Literary landscapes THE MAN OF LA MANCHA
National Geographic Traveller (UK)|June 2021
On a quest to restore chivalry to the nation, Spain’s greatest literary hero — the idealistic nobleman Don Quixote — roamed the vast central region of Castile-La Mancha. And this stark landscape, with its dramatic plains and hidden caves, forms an inspiring backdrop to a whole new canon of stories.
Stephen Phelan

If there is an abiding symbol of Spain, it’s the tall, thin man in armour sat upon his skinny horse, and the short, stout man beside him on a little donkey. Driving southeast out of Madrid I start to see them everywhere: they appear as decal silhouettes on the walls of small-town bars, cartoon cut-outs in the shop windows, semi-abstract sculptures mounted on roundabouts.

I go out of my way to look at Picasso’s ink drawing of these two figures at the 16thcentury Church of Santa Cruz, in the walled city of Cuenca. Such a charismatic image, familiar even to those who have never read The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes. Most Spaniards haven’t read the novel either, admits my guide, Pablo Moya. It’s too epic, too archaic. “But they still take pride in it,” says Pablo. “Especially people who live in La España Profunda.”

“The Deep Spain”, as Pablo calls it, is a socio-literary term for the Cervantine landscape of Castile-La Mancha. Places like Cuenca look more or less the same as they did some 400 years ago, when the author and his wayward fictional adventurers roamed the area. The old town hangs, UNESCO-protected, above a limestone gorge, its Renaissance churches and monasteries largely intact.

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