Sunday, April 29, 2012

Heading for Ciudad Rodrigo

I forget whether this was ever published or not. It was one of a series of three articles about the town in which we were then living. This was the first of the series.

Ciudad Rodrigo is a grand place to pass a day: big impressive buildings, history oozing through the streets, great pavement bars with tasty tapas and, to crown it all the prices are really low. There is one tiny problem though, well it’s a problem if you live in Alicante or Murcia, Ciudad Rodrigo is on the other side of Spain in Salamanca province!

Starting from Alicante , you need to catch the motorway towards Madrid, pass by Albacete, run across the wide open plains of la Mancha, swing south of Madrid, head out on the A6 passing under the Guadarrama mountains into the Community of Castilla y Leon, bypass the impressive towns of Segovia and Avila and head on for Salamanca. There are just 85kms to go now, down the motorway signposted for Portugal. By the time you get to Ciudad Rodrigo you’ll have covered around 760kms - just another 30kms and you could pop into Portugal for a cup of tea.

Salamanca province isn’t much like Alicante or Murcia. It has fewer mountain ranges and looks flatter but, more than anything it looks greener. Rivers look like rivers too because they’re full of water. There are lots of plants and trees that make me think of England. Cattle and pigs wander between the trees grazing on the grass and acorns. Towns are few and far between; in comparison to Alicante the province is nearly deserted. There’s another big difference – according to the 2007 Town Hall records there were 106,509 Britons in Alicante, 16,976 in Murcia but just 106 in Salamanca. We’re still a novelty there.

Ciudad Rodrigo exists because it’s on a defensive spot overlooking the Agueda River. There’s a mediaeval bridge to emphasise the point but it’s not the bridge that you notice when you first arrive – it’s the big wall that surrounds the heart of the city. Back in 1812 the Spaniards were having a bit of a scrap with the French about who should sit on the Spanish throne. The British decided to give them a hand as we were keen to give Bonaparte a bit of a kicking. Our oldest allies the Portuguese had the seaports we needed to maintain our supply lines into Spain.
In January 1812 the British, commanded by a chap called Arthur Wellesley, popped over the Portuguese border and attacked and took Ciudad Rodrigo from the French garrison. It was one of the victories that helped Arthur to gain the Dukedom and the name by which he is better remembered – The Duke of Wellington. 

A lot of British soldiers died taking the city, far more than the number of French who died in the battle which may be the reason that the British soldiers did not behave well after their victory – quite a lot of raping and pillaging. Indeed it was days before the officers were able to regain any control of their own army and impose any form of discipline.

The locals don’t seem to have held it against us though and the people of Ciudad Rodrigo, known as Mirobregenses, are proud to be associated with Wellington and seem happy to welcome us. Next month we’ll have a look at the city

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