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Argamasilla de Alba (Municipality, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain)

Last modified: 2019-09-16 by ivan sache
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Flag of Argamasilla de Alba - Image by Ivan Sache, 9 May 2019

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Presentation of Argamasilla de Alba

The municipality of Argamasilla de Alba (6,901 inhabitants in 2018; 24,182 ha) is located 80 km east of Ciudad Real and 10 km south-west of Tomelloso.

Argamasilla de Alba was established on the site of Alaba, a Celtiberian town mentioned by Ptolemy. Rades de Andrade's "Chronicle of the Order of Saint James" reports that Alfonso IX granted in 1214 the castle of Argamasilla to the Order, which transferred it 18 years later to the Order of Saint John. In the 15th century, the village was inhabited by 300 households.
In the early 16th century, a flood by river Guadiana ruined the old village of Argamasilla. The Prior of the Order, Diego de Toledo, the son of Fadrique, 2nd Duke of Alba, established a brand new village. Not fully satisfied by the "New Village", the Prior ordered the draining of the surrounding marshes to increase the crop acreages and canalized the Guadiana via the Grand Prior's Canal. The village re-adopted its old name, adding the "de Alba" epithet as a tribute to its benefactor.
In 1568, 300 Morisco families expelled from the Alpujarra by Philip II settled in Argamasilla, bringing new seeds and crops and fostering the development of agriculture. The town's population peaked to 1,000.

Argamasilla de Alba is the cradle of several Cervantine traditions, being located close to places the form the scenery of the adventures of the errant knight, for instance, the Ruidera lakes, the Montesinos cave and the Peñarroya castle. Argamasilla is self-styled "the village of La Mancha" (el lugar de la Mancha), a straightforward reference to the famous, ambiguous first words of the book (En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, "In a certain village of La Mancha, the name of which I do not choose to remember"); in the village are shown Medrano House, the jail where Cervantes allegedly started the writing of his masterpiece and where the 1863 edition of Don Quixote was printed, and the house of Bachelor Sansón Carrasco, a main protagonist of the novel [the White Moon Knight, who eventually defeats Don Quixote on the Barcelona beach and convinces him to stop his errance]. The parish church keeps in the Marquess' chapel an oil painting, miraculously preserved during the Peninsular War, showing beneath the Virgin the portrait of the chapel's dean, Rodrigo Pacheco, from Avilés, and a famous writing, "Our Lady appeared to this knight, who suffered from a very severe disease that discouraged doctors, during the vespers of St. Matthew's Day, 1601, and recommended himself to Her, promising to offer a silver lamp, lamenting day and night because of a great pain in the brain and a great cold". Accordingly, the sick dean is considered as Don Quixote's genuine model. The town also keeps Carlos Gómez' backyard (today owned by Rafael Cueva), where the writer Azorún met the Argamasilla Academicians.
[Ramón José Maldonado y Cocat. 1973. Heráldica municipal de la provincia de Ciudad Real. Cuadernos de Estudios Manchegos 4, 84-109]

The Argamasilla Academicians are mentioned in Chapter 52, which concludes Part I of Don Quixote. One of the most famous digressions that make the novel so unique, alludes to "a leaden box, which, according to his account, had been discovered among the crumbling foundations of an ancient hermitage that was being rebuilt; in which box were found certain parchment manuscripts in Gothic character, but in Castilian verse, containing many of his achievements, and setting forth the beauty of Dulcinea, the form of Rocinante, the fidelity of Sancho Panza, and the burial of Don Quixote himself, together with sundry epitaphs and eulogies on his life and character; but all that could be read and deciphered were those which the trustworthy author of this new and unparalleled history here presents."
"The first words written on the parchment found in the leaden box were these:

This enigmatic sentence, mirroring the novel's first one, is the traditional "evidence" supporting the identification of "the village of La Mancha" with Argamasilla de Alba. Each Academician, wearing a burlesque name, as did the members of the several literary circles of the time, delivers an epitaph or sonnet written in archaic Castilian:
- Monicongo [Inhabitant of Congo]: On the Tomb of Don Quixote
- Paniaguado [Protegé - fed with bread and water]: In Laudem Dulcineæ del Toboso
- Caprichoso [Capricious]: In Praise of Rocinante, Steed of Don Quixote de la Mancha
- Burlador [Trickster]: On Sancho Panza
- Cachidiablo [Hobgoblin]: On the Tomb of Don Quixote

The knight lies here below, Ill-errant and bruised sore, Whom Rocinante bore In his wanderings to and fro. By the side of the knight is laid Stolid man Sancho too, Than whom a squire more true Was not in the esquire trade.
- Tiquitoc [Tick-Tock]: On the Tomb of Dulcinea del Toboso

Here Dulcinea lies. Plump was she and robust: Now she is ashes and dust: The end of all flesh that dies. A lady of high degree, With the port of a lofty dame, And the great Don Quixote's flame, And the pride of her village was she.

