This map plots the settings and references in Don Quixote
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An arid region in central Spain, La Mancha is still largely based around agriculture, as it was in Cervantes' time. It is ironic that, although he ensured its name would live forever with the success of his masterpiece, Cervantes probably selected it as the perfect example of placid, rural anonymity. Having his would-be knight 'Don Quixote of La Mancha' hail from the middle of a dry, dusty expanse of farmland made the satirical bent of Cervantes' novel clear from its very title. As John Ormsby rather uncharitably wrote in the preface to his 1885 translation, 'even a glimpse of La Mancha will give an insight into the meaning of Cervantes such as no commentator can give. Of all the regions of Spain it is the last that would suggest the idea of romance'.
A testament to the region's unspectacular appearance is the fact that the only significant historical depictions of it are to be found in illustrations for various editions of Don Quixote itself. Over the years, as the book grew from a popular farce to become a celebrated icon of classic literature, perceptions of La Mancha itself seem to have gained in grandeur purely through association. Gustave Doré, who also illustrated genuine medieval romances including Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, sets Quixote's misadventures against a spectacular background which seems to indulge rather than satirise his delusions.
The question of which village in particular Cervantes refers to here has been a subject of some dispute. In a later chapter it is explained that the tale's narrator leaves Quixotes village nameless "so that all the towns and villages of La Mancha could fight amongst themselves for the right to adopt him and make him their own son" (page 980) - which is precisely what they did, and are still doing today.
Argamasilla de Alba (pictured) has long been a popular choice, apparently due to Cervantes' one-time imprisonment there. However, a late charge has been made by the village of Villanueva de los Infantes, identified in a 2004 study by academics at Complutense University who tried to calculate Quixote's movements based on how far his old nag could have travelled in a day.
Whether any such claim should be credited, and regardless of whether Cervantes had a real village in mind at all, the continuing debate is a testament to the enduring power of his fictional creation.
One of Don Quixote's earliest and most iconic encounters, his disastrous tilt at the windmill has become the ultimate symbol of misguided, futile endeavour. The hidalgo's unsuccessful charge at what he believes to be a ferocious many-armed giant has been read both as comical evidence of his lunacy, and a poignant representation of the doomed valour to which it drives him.
Those seeking real locations behind Cervantes' fiction have selected as this scene's likely setting the plains of Campo de Criptana, a municipality of La Mancha where numerous archaic windmills today stand preserved as agricultural museums. This particular type represented innovative technology at the time, perhaps making Quixote's error more understandable and enabling some to interpret the hidalgo's charge as not only a humiliating proof of his insanity, but a poignant, hopeless ride against the tide of modern, industrial progress.
The oldest university in Spain, mentioned several times throughout Don Quixote. Founded in 1243 it was a prestigious institution by Cervantes' time, graduates taking positions of great authority throughout the Empire. Along with other Spanish universities it declined in wealth and prestige following the Golden Age.
The university was bound up with a particularly Cervantine confusion when American writer Washington Irving, in Chapter III of his fictionalised history The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828), cast members of it faculty as dogged representatives of irrational ignorance, disputing Columbus' theory of a spherical earth. Despite the story's persistence there was no such organised argument from the university against Columbus who, rather than proposing a new shape for the earth, held the truly radical belief that Asia was only a few thousand nautical miles west of Europe.
Today the University of Salamanca is more prized for its rich history than academic excellence, still numbering among Spain's top universities. There is no evidence to support the speculation of some biographers that Cervantes, who grew up in a poor household, was ever a student there. Salamanca's own website merely insinuates this, with the less bold but still unsupported claim that the author "walked along the University’s corridors".
One of many municipal peacekeeping leagues which served to police medieval Spain, ultimately united into one organisation by the Catholic Monarchs. The Toledo branch operated out of the Posada de la Santa Hermandad, which today serves as a combined inn and museum.
Those who interpret Don Quixote as containing a subversive, anti-religious undercurrent cite this as one of its most openly blasphemous passages - the deranged hidalgo, stripped from the waist down and enacting his penance in the Sierra Morena, fashions a makeshift rosary from the material covering his naked behind. From the second edition onwards Quixote substitutes galls from a nearby cork tree as a less provocative alternative, suggesting that Cervantes realised he was treading too close to a perilous line (See note to page 51).
Online edition of 'The Song of Roland' as translated by Charles Scott Moncrief (London 1919)
Online edition of the 'Chronicle of the Cid' as translated by Robert Southey (London, 1808) from several Spanish sources, including an account of Sancho's death
Pegasus is the famous winged horse who, after springing from the neck of the decapitated gorgon Medusa, passed through the service of several noted heroes, and at least one god. The parallel mention of the enchanted Moor 'Muzareque' and his fantastic steed, however, seems to be an instance of Cervantes using his characters to playfully interweave real-life elements of everyday Spain with figures from classical myth. The exotically-named Zulema is in fact a small village located near the municipality of Alcalá del Júcar, while 'Compluto' comes from 'Complutum', the original Roman name for Cervantes' home-town of Alcalá de Henares.
