A Brief History of Trujillo


Trujillo is an ancient walled city built on top of a granite hill. The knoll and the natural fortress it provides is most likely the original reason for settlement. The tor offers incredible views of the surrounding countryside. A fantastic amount of granite rocks surround Trujillo. Views from the hilltop remind one of a tempestuous granite sea. "This type of topography in which granite rocks and plains are combined is called "berrocal" by Spaniards. The top of the hill of what is today Trujillo was originally called cabeza de zorro (fox head)."(Nunez, 17-18)

Spain as a country has many geographic barriers separating its many regions, throughout history these barriers have served to insulate Spain's people from the force of unification. It should be noted, however, various armies have surmounted these barriers and wrecked havoc multiple times throughout Spain's history. These divisions have allowed for people in Spain to develop a strong sense of identity with their region. Trujillo is located in the region of Extremadura and in the province of Caceres.

Trujillo is one of the oldest cities in Spain. Its history is as long and varied as the history of Spain herself. It has been inhabited by Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, Jews and Christians. Several important dates are as follows.

Trujillo was formally established by the Romans in 206 BCE. By 414 ACE the Romans were losing considerable footing all over Europe, at this time the Visigoths, who had now become Christians, occupied Trujillo. In 714 the community was taken by the Almohads, a Muslim sect. The next 500 years was characterized by shifting borders between the Muslims and Visigoths. Eventually the Reconquest achieved its goal and Trujillo was granted sovereignty under the Chrisitan crown in 1256. The Muslim and Jewish people were almost completely ousted from Spain.

The Muslim and Jewish populations were being slowly marginalized, and would eventually be ousted in the 16th century. Meanwhile the Visigothic lords established a tenious hold over the peninsula. Trujillo was rewarded for its loyal support of Christian forces. The most notable award being its designation as a center of regional commerce in 1465. This aided Trujillo in building up its traditionally agrarian commerce into a more substantial trade economy.

The contribution, by Trujillo, to the exploration and conquest of the Americas was substantial. Many famous explorers such as Francisco Pizarro and Francisco de Orellana were from Trujillo. Fantastic amounts of wealth from the Americas flowed into Trujillo during the 1500's. Unfortunately, money flowed out of Spain almost as quickly as it flowed in. Eventually the glut of wealth from the Americas turned to a trickle. Spain's loss of its major naval power in 1588 served to exacerbate financial difficulties throughout the country and abroad.
The next couple hundred years were characterized by multiple wars, ultimately destroying the infrastructure of Spain. Extremadura, due to its relatively unfertile lands and remoteness from the capital was protected and cut off from the political turmoil of Spain as a whole.
The Napoleonic army reached Trujillo in 1809 and destroyed much of the city. In the following centuries the city fell into increasing disrepair. The next century was not any harder on Trujillo than the years leading up to them after the destruction wrecked by the French. The geographic insularity of Spain again left Extremadura to its own devices.

The Spanish Civil War was horrifying and ripped the country apart as only a civil war can. Families were split on both sides, Republican and Nationalists. Extremadura was primarily Nationalist. The end of the war saw General Franco as the Spanish head of State.
The Franco years increased economic prosperity in Trujillo as the town began to rebuild itself and regain its status as an economic center. Paradors were begun as an effort to attract tourists and revitalize Spain's economy after years of warfare. Trujillo began to restore The Convento de Santa Clara and joined in Francos' nationwide creation of Paradors. These luxury hotels are restored historical buildings that create a sense of connection with history.

After Franco's death in 1975, Juan Carlos was declared King of Spain. Within two years Spain holds its first Democratic elections and by 1978 ratified its new constitution.

Today Trujillo is a dynamic and vibrant community. Its population is growing and is called home by 10,000 people. National and international tourism is growing as is awareness of the cities integral part in Spanish history. Many restorations of aged buildings are occurring as people discover the tranquility of Trujillo and seek to join and enrich the community. The young people of Trujillo, enjoying the history of their small town herald in the 21st century with gusto. Internet cafes, discotecas (night clubs) and enthusiastic participation in local fiestas are evidence of Trujillo's connection to the past and embrace of the future.

