Sat 18 Dec, 2004 12:09 am
No longer lost in La Mancha, Don Quixote's home village is found
By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid
18 December 2004
"In a village in La Mancha whose name I cannot recall..." The first words of the first modern novel ever written have beguiled readers for centuries with their enigmatic imprecision.
But now, as Spain prepares to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes' great work, the mystery of where in central Spain Don Quixote lived has been solved. Ten professors from Madrid's Complutense University spent two years poring over maps of the Spanish badlands criss-crossed by the idealistic knight errant and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza.
The multidisciplinary team included professors of international relations, geography, history, philology, mathematics and information sciences. They calculated how long it would take the imaginary knight's bony old nag, Rocinante, and Sancho's barrel-bellied donkey, Rucio, to amble between places named by Cervantes during their adventures.
Cervantes may have been vague about where the unlikely pair began their quest to right the world's wrongs, but he left a number of clues about their journey. The ride from the inn where Sancho suffered the indignity of being tossed in a blanket, to a road linking two other small towns, took "two days and a night".
By combining a series of carefully calibrated co-ordinates, and taking into account whether the journey was made in the summer or the winter, the academics finally identified the hamlet of Villanueva de los Infantes, about 225 kilometres (140 miles) south of Madrid, in a tableland dotted by skeletal windmills and lugubrious inns .
The discovery will surely plunge this picturesque but otherwise unremarkable village into a maelstrom of international tourism. Or at least that is what the local mayor, Mariano Sabina, hopes. "I am delighted, and expect the news to spread across the world," Mr Sabina said when the academics announced their findings this week.
Francisco Parra, a professor of sociology who led the research team, saidCervantes had deliberately created a puzzle for his readers to pinpoint the novel's locations. For centuries, almost every inn in Spain contained a tooled, leather-bound copy of Don Quijote de la Mancha, that was pressed into the hands of any traveller able to read. He was then urged to entertain the rest of the company, and while away the long evenings, with tales of the mishaps, foolish fancies and heroic dignity of the world's most famous travelling companions.
Cervantes's 1605 epic continues to be translated across the world, making it the biggest bestseller ever, and the ultimate precursor for a still-to-be-made road movie. Now, finally, we know where it starts.
In all honesty, Walter, I think Cervantes a much more interesting person than Quixote.
An undertaking worthy of the good Don himself!!!
La Mancha is immortal. Villanueva de los Infantes is a temporal place with needs and problems.