Sunday, April 29, 2012

Inside 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 second of the series.

Last month we travelled across Spain to arrive in Ciudad Rodrigo, a walled city in Salamanca province close to the Portuguese border. This time we’ll have a look at the city in a bit more depth.

The people who live in the town are called Mirobrigenses. In the UK people who come from particular places, particularly the bigger cities are sometimes known by a collective name like Brummies or Geordies but in Spain giving a name to the people who come from any town is a national sport. Like the name Ilicitano, for people from Elche, Mirobrigense comes from the old Roman name for the city.

The old part of Ciudad Rodrigo is often peaceful, sleepy even, but because it is still very much lived in it can quickly crackle into life. The streets are lined with big, granite built mansions and monumental, slab sided wall palaces. There really is something to see around every street corner.

A good place to begin is on the walls. They still completely encircle the town. They’ve been there for 800 years with quite a lot of reform work done four centuries ago. Forming part of the walls is the old castle now converted into one of the state run Parador hotels. Even if you don’t stay there you could always pop in for a coffee where you’ll get served by someone wearing traditional local costume. Look out from the battlements and you can see the old Mediaeval Bridge below. A bit further along the walls is the Interpretation Centre which explains the history of the walls. I’m told they have been known to let people try on the suits of armour. And there’s the cathedral - you can get a nice snap of it from the walls; it’s just next to the Chamber Pot Museum – they mustn’t be as nice as the Interpretation Centre people as they don’t let people test drive their exhibits!

Coming off the walls are three of the best mansions the Palacio de los Castro, Palacio Alba de Yeltes and the Palacio de Moctezuma. There are so many grand palaces here that several have been pressed into use for modern services, the Moctezuma is the local library and cultural centre for instance and another, the Casa de los Vázquez is used as the Post Office. The escape route for the local cinema leads through the bishop’s palace gardens.

However you walk around the town, wherever you start from, all roads lead to the Plaza Mayor, the Main Square. It is so Spanish it looks as though it must have been designed by a theme park entrepreneur. The arcaded Town Hall forms one boundary to the plaza but the rest is private buildings. Most seem, at first glance, to be bars with tables outside, waiters scurry around. Having taken your seat to watch the show, drink and snack to hand, you realise that this is no theme park but a real functioning town centre. Shops, banks, offices and hotels are all there in the square and, one floor up, are the flats where people lean over their balconies to watch the free show below.

Ciudad Rodrigo is like that; great to look at but still very much functioning as a real community. Next month we’ll have a look at how that community amuses itself at Carnaval time.

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