When he wrote
, Miguel de Cervantes did not reveal the birthplace of the eponymous middle-aged gentleman obsessed with heroically righting the world's wrongs and bringing back lost chivalry.
But Argamasilla de Alba, a weather-beaten village of 7000 people, claims to be his hometown. It's in the arid central Spanish region of La Mancha, a patchwork of buff and green fields.
"The two most well-known things about La Mancha are Don Quixote and our [manchego] cheese," says Angel Gutierrez, a 55-year-old shepherd and rancher, tending to his sheep not far from the quiet town.
Four hundred years after Cervantes' death, references to Don Quixote, his loyal squire Sancho Panza and his beautiful lady, Dulcinea, abound in nearby villages — from sweet treats to theatre productions involving livestock.
Each year, Gutierrez lends his animals to a theatre group to re-enact on the streets the part of the novel when Don Quixote charges at two flocks of sheep after taking them for armies.
The region is dotted with whitewashed windmills, like those Don Quixote fights, imagining they are giants. The scene gave rise to the expression "tilting at windmills" or fighting imaginary enemies, just as "quixotic" now means idealistic and impractical.
At dusk in Campo de Criptana, the windmills do indeed seem to float like giants in the distance.
Other locations in La Mancha also claim to be Don Quixote's birthplace, but residents of Argamasilla de Alba claim Cervantes was imprisoned in their town. In the prologue to his masterpiece, Cervantes wrote that his work had been "engendered in a jail".
Don Quixote's great, unrequited love, Dulcinea, a common farmhand he imagines as a refined and beautiful damsel, supposedly lived in the village of El Toboso, a small town surrounded by vineyards. Sister Isabel, a cloistered nun of the Order of Saint Clare, makes sweets named after Dulcinea at her convent's bakery.
The nuns have been making "Caprichos de Dulcinea" (Dulcinea's Fancies) since 2005, the fourth centenary of the publication of the first part of Don Quixote.
Meanwhile, grey powder lies on the ground in Montesinos Cave near the Ruidera lagoons, where Cervantes is believed to have based a scene in which Don Quixote falls asleep and dreams. They are the ashes of Bob, "the English Don Quixote", who came here to live with his Spanish wife and started to impersonate the fictional knight. After he died in a car accident in January his family decided to scatter his ashes in the places he was so passionate about.
Almost quixotic, some might say.
For more information on the adventures of Don Quixote in Spain, see spain.info.