Home of the conquistador

Once a fortress, Trujillo is now a Spanish treasure trove.

During the night a sheep had died. By mid-morning the vultures were standing a few yards from the picked-over carcass, their huge wings held like shrouds against their bodies. Only if another bird - a black kite perhaps - tried to grab a small share, would they spring into action, hissing and rushing to the dead flesh to guard the spoils.

You could almost see the morning's gory feast from the historic former fortress town of Trujillo a couple of miles away across the undulating plains of Extremadura, Spain. Here, in the Plaza Mayor, is a magisterial statue of Francisco Pizarro, conquistador of the Incas, and I couldn't help feeling that the episode with the vultures had parallels in the public garrotting by Pizarro of the Inca king Atahualpa, and the slaughter of thousands of his people.

Trujillo's links with this bloody past are all around here. The finest palaces in the square were built in the 16th century with the loot from melted down Inca gold and silver objets d'art. Some of the palaces are now convents. Others, like the Palace of the Conquest, built by Francisco's half-brother, are in need of a fair bit of attention and money if they are not to degrade further.

Another 16th-century gem, the Palace of the Dukes of San Carloz, at the opposite corner of the square, is one such convent. Its entrance hall looks off-puttingly dark and empty, but inside we discovered a chain on the wall that rang a bell. A grandmotherly nun opened a door and we were showered in light from an exquisite cloistered courtyard. This is as much as you're allowed to see. The nun talked effusively in Spanish and we picked up some snippets of information, including where you could buy the biscuits she had made.

Biscuits were on the agenda at another convent, that of San Pedro, five minutes along cobbled streets from the square. Here, the nuns remained out of sight. To order the goodies you spoke to a nun hidden behind a revolving wooden cupboard set in the wall. As the cakes or biscuits appeared, your money revolved out of sight. Not quite the original dumb waiter.

The rest of this convent lost its nuns in 1982 and it was converted into one of Spain's (currently 85) Parador hotels. It wasn't cheap, but it was impressive. The bedrooms are former nuns' cells, kitted out with every modern requirement but retaining little features such as the peep hole in the bedroom door (now fitted with a closing flap). Some rooms have canopied beds and marble baths. You eat in the former refectory, with its vaulted, terracotta-tiled ceiling. The Renaissance cloister, lined with lemon and orange trees, is a delight.

Not all of the old buildings in Trujillo were built with Inca gold. Some were old before young Pizarro had a thought of overseas travel. Take the Church of Santa Maria La Mayor - the church was built in the 13th century on the foundations of an old mosque (Trujillo has been inhabited, in turn, by Celts, Romans, Moors and Christians.)

Once the most important place of worship in the town, the church, had many of its treasures stolen during the French invasion of 1809. It was here that Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille attended mass in the mid-1400s.

If the rather dark, heavy interiors of Spanish Catholic churches are not to your liking, try the equally old Church of Santiago by the town walls. Its uncluttered, light interior, with cream sandstone pillars and white vaulted ceiling, is refreshing. The customary statues of saints abound, as do potted plants. Even the confessional houses a hi-fi system, blasting out choral music.

But it's the Plaza Mayor, built on several levels connected by wide flights of stone steps, that is Trujillo's pulse. Its physical centrepiece is a rather grubby fountain but the spiritual centrepiece is the great bronze equestrian statue of Francisco Pizarro. Both horse and rider are equipped with protective helmets, in Pizarro's case a flamboyant affair of seemingly dubious practical value. It would have left Atahualpa flabbergasted.

Pizarro's father's house, now the Pizarro Museum, recreates a 16th- century Spanish knight's living conditions. A four-poster bed, chestnut furniture and an enormous fireplace suggest more than modest comfort. In the museum's walled garden are examples of Latin American plants first brought to Europe by the conquistadors: the rubber plant, begonias and petunias.

In the attractive Convento de la Coria, a former 15th-century Franciscan convent, now a museum, is a replica of Pizarro's skull (The real thing is in Lima Cathedral.) Minus helmet and beard, his head was really quite small. But what an impact he made on this place.


The best way to reach Trujillo is probably to get a cheap ticket to Madrid (eg, pounds 94 return from Gatwick, inc tax, from Iberia - 0171-830 0011), then travel by train to Caceres and onwards by bus.

The local parador in Trujillo (00 34 27 32 13 50) charges pounds 70 for a double room, Sunday to Thursday, pounds 85 at weekends. The Pension Emilia (00 34 27 32 00 83) is a great deal cheaper.

The local tourist office is on Plaza Mayor (00 34 27 32 06 53). The Spanish National Tourist Office in the UK is at 55 St James's Street, London SW1A 1LD (0171-499 0901).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Midsummer swimwear season is well and truly upon us – but diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice