fields equipped for machinery harvest, with taut metal wires holding the grape bunches at an even level for the tractor to collect and seemingly an equal number requiring a manual harvest. The olive season is later, around January and February.
Image “Don Quijote and Sancho Panza” by Gustave Doré. Wikimedia Commons
The regions’s claim to fame manifests itself within literature by one of the most notable Spanish writers, Miguel Cervantes. Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the man of La Mancha notorious for his lunacy and most significantly his defeat against windmills.
The setting of “tilting at windmills” is claimed by Consuegra, which is approximately 30 kilometers northwest of Herencia. However, many of the small towns of in the La-Mancha province pay homage to the character through plaza, street, and fountain dedications.
Even the curtains across doorways, gently detailed, depict windmills and a charging Don Quixote etched into the fabric. Cervantes’ conveniently excluded Don Quixote’s origin recalling, “somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember.” Given this ambiguity, we will never know where Don Quixote began his journey, but perhaps it was Herencia.
Many surrounding hills in the province of La-Mancha pay homage to the spunky pseudo-warrior with windmills. Herencia is no different. To the east of the city are two distinct hills with multiple peaks, crowned with seven white windmills, which sometimes turn lazily in the breeze but often remain still. Their purpose is purely ornamental, but their disuse does not discredit the utility and advancement the windmill once symbolized.
Standing on the outskirts of town it is effortless to envision Don Quixote cantering across the fields in the 1600’s and imagine you are still in that time time. The narrow streets of Herencia, the wind, characteristic and typical of towns as old as this.
The houses are pushed together without space, pause, or hesitation – leaving little to differntiate where one residence ends and the next begins. Many are visible in the early morning but tend to retreat to their houses, or go to work until later in the evening as the sun sets and shade overtakes the street.
The older inhabitants drag their chairs out of their houses and converse with their neighbours and passer-by as they watch activities unfold.
The heart of the town revolves around the church, Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, which was built in the 18th century. The church was built on the previous church from the 13th century, and while there are other churches in the town, none are as central or as old.
Herencia reminds us that there are places far from the ever quickening pace of technological change. Of quiet repose and distinct charm where whitewashed windmills stand against ageless blue skies and time rolls by unperturbed by the fashionable cousin of progress.