Squares have always been one of the most important parts of urban centers. They were meeting places where, Generally, commercial activity, political and religious power were concentrated. There are squares that are well known, such as the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or Salamanca, the Grand Place in Brussels or the Piazza Navona in Rome.
We could say that every important city has a famous square. However, there are places today that are lagging behind the important centers that once had a certain role in political, economic or cultural life.
An example of this can be found in the town of Villanueva de los Infantes, in Castilla-La Mancha. It is a city whose past glory was reflected in its buildings. The Plaza Mayor is one of its greatest exponents; Let’s see it in more detail.
Villanueva de los Infantes, “the place of La Mancha”
Villanueva de los Infantes is a town located in the southeast of the province of Ciudad Real, in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. It seems that the origins of the city we have to look for in the village called La Moraleja. This town depended on Montiel, until in the year 1421 it was converted into an independent town.
After the assumption of autonomy, a controversy arose around the name that the new town should adopt. It took 60 years for the current Villanueva de los Infantes to be born; this was in 1480.
Since then, the town has not stopped growing. In the year 1573, Felipe II proclaimed it capital of the Montiel field, and there they established the vicarage and the government.
Villanueva de los Infantes acquired relevance in the cultural field thanks to figures such as Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega or Miguel de Cervantes. Moreover, some researchers support the hypothesis that «the place of La Mancha», where the narration of The Quijotewas Villanueva de los Infantes.
In the 19th century, despite being granted the category of city, the town began to lose importance when it was dispossessed of the vicarage and the government. In 1974, the city was declared a historic-artistic complex, because it is considered in itself a monumental town.
There are many civil and religious buildings that stand out in Villanueva de los Infantes. Next, we are going to focus only on the Plaza Mayor and the buildings that embrace it.
The Plaza Mayor of Villanueva de los Infantes
The ground plan of the Plaza Mayor of Villanueva de los Infantes has the shape of a rectangular trapezoid. It was laid out at the beginning of the 17th century and, together with the remarkable buildings that surround it, forms a magnificent monumental complex of neoclassical style.
Throughout its history, this was a key point in the town. For this reason, it is not strange that political and religious power are concentrated in it. The Town Hall, the Church of San Andrés Apóstol and the Rectory House are still there today.
The south of the square is made up of buildings with wooden balustrades supported by footings. On the sides, a set of semicircular arches under the buildings offer a covered space for the passer-by. In the northern part, on the oblique side of the square and separated by a street open to road traffic, is the religious complex.
The Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle
The construction of the church began at the end of the 15th century and the works continued throughout the 16th century. Some elements even date back to the 17th century, such as the doorway that overlooks the square. Initially, the church was designed with a basilica plan and with characteristic elements of late Gothic.
Years later, two side chapels were added, giving the building a floor plan in the shape of a Latin cross. The chapel on the left is that of the Santísimo, while the one on the right is that of Santo Tomás. The latter gives access to the sacristy.
The long construction period of the temple explains the different architectural styles that can be admired in it. On the one hand, the roofs made with star vaults are an example of the late Gothic style. On the other hand, we find Renaissance airs in the north and west portals, built using the Plateresque style.
A detail that is worth noting about this church is that in one of its chapels, that of the Busts, we can see part of the remains of Francisco de Quevedo, who died in the Convent of Santo Domingo de Villanueva de los Infantes on the 8th of September 1645.
The building that houses the current town hall is another of the constructions that stand out in the Plaza Mayor of Villanueva de los Infantes. This is raised in three bodies; the first and the second are the most prominent.
The first is made up of a set of semicircular arches that form a beautiful arcade. In the second, we observe a set of balconies with a triangular pediment, while those in the central part, from where the authorities witnessed the festivities that were held in the square, are arched.
This same structure is the one that has the building located in front of the town hall. The only difference is that it lacks the balcony for the authorities.
Start The Quijote in the Plaza Mayor of Villanueva de los Infantes!
As we noted earlier, It is considered that Villanueva de los Infantes was that place in La Mancha whose name Miguel de Cervantes did not want to remember. And it is not surprising, since we know that the author of The Quijote was related to this village.
In the Plaza Mayor we see a sculptural representation of Don Quixote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, which could place us at the beginning of his adventures. Wouldn’t it seem like a magical experience to sit down in one of the cafes in the Plaza Mayor and start reading this wonderful work of art in the same place where its author could have been inspired?