History as Told Through the Sites of Trujillo

The Prehistoric Period, 800,000 BCE to early 200 BCE.

Prehistoric evidence, as can be deduced by its name, is difficult to document. Prehistoric remains have been found in Trujillo, which suggests settlement before the Romans. Juan Tena Fernandez outlines some evidence about prehistoric settlement. "Neolithic farming settlements existed in Spain by 5,000 BC. Around this date, near what is now Trujillo men and women lived in small groups. These people lived in primitive edifices made with tall vertical stones covered with tree branches and leaves. Living in the berrocal lands surrounding current day Trujillo these early tribes would have been found in areas such as: Cercas de los Toros, de las Calderonas, de la Tercera Orden, de Catron, and del Avon. Menhirs (large upright stones believed to have been used for astrological purposes) and swaths (such as those of Carnac, Cromlechs, and Romana de la Selva) have been found in the countryside surrounding Trujillo." (Tena Fernandez, 14)

The Roman and Visigothic Epochs, early 200's BCE- early 700's CE

One of the first recorded mentions of Trujillo are in the writings of Higinius, a Roman under Tragen. Trujillo is described as a colony dependent on Augusta Emerita, modern day Merida. Trujillo was known as Turgallium, a primitive defensive village, during the Roman epoch (206 BC-414 AC). Through time the name morphed until it achieved its current formulation. The higher part of the city is where one will find evidence that the Romans ever settled here. La Alberca (water reservoir) is a natural spring converted into a "bath". Other reminders of the Roman presence may lie buried beneath Trujillo.

The Visigothic presence in Trujillo continued where the Romans left off. Trujillo continued its position as a weigh station between Merida and Zaragoza. The Visigothic reminders of Trujillo are scattered through Trujillo. "Remains of a Visigothic basilica abound in Trujillo (i.e. columns, a baptismal font and some decorated stones). Visigothic decorations have been reutilized and are parts of non-Visigothic structures."(Galiana Nunez,12) The baptismal font in the Iglesia de Santa María is reputed to be of Visigothic origin. It is not surprising that the Visigothic remnants are scattered. It is common practice for a conquering people to build its churches on the ground where a conquered people's church stood.

Muslim Spain and the Christian Reconquest, 711 to 1492

Muslim Spain can be characterized by its courts of learning, incredible works of engineering and relative toleration of other religions. The Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula contrasted sharply to the Reconquest and the Inquisition of the Catholic church. The flourishing of the sciences can be seen in the architecture and adaptation of Roman engineering projects.

The Muslim Spaniards of Trujillo completed many civil engineering projects. The Muslim presence is still quite evident as one tours through Trujillo. Major architectural feats were accomplished during the Muslim epoch of Trujillo. The Castillo(Castle) and Aljibe(Cistern) inside the Muralla(Defensive Wall) are the most striking sites by which to see the Moorish presence in Trujillo.The Castillo sits atop the hill, the Aljibe lies below the Plazuela de los Moriscos and the Muralla surrounds the old part of Trujillo.La Alberca, and its natural springs were transformed into an irrigation system by the Muslim conquerors.

The period generally known as the Reconquest spans more than four hundred years. In this large period of time many important events occurred. During the early 1100s the Christian Spaniards were rallying their power in the North then pushed south in a five hundred year tug of war with the Muslim Spaniards. By the end of the 13th century the Christian forces were almost completely in control of the Peninsula.

Forces under Alphonso VIII succeeded in taking Trujillo from the Almohads in 1186. The Almohads took the town back five years later, it remained under Muslim rule for the next fifty-six years. The Christians finally took and held the town in 1232, after more than fifty years of trying. Ferdinand III, "El Santo", was the primary figure associated with the actual victories in the battle for Trujillo.

