virgins and bandits

nuestra señora of  Guadalupe keeps the tourist industry alive in the little town, a religious tourism – coaches of pilgrims come to kiss the virgin’s image, wonder at the riches of the monastery – the ecclesiastical embroideries, the El Grecos, the Zurburáns, the gold and silver reliquaries housing  saints’ body parts …. and stay in the monastery hotel. we did the monastery tour – cameras strictly forbidden, prayers said, lectures read, and avoided the kissing queue.

the statue of the virgin is supposed to have been carved by St Luke, and remained buried in a field during the Moorish occupation of Spain. she is most miraculous, tiny, byzantine, carved in wood blackened with age, and dressed in the most outrageously rich outfit of gold and lace.

Ferdinand and Isabella donated large funds to the monastery which is richly carved and tiled, looming over the medieval town.

after the tour we had a very civilised lunch in the staid and comfortable hotel which belongs to the monastery. the dining room has a wonderful collection of locally made seventeenth century dishes and plates, decorated with green copper oxide painted onto tin glaze, hanging on the walls.

the deep greenery of the patio, a wonderful shady place to relax in in hot weather.

more tin-glazed ware hidden away in the hotel

the old Jewish quarter of the town retains the overhanging upper storeys, built of chestnut wood; some like this fully restored but many looking in need of complete renovation.

one can imagine how busy this fountain would have been before piped water came here, and not too long ago either.

from the steep streets you look out over wooded mountains. in Franco’s time many republicans on the run hid out in the sierras and ran rackets of various sorts, including kidnappings and ransomings; the Guardia  completely unable to do anything about them.

we left by the old military road to drive right over the top of the mountains

many blue ranges far across in the misty November light

turkey oaks still holding onto their leaves border the road; they are the scrub tree of the high places here.

heather and jarra,  gum cistus, smelling of incense, cover the slopes here almost at the summit.

views are terrific in every direction.

the road has been blasted out of the rocks, and would certainly have helped the army and the guardia to see what went on downhill.

sunshine picks out the chestnut groves in their autumnal glory

and the rounded peaks of these old mountains

on the western side the rock is all calcite, grey white, its strata stick up vertically in violent contrast, and scree slopes of broken rock sprawl away down the steep drops.

we wind our way down the plunging hairpins; here the road is surfaced with ridged concrete, it is much steeper this side.

we arrive at the height favourable to chestnut trees.

amongst pale grey rocks clad with moss and lichen these trees are managed and harvested.

rusty tawny bracken  flickers amongst the rocks like flames

a little lower the chestnuts still have all their leaves in vibrant yellow and orange. we drive through a village, past the open doors of the cooperativa de castañas, stuffed with sacks of chestnuts.

more spectacular scenery

what a backdrop for a spaghetti western ….

one more rock face, lit by the late sun … and we are back in the dehesa, rolling country of wood pasture, low pollarded holm and cork oak trees, sheep and cattle grazing amongst them.

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