Spain: La Mancha, the Giants of Cervantes in Consuegra
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.
Fine Art Print © O. Robert
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.
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.
Fine Art Print © O. Robert
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.
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.
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.
Fine Art Prints © O. Robert
The Windmills of Consuegra
Consuegra, located in the province of Toledo in Spain, is a fascinating site known primarily for its historical mills. This picturesque location, evoking the era of Don Quixote, is home to 12 majestic mills, lined up along the ridge of Cerro Calderón hill.
The alignment and the location at the top of this ridge severely limit framing options. The possibilities to isolate the mills in the image are reduced. Additionally, infrastructures such as parking lots, roads, and safety barriers (essential given the configuration) are hard to avoid. Therefore, distant views are preferable, and descending the foothills of the hill is advised.
When I visited this site three times, I never felt the same energy as at the Campo de Criptana site (see the associated article). The Consuegra site was particularly windy. Normal, considering they are windmills! This made the photo session a bit complicated, even challenging...
These white, cylindrical structures, topped with conical wooden roofs, stand proudly and dominate the plain from atop their rock. At the foot of the hill, the well-preserved medieval castle of Consuegra offers a glimpse into the region's military history. It also provides an interesting viewpoint over the row of these 12 mills.
The castle is obviously very popular with tourists. Personally, I did not find the landscape more interesting from the castle than from the mill site itself.
My equipment: GITZO Mountaineer S3. The ultra-stable, lightweight, and durable carbon tripod for landscape photography in all conditions.
The arrangement of these giants, lined up like sentinels of the past, creates a striking contrast with the plains of La Mancha. Some mills have been restored and can be visited, offering visitors a glimpse into traditional milling. One of them, known as "Molino Rucio," is still operational and demonstrates the milling process.
Getting to Consuegra
To get to Consuegra from Madrid, the nearest major city, it is convenient to take a train or a bus to the city of Toledo, and then continue by bus or car to Consuegra. The car journey from Madrid takes about 2 hours, crossing a typical La Mancha landscape, dotted with vineyards and fields. A visit to Consuegra offers an immersive experience in the history and culture of this unique region of Spain.
To my knowledge, there are not many high-quality hotels in the area, or at least not close to the windmill site. I stayed at the Consuegra Hotel* (1 star), which turned out to be perfect. It is a small family-run establishment, perfectly managed, with sufficient comfort.
The welcome is very friendly, but they do not speak a word of English. Therefore, it was through a translation application on her mobile phone that the receptionist explained to us what we needed to know.
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This hotel is very well located on the outskirts of the small town of Consuegra and therefore, a few minutes by car from the windmills. When I went there, there was no problem with traffic or parking. To get to Campo de Criptana, just take the CM-42 motorway which passes nearby for 50 km and then follow the signs. Nothing could be simpler.
As for the room price, it is simply negligible. However, do not count on having breakfast. The hotel does not provide this service and will direct you to its neighbor, a small local restaurant that offers coffee, orange juice, and pastries for less than 5 euros. I did not try it, as I am not a fan of this kind of breakfast.
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.
Purchase a Fine Art print of the windmills of La Mancha, produced in a limited series, numbered and signed.
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