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  • Writer's pictureOlivier

Spain: La Mancha, the Giants of Cervantes in Campo de Criptana

Updated: Mar 6

The windmills of La Mancha are not only witnesses of Spanish history but also symbols of the richness of its literature. They embody the fusion between the past and fiction, between reality and imagination, testifying to the enduring influence of Cervantes' work on Spanish culture and identity.


Spain: La Mancha, the Giants of Cervantes in Campo de Criptana

Constitutive symbols of the typical landscapes of the region, the windmills of La Mancha in Spain are more than just structures. They have become true cultural and historical icons. Located in the region of Castilla-La Mancha, these characteristic mills evoke a bygone era when they played a vital role in daily life.


My photographic experience of the mills of La Mancha is summarized in 2 major sites: Consuegra and Campo de Criptana. Although the Consuegra site constitutes an interesting first immersion in the world of Cervantes' symbols, it is clearly the Campo de Criptana site that fascinated me the most. The experience I had during my visit was at the peak of what I could expect.


There are many other sites (see the list below) where it is possible to familiarize oneself with these mills. When taking the highway from Consuegra to Campo de Criptana, for example, one can see several distant hills on which alignments of mills stand. Due to lack of time, it was not possible for me to explore them.


Mon matériel: MANFROTTO Pro Light Frontloader. Le sac à dos pour la photographie urbaine. Légèreté, étanchétité, élegance.

My equipment: MANFROTTO Pro Light Frontloader. The backpack for urban photography. Lightweight, waterproof, elegant.


Origins and Purposes

The first windmills in Europe appeared in the 12th century. In Spain, and particularly in La Mancha, they were introduced around the 16th century. These structures were naturally used for grinding grain, an essential activity in a mainly agricultural region.


The windmills of La Mancha are notable for their unique design. Built of wood and stone, with large wings that capture the wind, they are typical of the Spanish rural architecture of the time.


Decline and Preservation

With the advent of modern technology and electrification, the use of windmills gradually declined. By the 20th century, many were already out of service, slowly falling into ruin.


Recognizing their cultural and historical importance, efforts have been undertaken to restore and preserve these mills. Today, several have been converted into museums or tourist attractions, allowing visitors to discover their fascinating history. Their preservation evokes nostalgia for a bygone era and respect for cultural heritage.


Spain: La Mancha, the Giants of Cervantes in Campo de Criptana

Windmills in Spanish Literature

In literature, these structures gain a profound philosophical dimension through Cervantes' novel "Don Quixote." In an iconic scene, Don Quixote, the wandering knight, mistakes these mills for evil giants and engages in a battle against them.


Published in the early 17th century, this novel is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature.


Don Quixote's famous battle against the windmills has become a metaphor for the human struggle against illusions, sickness, and insurmountable challenges. Thus, the windmills of La Mancha illustrate the intersection of history, culture, and philosophy, bearing witness to humanity's perpetual quest for meaning and identity.


Library: Cervantes Don Quixote.

Library: Cervantes Don Quixote.


Where to Photograph the Windmills of La Mancha

The windmills of La Mancha are scattered across several sites in this region of Spain. The main places where you can see them include:


1. Consuegra: This site is particularly known for its impressive line of perfectly preserved windmills. These mills, located on a ridge with a medieval castle, offer a spectacular panorama.


2. Campo de Criptana: This village is home to several windmills, some of which date back to the 16th century. They are famous for having been mentioned in "Don Quixote."


3. Alcázar de San Juan: Here, you will also find several historic windmills, some of which have been transformed into museums.


4. Mota del Cuervo: Known as the "Balcony of La Mancha," this town offers a magnificent view of the region, with its traditional windmills.


5. El Romeral: Although less known, El Romeral also has charming windmills.


Regarding the Number of Windmills

As for the number of remaining windmills, it is difficult to give an exact figure due to the dispersion of the mills across the region and ongoing restoration efforts. Historically, there were hundreds of windmills in La Mancha, but today, this number has significantly decreased. The towns mentioned above host some of the most significant and best-preserved collections of these historical mills.


Spain: La Mancha, the Giants of Cervantes in Campo de Criptana

The Windmills of Campo de Criptana

Campo de Criptana, nestled in the heart of La Mancha in Spain, is famous for its historic windmills, which stand as monuments of the past. This exceptional site houses 10 mills, 3 of which, dating back to the 16th century, are classified as national monuments. These mills, with their large wooden wings and stone and stucco structures, embody the soul of Don Quixote's Spain.


The village is organized around the Sierra de los Molinos hill, where the mills are located. Visiting Campo de Criptana is like taking a journey back in time, each mill telling a story from the time when they were essential to daily life. Some mills have been transformed into museums, offering visitors a glimpse into the history of milling and rural life in Spain.


To get to Campo de Criptana, the nearest city being Madrid, visitors can take a train to Alcázar de San Juan, then continue by bus or taxi for a short trip to Campo de Criptana. This little getaway from Madrid, lasting about 2 and a half hours, offers a picturesque and uniquely historical experience.


My equipment: GITZO Mountaineer S3 and S3 ball head. The ultra-stable, lightweight, and durable carbon tripod for landscape photography in all conditions.

My equipment: GITZO Mountaineer S3 and S3 ball head. The ultra-stable, lightweight, and durable carbon tripod for landscape photography in all conditions.


As I mentioned in the introduction, my almost magical encounter with the windmills of Campo de Criptana left me with unforgettable memories. I was fortunate to discover them in absolutely exceptional conditions, early in the morning under thick fog. I went there around 6 a.m. in winter. Since it was still dark, the lighting of the mills accentuated the mystery of the place.


Although the Campo de Criptana site is relatively small, the weather conditions prevented me from seeing all of these mills at a single glance. Thus, I was able to isolate these giants one after the other or in small distinct groups. Not knowing the place at all, I had to wait for daylight to better understand the organization of the site.


And at dawn, the spectacle is no less impressive. The simplicity of the ground materials, the absence of any form of vegetation, and the very arid aspect of the place unequivocally suggest that this space is swept by strong winds throughout the year. Nothing more logical for windmills! Although I went there in winter, I did not have to experience this challenge, which would probably have greatly constrained my photo session.


Spain: La Mancha, the Giants of Cervantes in Campo de Criptana

The Final Word

Everyone will visit this region according to their time or expectations. In any case, these mills offer quality photographic subjects in any season. Beyond the quest for the image, they also allow us to pause for a moment on the depth of their presence in the local Spanish culture.


The windmills of La Mancha, more than mere historical artifacts, are emblems of human perseverance in the face of progress and change. Each structure stands as a silent testament to the era when human ingenuity was intimately linked with nature.


In their struggle against obsolescence, they embody resistance against the inexorable march of time and modernity. Philosophically, they remind us of Don Quixote's quest, symbolizing our eternal fight against the windmills of our own illusions, challenges, and aspirations, thus highlighting the deep interconnection between our history, our culture, and our human condition.

 


 

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