Burguillos del Cerro

An old boy: blue bib’n’braces, flat cap, stands elbow on the parapet of the Roman bridge
The track over the bridge, cut by the road from Jerez de los Caballeros, gives Burguillos a feeling of detachment
The town stands ethereal in the morning haze
Nonchalant, knowing it will eventually clear

It’s early May and the town’s topography guarantees, late into the year, that a daily fog will thread itself through the town; only the castle rises defiantly above it
Burguillos lies low in a pocket of surrounding hills
The mist trapped till the afternoon sun burns it off

The old boy’s eyes are wide open, with a puzzled look, as though he’s stumbled into a modern world of motor cars, tarmacked roads and Armco safety barriers, when before, mules trod dirt paths and everything moved more slowly


The stream, below the bridge, still runs strongly carrying the early Spring rains
A bucolic vista that hasn’t changed much over the years
Like Feria, its neighbour, not much has affected the town; no industry, housing or intrusive developments

Until recently Extremadura remained underdeveloped, the network of roads basic and sometimes unpassable
Now, the two lane highway that passes the bridge has fresh tarmac, is well marked and protected by barriers

Burguillos, too, is well maintained
For a small town, its generous quantity of monuments are worthy of larger municipalities, places of pilgrimage or miracles

But there are no Christian reliquaries here, nor sites of supernatural phenomenon
It’s monuments are modest but attractive: Santa Maria de la Encina, San Juan Bautista de Burguillos, Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Encina y San Juan Bautista de Burguillos, Ermita de Santo Cristo formerly the Iglésia de los Mártires, Hermita de la Madre de Dios and the ayuntamiento formerly the Convento de las Concepcionistas Franciscanas, and the former Monasterio de las Llagas de San Francisco about a kilometer outside the town



Why so many have changed their use I’m not sure
The re-conquest, from the Moors, by the Knights Templar predates all of Burguillos’ monuments and was not the catalyst for their change

The former Monasterio de las Llagas de San Francisco is unexpected

The Jarman-esque monochromatic geometry is like a set from Ken Russell’s The Devils: the whimsey of the predominently black granite and white marble mosaic pavements, like a carpet of leaves scattered to welcome visitors; the sober dark stone rich in nuances of colour contrasted against the blinding whitewash; the complex play of levels and steps, and not least the double flying butress that other similar ecclesiatical buildings seem in no need of
I suspect that wall or foundation failed some time ago yet the solution gave the Monasterio de las Llagas de San Francisco a dramatic touch

Yet it appears whimsey and play have no call here, as everything is aligned, squared, measured and composed


Yet it appears whimsey and play have no call here, as everything is aligned, squared, measured and composed

In the courtyard, a simple galvanised bucket hangs by a rope over the well
Yet the arch, holding the rope’s simple pulley, is embellished with moulded finials, an architrave, and an iron cross
The surrounding cloister a play of plastered and stone doric columns
Whilst the black granite and white marble mosaic floor is now predominently white marble
The walls are lined with architectural models of the Giralda in Sevilla and surprisingly the Eiffel Tower, amongst others

The Monasterio is now home to the Romería during the Fiesta de San Isidro, in May, a celebration of the countryside’s bountifulness
There’s a procession with horse and cart, from the village, to a picnic ground immediately below the Monasterio
For a week, families barbaque, eat, drink and socialise in small marquees, the daily cares of the busy town forgotten

Yet May too coincides with the opening of the olives tree’s flowers, they’re tiny, easy to overlook, though this year they fill the trees and it appears that there will be a good harvest in November
The quantity of flowers is more than the quantity of olives
Many are lost during pollination, fertilisation, growth and maturity
For a bumper harvest everything: temperature, humidity, wind, and rain must combine fortuitously


This year it appears luck has arrived, perhaps courtesy of San Isidro
Though the large amount of pollen they release can make the countryside in May very uncomfortable, especially in the picnic ground of the Monasterio

Everything, like the restoration of the Monasterio, is handled with impeccable taste
From the main road a stone column, with iron cross, signs the narrow track to the Monasterio
Stone walled, both sides, it rises over the railway line far below in its cutting
The long car park is grassed with a line of meditteranean pines marching from one end to the other

The work to Santa Maria, and San Juan is impressive
Santa Maria is now a centre for extremeños vernacular architecture rather than a loftier appreciation of palaces, castles and churches
San Juan is a museum of the Knights Templar, the richest and most powerful vanguard of western Christianity and re-conquestors, who used the sword rather than the gospels as persuasion