The encounter of Azorún with the Academicians took place in 1905, the year of celebration of the tercentenary of the publication of the first part of Don Quixote. The essayist and novelist Azorún (José Augusto Trinidad Martínez Ruiz; 1873-1967) was hired by the Madrid daily El Imparcial to visit La Mancha; from 4 to 25 March 1905, the daily published 15 articles based on his experience. The articles were subsequently published as the anthology La ruta de Don Quijote.
Presented as a re-enaction of Quixote's errance, the report is indeed based on only five emblematic episodes of the novel: the knighting at the inn, the scary night close to the fouling mills, the exploration of the Montesinos cave, the fighting against the wind-mills, and the unsuccessful quest for Dulcinea's house in El Toboso. The five episodes are "located" not further than 50 km from Argamasilla, used by the writer as his headquarters. Most of Azorún's reports illustrate the sad decline of La Mancha: the inn is ruined, the fouling mills are silent, the windmills are still active but technically obsolete, the cave is filled with stagnant water, and Dulcinea's palace is falling down.

The identification of Argamasilla as "the village of La Mancha", consensual at Azorún"s times, has been challenged by several modern scholars, who proposed Santa María del Campo Rus, La Puebla de Amoradiel, Quero, or even Cervantes (Province of Zamora). The geographical locations of the episodes described in Don Quixote is also a matter of dispute among scholars.
[A. Pestano y Viñas. 2007. Les étapes de l'itinéraire d'Azorún dans "La ruta de don Quijote" (1905) : la Mancha entre passé, présent et fiction littéraire. Cahiers d'études romanes 17, 443-467

Ivan Sache, 9 May 2019

Symbols of Argamasilla de Alba

The flag of Argamasilla de Alba (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo), which does not appear to have been officially registered, is blue with the municipal coat of arms.

The coat of arms of Argamasilla de Alba is prescribed by Decree No. 300, issued on 15 February 1968 by the Spanish Government and published on 26 February 1968 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 49, p. 2,918 (photo).
The coat of arms is described as follows:

Coat of arms: Per fess, 1a. Gules a Cross of Saint John of Jerusalem or Malta, 1b. Checkered of 15 azure and argent (Toledo), 2. Azure a helmet argent (Mambrino). The shield surmounted by a Ducal coronet evoking the House of Alba.

The arms were proposed on 29 November 1966 by Ramón José Maldonado y Cocat, who had been commissioned on 1 July 1966 by the Municipal Council to design them.
The first quarters recall the feudal rulers of the town, the Order of Saint John, as its founder, and the House of Alba, as its re-founders
The third quarter features Mambrino's helmet, proudly wore by Don Quixote. The official description of the arms is incomplete (or, maybe, the Royal Academy of History required a simplification of the design, to no avail), the helmet being superimposed to a sword sable and a lance of the same crossed in saltire. The three charges form the heraldic representation of the Cervantine tradition in Argamasilla.
[Ramón José Maldonado y Cocat. 1973. Heráldica municipal de la provincia de Ciudad Real. Cuadernos de Estudios Manchegos 4, 84-109]

Mambrino's helmet is mentioned in several romances of chivalry as made of pure gold and rendering its wearer invulnerable. As a fanatic reader of such romances, Don Quixote could only be willing to add the helmet in his panoply, which he eventually does in Part 1, Chapter XXI.

Shortly afterwards Don Quixote perceived a man on horseback who wore on his head something that shone like gold and the moment he saw him he turned to Sancho and said: [...] if I mistake not, there comes towards us one who wears on his head the helmet of Mambrino, concerning which I took the oath thou rememberest."
"How can I be mistaken in what I say, unbelieving traitor?" returned Don Quixote; "tell me, seest thou not yonder knight coming towards us on a dappled grey steed, who has upon his head a helmet of gold?"
"What I see and make out," answered Sancho, "is only a man on a grey ass like my own, who has something that shines on his head."
The fact of the matter as regards the helmet, steed, and knight that Don Quixote saw, was this. In that neighbourhood there were two villages, one of them so small that it had neither apothecary's shop nor barber, which the other that was close to it had, so the barber of the larger served the smaller, and in it there was a sick man who required to be bled and another man who wanted to be shaved, and on this errand the barber was going, carrying with him a brass basin; but as luck would have it, as he was on the way it began to rain, and not to spoil his hat, which probably was a new one, he put the basin on his head, and being clean it glittered at half a league's distance."

Sancho's warning does not prevent the errant knight to attack the "pagan", steal the "helmet" and use it as a headpiece, for Sancho's great pleasure:

"When Sancho heard him call the basin a headpiece he was unable to restrain his laughter, but remembering his master's wrath he checked himself in the midst of it.
"What art thou laughing at, Sancho?" said Don Quixote.
"I am laughing," said he, "to think of the great head the pagan must have had who owned this helmet, for it looks exactly like a regular barber's basin."

Mambrino's appears in further episodes related in Part I, Chapters XXV ("[...]for what would anyone think that heard your worship calling a barber's basin Mambrino's helmet without ever seeing the mistake all this time, but that one who says and maintains such things must have his brains addled? I have the basin in my sack all dinted, and I am taking it home to have it mended, to trim my beard in it, if, by God's grace, I am allowed to see my wife and children some day or other."), XXX, XXXVII, XLIV ("Egad, master," said Sancho, "if we have no other proof of our case than what your worship puts forward, MambrinoArgamasilla de Albas helmet is just as much a basin as this good fellow's caparison is a pack-saddle."), XLV, and XLVI.

Ivan Sache, 9 May 2019