The Christian conquest and continued defense of Trujillo is shrouded in much mysticism. The conquering army was made up of many knights of religious orders. It is said that while the Christian army was trying to take Trujillo the Virgin Mary appeared above the Arco de Triunfo and rallied the troops to victory. The Puerta de Santiago and Puerta de San Andrés and the Puerta de La Coria were also important in the defense of Trujillo and bear similar stories. The Cuesta de San Andrés (Cuesta de Sangre) is the stair leading to the Puerta de San Andres and simply emphasizes the defensive nature of Trujillos organization at this time.

Many Mosques and buildings were torn down or converted for other uses by the conquering Christians. The Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor was built over the remains of a Mosque.

Santa Maria la Mayor is one of the more important churches in Spain. A story of the reconquest associated with the church. The Virgin of Victory, the patron saint of Trujillo, appeared between the towers of the (then) Mosque and heartened the worn soldiers who then routed the Moors. The Reyes Catolicos (Fernando and Isabel) were in Trujillo when they heard of the death of their only son, Juan. Santa Maria la Mayor held the funeral mass for this young monarch.

The next several hundred years transformed Trujillo into an important Christian town. Many large churches were built by the Christians during this time: San Martin, in what is now the Plaza Mayor; the Iglesia de Santiago, to the right as one passes through the arch of Santiago (traveling away from the plaza) and Santa Maria la Mayor are all examples of Medieval Christian churches.

Trujillo also grew a great deal economically during the Middle Ages. The first palace-fortress of Trujillo was built shortly after the defeat of the Muslims. The Alcazarejo de los Altamiranos sits atop the rockiest slope, possessing a view only rivaled by the Castillo. This type of defensive home became increasingly popular through the Middle Ages and up until the end of the 1600's. The Alcázar de Luis Chaves el Viejo is another example of this type of defensive home. These houses, coarse and robust, made from granite, had two functions. On one hand they were homes for families and servants, and on the other, they were defensive structures, to protect Trujillo from outsiders and protect conflicting citizens from each other. Windows, doors and walls were decorated with the coat-of-arms of the family that built the house and lived in it. It was a show of nobility and the privilege conferred by an important lineage.( Lancia Publications, page 49-50)

The tribunal of the Inquisition was established in 1478. With its creation, a bloody period of Spain's history began. Evidence of the Inquisition can be found in Trujillo, various escudos over the door of the Convento de San Pedro y Santa Isabel and over a door of the Palacio de las Chaves-Sotomayor represent the arms of the Inquisition. After the Christian forces took Trujillo all Jews were forced to convert or thrown out of Trujillo. Since Trujillo was such an important medieval town the Inquisition's role in the city was significant.

After the victory of the Christian forces the Jews and Muslims of Trujillo were segregated into separate neighborhoods. To find the Jewish and Muslim leavings from this time is a bit tricky. All that remains of the Jewish presence in Trujillo can be seen in an ancient Synagogue and in a carving above the Solis Pharmacy. The remains of an old Synagogue and its aljibe have been found in Trujillo as well. Unfortunately, it is not available for public viewing. The only remnant of Muslim Trujillo from this period is the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco (Antigua mezquita mora). The beginning of the fifteen-hundreds saw the Jews and Muslims expelled from Spain, their home of fifteen-hundred years and seven-hundred years, respectively.

One of the most important years in the history of the world was 1492. Spain was at the center of many magnificent discoveries and was in the process of coming together politically, socially and economically. First, Christian forces took Granada and completely controlled Spain after seven hundred years of warfare. Second, the discovery of the Americas and her new wealth was eminent. Finally, Spain was for the first time linguistically united, with the publication of the Grammatica Castillana.

Most of the winding streets of Trujillo were established in their routes during this period of huge urban growth and little urban planning. Trujillo was granted permission to hold Mercados (markets) in 1465, a huge boost to its economy. Every Thursday, this more than five-hundred year old tradition, is still practiced! The market place moved ouside the defensive walls and the beginnings of the Plaza Mayor were begun. The Plaza Mayor was a public meeting area mostly used for marketing, but did not begin to look anything like what we see now until the fifteen hundreds. The area outside of the walls of the defensive town were just beginning to be developed for anything beyond farming by the end of the Middle Ages.