There’s an interesting twist
Separating the two, the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Encina y San Juan Bautista de Burguillos, was built in the eighteenth century to unify Santa Maria and San Juan 
It sits, fairly, more or less, at the same altitude and halfway between the two

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Previously Santa Maria was the church for the wealthy Burguillanos, now dedicated to an exposition of the simple homes of its more impecunious citizen, and San Juan the church previously for those same impecunious citizens, is now home to those crusaders, whose wealth was beyond avarice

I like this reversal of fortune
It’s a demonstration of Spain’s modern reputation for egalitarianism

In the Plaza Alta, above the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Encina y San Juan Bautista de Burguillos, is Bar German; a month ago full and vibrant during the Easter holiday
In a corner amongst bundles of fresh asparagus was a free table

Burguillos is the town of fresh asparagus and the quantity of it, at this time, is overwhelming
I imagine that it’s come from the surrounding fields and that many Burguillanos now have scarred forearms and would proudly show you their wounds as a mark of their success
The thorns of the esparraguera are like needles

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Healthy, like most foraged food, asparagus contains glutathione which helps prevent aging, and lots of fiber
With lemons and olives, asparagus is part of the mediterranean diet that, by myth, extends life expectancy past one hundred years
Though maybe for many it only mitigated the deleterious affects of excessive tobacco and wine

When I pass along Calle Ancha, cars park perpendicular to the road, their bundles of asparagus sit proudly and erect on the bonnet; sellers wait in anticipation
But sitting in Bar German my thoughts question how much more effort it would have taken to transport the bundles, from the Calle Ancha to the Plaza Alta, sitting as the name suggests, at the highest point of the inhabited town
Only, when sold, for them to make their way back down the hill

Nonetheless, I like Bar German
Yet, outside holidays, it seems to rarely open
Yet, for most Burguillanos it would not be the most convenient place to buy their asparagus

It’s quite possible that the proprietor has bought all the bundles for the bar
Though I can’t bring myself to imagine the amount of revuelto esparragos he would have to make
After one week the bundles would have gone-off, unless he had a large freezer, or the facility to can, pickle or dry them



Whatever, today the proprietor was generous and full of the Semana Santa spirit as he passed us a free plate of prawns adding to the simple, appetizing tapas we’d already bought

Now the day was warm, the mist had burnt off, the flies were already awake, and the television, precarious, high above the door, struggled to be heard above the rising chatter

Later, we climbed-up the dusty track to the castle, sitting on its volcanic plug, past the Plaza Alta and the Bar German
When exposed to the fresh wind, it bit, but the track is steep and layers of clothing were  removed till we entered the bailey in T-shirts stained by perspiration

The Moor’s castle was captured by the Knights Templar during the re-conquest and adapted during the fourteenth century to suit their taste
A few years ago the castle was confidently restored
An effortless mix of contemporary style with ancient stones
A new brick screen with a steel portcullis replaces the north wall of the castle
Lost, either by a Portuguese insurgence in the early nineteenth century, or neglect

Around the expansive girth of the castle’s keep, a path winds to the top with a precipitous drop to the farmland below
There’s no further to go, it’s the ceiling of the world, with expansive views over foothills of the Sierra Morena on one side and Burguillos to the other

Visible from the keep, the recently installed high voltage electricity cables and towering pylons, are an unfortunate blemish

The road from Feria to Burguillos cannot shrug them off
Around every corner and through every vista they appear as an unwelcome intrusion
Way beyond Burguillos, they pass: Valverde de Burguillos, Atalaya, Medina de las Torres, Calzadilla de los Barros
A scar on the Río Bódion
I’m told they go all the way to Madrid

A few kilometers north of the castle, a reservoir and dam nestle in the foothills, providing water and electricity to the town
Here, despite its utile purpose, there’s a beauty to the countryside and a palliative to the insensitive planning of the infrastructure
It’s a pastoral scene that’s deceptively English, that could have been created by Capability Brown: artfully placed trees, fresian cows, a lake with a castle-topped town beyond
Unexpectedly the ubiquitous holm oaks and olives give way to deciduous trees, and black and white cows replace the usual herd of Charolais

Despite the unwelcome intrusions both Burguillos and the surrounding countryside have an irresistible allure

photography and text by Tim Harris
This entry was published on August 7, 2017 at 6:30 pm. It’s filed under Extremadura, Spain, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Burguillos del Cerro

  1. Terrific post and images.

    Liked by 1 person

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