A reference to the kingdom of Saba (or 'Sheba') depicted in several scriptures of the Bible and Qur'an, which prosperously traded in exotic spices and perfume. Some scholars have equated it with the Sabaean kingdom, which occupied the Arabic coastal region today called Yemen for the best part of the last two millenia BC.
Officially part of the Ottoman empire but free of any organising authority, Algiers became the chief seat of the Barbary pirates. The colourful tale of Ruy Pérez de Viedma, imprisoned by Algerian corsairs during the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, is a fictional parallel to the experiences of Cervantes himself who, while only injured in the battle, was similarly captured some years later. In fact they even share a cell in the 'bagnio', Viedma recalling how he and his fellow prisoners marvelled at the courageous resistance and improbable survival of "a Spanish soldier called something Saavedra" (page 370). The captive also names his captor as one Arnaute Mami, the real-life corsair captain who was reputedly responsible for Cervantes' own imprisonment.
Translator John Ormsby corroborates Cervantes' indirect claims of heroism in his Preface to Don Quixote (1885)
La Goulette, a port seperating Tunis from the Mediterranean, was alternately captured and recaptured by Ottoman and Spanish forces throughout the 16th century before being decisively conquered by the former in 1574. While the earlier Battle of Lepanto had repelled Ottoman advances towards Europe across the Mediterranean (See note to page 359), the Conquest of Tunis ensured that Muslim power rather than Christian would dominate North Africa.
The obelisk in front of St. Peter's Basilica, transported from Egypt by Emperor Augustus, was re-erected in its current site in 1586 by engineer-architect Domenico Fontana. During the middle ages the gilt ball atop the needle was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar - a rumour Fontana had already dispelled by examining the item himself, apparently without Quixote's knowledge.
The tomb of Emperor Hadrian was erected on the bank of the Tiber between 135 and 139 AD, housing not only his own remains but those of succeeding Roman emperors until early in the next century. The building was variously looted or repurposed over the years, and by Cervantes' time it had been converted into the fortress now known as the Castel Sant'Angelo. Connected to the Vatican City by a fortified walkway, it has provided sanctuary for numerous popes who found themselves having to suddenly vacate the premises.
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was constructed in the mid-fourth century BC, housing the remains of and taking its name from the classical ruler Mausolus. Built by some of the age's most esteemed sculptors and craftsmen its beauty was legendary - as Quixote notes, it was designated one of the 'Seven Wonders' of the ancient world by Greek scholar Antipater of Sidon. By the fifteenth-century the elements had taken their toll and all that remained were its foundations, which can still be seen today.
Quixote's lone descent into the Cave of Montesino is an equivalent of the trips to the Underworld undertaken by his forbears in the classical epics. A cave so called is actually located in La Mancha taking its name, along with the nearby Lagunas de Ruidera also mentioned in the novel, from characters in the Carolingian cycle of romances (see note to page 455), several of whom Quixote meets within.
Quixote's fantastical account of his visit to Montesino's subterranean crystal palace is a source of great ambiguity for both the book's readers and its hero. Despite being the only time that his madness is totally freed from the restraints of reality, the episode later causes Quixote to repeatedly doubt himself. He asks both Master Pedro's 'prophetic' ape (Chapter XXV) and Don Antonio's all-knowing brazen head (Chapter LXII) whether his experiences in the cave were real or only a dream. His confusion is understandable - a profound kinship between the fuctioning of a dreaming mind and that of a delusional one is supported not only by other literary sources but by a growing body of scientific research.
Clinical comparison between waking schizoid delusions and 'normal' dream events: The Dream as a Model for Pyschosis (Oxford University Press, 2007)
In October of 1562 twenty-eight galleys of the Spanish navy, under the command of Don Juan de Mendoza, took shelter in the bay of Herradura from a violent storm. Despite this the squadron was battered against itself by the elements, resulting in the loss of all but three of its ships, and over four-thousand lives.
According to the pseudo-historical traditions of both Spanish and Arabic scholarship, the Moorish occupation of Iberia in the 8th century AD was made possible by the betrayal of a Christain leader commonly called 'Julian'. The Count of Ceuta, a strategically important city on the African side of the Strait of Gibraltar which became a primary staging ground for the invasion, legend has it that his defection resulted from an affair between Roderic - the last Visigothic King of Hispania - and his young daughter. In spite of the many complex political forces behind the invasion, and regardless of whether or not she actually existed, the girl was thereafter immortalised in Spanish folklore as the archetypal wicked seductress 'La Cava'.
Online edition of 9th-century historian Ibn Abd-el-Hakam's 'History of the Conquest of Spain', translated by John Harris Jones (1858)
Kandy is present-day Sri Lanka, remaining an English term for the capital of its central province, Maha Nuvara