Under Christian domination Trujillo was always loyal to the monarchs of Spain. The Rollo (aka Picota), now positioned at the crux of two highways, was given to the city as a compliment for her years of loyalty. Trujillo supplied many troops to the monarchs of Spain, as part of her loyal service. Men from Trujillo were important in the taking of Granada in 1492 and in the conquest of the New World shortly afterward.

The Reyes Catolicos greatly valued the town of Trujillo and after a famine ordered and financed the building of the Alhondiga(Grain Storage Building). The old Alhondiga now houses the Town Hall and Neighborhood Association.

The Age of Exploration and The Golden Age, 1492 to 1700

This time is considered one of the most important periods in the history of Trujillo. Trujillo grew incredibly during this era.
Many men from Trujillo left to explore the Americas. Francisco Pizarro, the most celebrated Trujillano, took part in the conquest of the New World. His mounted statue presides over the Plaza Mayor. Pizarro was the conquistador of Peru. Francisco de Orellana, a notable Trujillano in his own right, discovered the Amazon river. Diego Garcia Paredes, "The Samson of Extremadura" was too old to go but allowed his son to help in the conquest of Venezuela.

The Plaza Mayor became increasingly important as the citizens began to reside outside the old walls of the town. Grand palaces were built by returning conquistadors with money from the New World. The plaza boasts some of the finer palace-fortresses to be found in the city of Trujillo. The Palaces that surround the plaza are; the Palacio de la Conquista, the Palacio de la Quintanilla(Palacio de Peso Real), the Casa de las Cadenas(House of the Chains) with the Torre de Afiler and the Palacio del Marquesado de Piedras Albas (White Stones). The Old Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), the Oficina de Tourismo and many quality resturants, cafes and stores are also located in the Plaza Mayor. Not far away is another spectacular Palacio. The more adventurous traveler, making the trek up the Cañón de la Carcel, will be well rewarded with a view of the Palacio de Juan Pizarro de Orellana. If Palacios are your thing, the Casa de Chaves-Calderon is definitely not to be missed, it boasts a corner door and window which are really interesting. This odd architectural effect was, during the 16th and 17th centuries, a display of wealth. Farther up the hill is the less architecturally impressive The Casa-Museo de Francisco Pizarro. This is not the house of the conquistador, but that of his great uncle. Today the House of Francisco Pizarro is a recreation of a sixteenth century home. A small Museum upstairs elucidates on the conquest of the Americas.

Many convents grew up in this time of great cash flow. The Antiguo Convento de San Francisco El Real de la Coria (La Coria y Museo de las Americas) and the Palacio-Convento de los Duques de San Carlos are only a couple of examples of these orders. In Trujillo many nuns still practice a centuries old lifestyle. Several cloistered orders are still active in Trujillo. The Parador is the converted convent of Santa Clara. The active cloister of San Pedro is across from the hotel, one can buy cookies from the nuns who live there through a rotating trivet.

The great flowering of arts is the reason this period is called the "Golden Age".The Retablo in the Iglesia de San Martin, painted by Fernando Gallego is a great example of art from this period. The "Golden Age" of Spain also touched Trujillo in that Miguel de Cervantes stayed in the Palacio de Juan Pizzaro de Orellana and included his hosts in his third novel. Trujillo, as a central player in the exploration of the New World inspired (and financed) plays of the period. The most notable is by Tirso de Molina and is entitled "La Triologia de los Pizarro". "Trujillo" also turns up in a play by Guevara as an allegorical figure.*

The Casa de las Comedias was built during this period. Traditionally Autosacrementales (Plays depicting stories from the bible) were performed in the plaza. Later "lower" theatre was preformed in the plaza, then in front of the Alhondiga. After the Casa de las Comedias was in use most of the theatre was performed there and the Autosacramentales and Holy processions were performed in the Plaza.

