Don Quixote is the second most widely read book in history, after the Bible. And that has made La Mancha a universal region that permeates several provinces of the autonomous community. The ingenious hidalgo and his squire Sancho are the main hallmark of their municipalities along with the windmills. So are the grace of its inhabitants, the peculiar way of speaking, the accent, his pride from La Mancha, not Castilian-La Mancha. On their tables there is no shortage of stews such as porridge based on almorta flour, the chorizo and the bacon. But La Mancha would not exist without its low houses traditionally painted white and with indigo blue plinths.
In order not to forget its essence, the municipality of Quero, located in the province of Toledo, but bordering that of Ciudad Real, has taken a step forward. He wants to ‘stain’ more and get more out of it. The city council offers in-kind aid to residents to paint their facades in these two typical colors to beautify the town and enhance its cultural identity. The deepest objective: to promote patrimonial recovery, give uniformity to aesthetics, promote tourism and stop the flight of inhabitants.
“The key is not only to have Wi-Fi or a gym, but to regain self-esteem and emotionality”, highlights the owner of an ecological winery
Quero has 980 registered, according to data from the National Statistics Institute for 2020, and has lost 350 since 2008. The closure of a large industry more than a decade ago, the disengagement of the agricultural tradition of the youngest and the aging population complicate the future of the town. The effects of rural depopulation are palpable despite the fact that it has “practically the same services as a city.” It has food stores, five bars, municipal gym, day center, nursery, Civil Guard barracks and four daily trains that connect with Madrid. Alcázar de San Juan, the head of the region, it is just five minutes away by car. But Juli, the owner of the natural wine cellar ‘Rural Essence‘, offers a deep reflection on the future: “The key is not only to have Wi-Fi or a gym, but to recover self-esteem and emotionality.”
It refers to the fact that the new generations feel more comfortable in the city than in the town, even if it is at the cost of working as mileurista graduates instead of working in agriculture. “They only return to manage macro-properties, but not to work the fields.” He was trained at the university, but since the mid-90s he set up his winery. A family business that develops the entire wine process, from the vineyard to bottling, and that last year it sold 80,000 bottles. Nothing to do, on the other hand, with the macro-productions of La Mancha.
Isabel García Villota. Toledo
The mayor of Quero, Rubén Torres (PSOE), welcomes us at the door of the Town Hall. A few meters away are the tin sculptures and modernist aesthetics of Don Quixote and Dulcinea. They are not the only ones. At the entrance roundabout there is a large clay jar next to Don Quixote and Sancho. Torres was born in 1984, has a law degree and has always lived in his town. He won the elections in 2015 and revalidated the position with a larger majority in 2019. One of the obsessions of his project is to design the future from the roots.
He is satisfied with the impact and reception that the facade painting initiative has had. “What we want is to beautify the municipality based on our cultural identity,” he highlights. The consistory has allocated a game of 1,500 euros from the budget of 2015 for these grants, which consist of paying for one liter of paint for every seven square meters of façade surface in the case of white and one liter for every six square meters of façade surface in the case of indigo blue. Those interested have six months to apply for the grant and in just a few days they have received more than 30 applications. “We didn’t expect that much in a week.”
There are many houses in the town painted in traditional colors, including the mayor’s. But they are sauteed, not evenly. Around 15 percent, Torres calculates, out of a thousand of the total. The goal is to reach another 15 percent in this first round and be able to reach 80 percent over the next few years. “We want to make Quero a more La Mancha town and what better way to do it than through its facades, so that everyone knows that they are in La Mancha when they visit us,” he emphasizes. “We will not be able to reach all of them, because the morphology of some houses prevents it, but we must continue to encourage the countrymen.”
The city council is developing in the last years different projects of rehabilitation of the patrimony. For example, with the recovery of silos, the cave houses located in the upper area, next to the two windmills that survive today. There is a set of 168 silos. “As a heritage it is a marvel. What happens is that in recent years there have been constructions in the front part, some have been abandoned and others have directly collapsed, but a good part can be recovered ”, he appeals.
The local administration this year has already acquired four. One of them can be visited and the others have an improvement project. The objective is to recover most of the entire mountain range, approximately one kilometer long, from these cave houses that maintain the same temperature throughout the year. They lived there until over time the owners began to build houses in front of them to improve their living conditions.
“The performance of the facades is not isolated, but is framed in a deeper idea that involves many things”
Now the municipality has proposed to offer new public uses to the silos. Well as rural accommodation, cultural centers, headquarters for associations or a work hostel for university students who return to town develop your projects. “We have an agreement with the School of Architecture of the University of Castilla-La Mancha by which students come, study the morphology and make their proposals for the recovery of lost spaces,” he highlights.
“The performance of the facades is not isolated, but is framed in a deeper idea of patrimonial recovery that involves many things,” says Torres. The white and indigo blue colors are typical of the area. One of the best known examples of this aesthetic is the town of Criptana Field, in Ciudad Real, where Miguel de Cervantes was inspired. It is also the birthplace of the artist Sara Montiel and known for its mills and for Crypt Albaicin formed by narrow streets and steep slopes, with constructions of typical La Mancha single-storey houses, whitewashed with an indigo colored base. White to protect the home and indigo in the lower part to give a decorative touch but above all to avoid dirt from the road.
One weekday morning, Quero is an almost ghost town. Just a few huddles at the door of the supermarket and the local medical office, where they talk about the coronavirus vaccine. The birds are heard and not a soul is heard, beyond the noise made by the workers of the employment plan that are paving one of the main streets of the municipality. General silence that contrasts with the noise that comes out of the ground floor of the town hall building, where the municipal nursery is located. A few meters away, the owner of the bar in the square is setting up the terrace, which does not open until mid-morning. “In recent years, quite a few children have been born”.
Michael Mcloughlin Photography: Carmen Castellón
In the vicinity of the Museum of the Word, located in a century house-palace owned by the César Egido Foundation, some neighbors applaud the ‘mancheguizadora’ initiative. “It will serve so that everything is more beautiful and cared for and so that we do not lose tradition”, they comment. They also believe it will encourage some homeowners to tidy up their homes, many of them locked up. It responds to the fact that they belonged to the grandparents and have become second homes for the summer or weekends. “At the fair, at Christmas, at Easter and in summer many people come”, They point out.
One of the city council officials, of the thirty on the staff, hopes that it will serve as an incentive for tourism and even for return. She returned to town about 20 years ago after studying in Getafe. “You live very well here”, points out. She compares herself with her colleagues in Madrid. Account they pay “million”For acquiring a home in the suburbs when they have more than an hour’s walk to their jobs. “But they do not return to their villages”. He believes that you have to use ingenuity, like Don Quixote, so that the towns do not disappear. That and resources of the administrations.
“We have projects like this and also other long-term ones. We want to start from our own resources, from our patrimonial wealth without inventing anything, to make the town more attractive and to serve us as a tool for growth ”, concludes the mayor. It does so a few meters from the Laguna Grande de Quero. A seasonal saline lagoon that dries up in the summer with its salt crust and that in winter usually has water from the rain.
The Hydrographic Confederation has a project in its portfolio since 2012. Meanwhile, the city council has developed a plantation to recover the environment and has created an outdoor space to develop children’s activities. White in color and slightly avant-garde design. It is at the foot of the wetland from where it is possible to see specimens of the plover or avocet. “Here with the sunset in summer it seems that we are in Ibiza”, comments a countryman. It is not necessary, because they are in La Mancha.