Politically, "The Golden Age" is actually a misnomer for this period of Spanish history. Spain has never had a very prolific or strong Monarchy. After the union of the Catholic Monarchs and the excellent start in the colonization of the Americas the leadership of Spain was severely lacking. It is impossible and unfair to blame the loss of all of Spains colonial holdings on one leader. Spain invested too much of her resources externally on petty wars. During this time the Spanish Armada, once the greatest naval power, was routed by the British. Portugal seceded from Spain after only sixty years of union. Various other battles sapped more of Spain's wealth during this hundred years. The Hapsburg dynasty fell at the end of this era and a foreign, Bourbon, dynasty was established.

18th Century: The War of Spanish Succession, Enlightenment, and Spain's Participation in the independence of British colonies

The War of Spanish Succession of course had to do with the lineage of the Monarchs of Spain. Carlos II died without a heir and relative chaos ensued. "The "Bourbons" of France acquire the Spanish throne after the War of Spanish Succession. The current king, Juan Carlos is a Bourbon king. Generally allied with France against Britain, Spain entered into a series of exhausting wars. At the end of the century the Spanish Bourbons allied them selves with Britain against the French Revolution. As a result of the losing bid to contribute to the defeat of the revolution, Spain fell under the political thralldom of France.

The Napoleonic Invasion, Karlist Wars, Spanish American War and Spanish Civil War:1800-1936

The Peninsular War with France lasted from 1808 to 1814. After Napoleon seized power in France in 1804 he initiated political intrigues in Spain. After becoming Emperor himself, He forced the return of the Bourbon crown to France, naming his own brother Joseph Bonaparte as king of Spain. The Spanish people, although more or less abandoned by their own political leadership, resented these developments and began to organize resistance against the French. The term guerilla warfare ("little war") was coined to describe the hit-and-run strategy based on constant harassment. The Spaniards acquired the support of the English, most notably led by Lord Wellington. Among other things the struggle to regain independence led to the abolishment of the Inquisition with the establishment of a liberal constitution in 1812. The Spanish Empire also began to unravel definitively. By 1826 all mainland colonies in the New World had fought for and won their independence.

As one walks the streets of Trujillo it is not always evident which buildings were destroyed by the departing troops and which were destroyed simply by time and lack of care. The Convento de La Coria, now restored almost completely was one of those destroyed by the French troops. The Iglesia de la Caridad (Casa de las Comedias) was also a victim of destruction. Troops were housed in the Palacio de la Conquista.

Ferdinand VII was restored to the monarchy in 1814 and he immediately abolished the constitution, put the Inquisition back into effect and swept aside the parliament, the Cortes. The liberals responded with a successful revolution in 1820, which restored the parliament and the constitution. But once again France intervened and the monarchy was again restored in 1823.

The Carlist War was set into motion in 1831 when Ferdinand, bereft of male heirs, named his one year old daughter, Isabella, as his successor. His brother, Don Carlos, rallied opposition to this move, which included politically conservative, anti-liberals who entertained extreme views about the monarchy and the church. When Isabella became queen in 1833 her mother, Maria Cristina, assumed the role of regent. She turned to the liberals for support against the conservatives and granted them concessions. The Carlists revolted but were defeated in 1839, yet Maria Cristina's victory was short lived. After a military revolt she fled the country in the following year. Isabella was declared of age in 1843.

The reign of Queen Isabella was marked by an ongoing struggle between two bitterly opposed political philosophies and forces: the liberals who were opposed to the Catholic Church and advocated a parliamentary government and a modern capitalist economy and the conservatives who wanted to restore an absolute monarchy and the power of the church.

In 1868 liberal military leaders seized power. Political anarchy reigned for a number of years as liberals and monarchists struggled with one another. In 1873 the most liberal elements of the Cortes declared the establishment of a Republic. But the victorious republicans fought amongst themselves and conservative generals proclaimed Alfonso XII, the son of Isabella II, as the king of Spain. He took over in 1875 reestablishing the Bourbons in Spain. A Carlist revolt was suppressed the following year and Spanish policy became increasingly conservative and pro-clerical. Conservative and Liberal political parties supported a constitutional monarchy. Both Republicans and Carlists were marginalized.

The Spanish American War was a devastating blow to the nation of Spain because it marked the definitive end of its Empire. Yet, this defeat sparked a protracted period of reflection on the nature of Spain by a distinguished assortment of scholars, artists and intellectuals, known as the Generation of "'98"(Murphy, 2002)."

These two hundred years were doubtless much the same for Trujillo as for the rest of Spain. In a nutshell, Trujillo fell into increasing disrepair. Trujillo, once a relatively successful urban center began to decline along with the rest of Spain. After the Napoleanic invasion in 1809 Trujillo was almost completly destroyed. The Napoleanic Army practiced a scorched earth policy and destroyed almost everything, as they left in 1814.

The other wars mentioned above called many young Trujillano men away to fight, just as they had done in the previous centuries. Trujillo has always been very loyalist since it's establishment under the crown in the 1200's. It is not really possible to find sites in Trujillo that reflect the history of the civil war. The tragedy of the this war is reflected in Picasso's monumental work, "Guernica". It has been said by many historians that the Spanish Civil War was the fascist practice ground for WWII.

The Franco Years and the Creation of a Democratic Spain: 1936 to Present

The Franco years brought economic succor to Extremadura, One relic of this era is the aptly nicknamed "Franco Towers". The towers were built for grain storage and have since been abandoned. The beautiful Convento de Santa Clara is one of the Paradors found in Spain. Many old convents have been converted into hotels like the Antiguo Convento de San Antonio which is now the hotel Melia. The hotel Victoria is a contemporary hotel built in the 1920's.

Restoration of medieval houses and a concern and desire to preserve the great historical treasures is awakening in Trujillo.The statue of Francisco Pizarro in the Plaza Mayor, a 20th century addition is perhaps one of the most evident modern additions to Trujillo. In the lower part of the city modern apartment buildings, homes, banks and shops can be seen. An industrial district and Fair grounds are also modern additions to Trujillo.

After Franco's death in 1975, Spain underwent a transition to Democracy. Although Trujillo has not hosted the signing of important treaties and documents in the 20th century it has still been important to international relations with historians. The Convento de la Coria was recognized with the Europa Award for the Protection of Historical Monuments from the Alfred Toepfer Foundation in Germany that was presented by Queen Sofía. Only two sites in Spain share this honor, the other is the Alhambra in Granada.

The old Palacio Pizarro-Aragón and many other buildings have experienced a metamorphosis through the centuries and resulting in a splendid mixture of history and technology. Today the Alhondiga has undergone its final(?) change and now houses the Town Hall and Neighborhood Associations. Today national and international tourism is growing in Spain and Trujillo. This vibrant community is facing the future from its deep rooted past with strength and hope that Trujillo will continue its epic journey through the 21st century and beyond.


Elena Bissell; A Guide to Trujillo: the evolution of a Spanish community; Powerpoint; 2001
Juan Tena Fernández; Trujillo Historical y Monumental; Salamanca, Spain; Graficas Ortega, S.A.; 1988
Magdalena Galiana Nuñez; Guia turistica de Trujillo y Vida de Pizarro; Trujilo, Spain; Ayuntamento de Trujillo; 1994
Lancia Publications (Juan Moreno Lazaro, Jesus Manuel Guitierrez); Trujillo; Leon, Spain; Lancia Publications: Grafoffset, S.L.; 1988
Jose A. Redondo Rodriguez, Jose A. Ramos Rubio; Walking Round Trujillo; Trujillo, Spain; Estilo Estugraf Impresores, S.L.; 2001
Pedro Cordero Alvarado; Trujillo: Guia Monumental y Heraldica; Alburquerque, Spain; CISAN; 1996
Nick Inman, Editor; Spain; London, England; DK Publishing, INC; 2000
Ayuntamiento de Trujillo: www.ayto-trujillo.com
Chuty; Trujillo: Paso a Paso; www.chuty.net
Murphy, "A Chronology of Spain" (2002). http://www.as.ua.edu/ant/Faculty/murphy/Blount/CHRONO.htm
*Benito Quintana, Doctoral student at the University of New Mexico; bquint@unm.edu