Guillen de Castro: the Streets Have a Name

Napoleon’s troops must have marched along Guillén de Castro when besieging Valencia on two occasions (one home win and one away win) at the beginning of the 19th century.

It’s the road that runs past the Towers of Quart, which still bear the holes made by Napoleon’s cannonballs (although it was Marshall Suchet who actually played the game while Napoleon himself was involved in another international match somewhere in Russia).

Resize of Torres de Quart

The street, one of Valencia’s main avenues, which starts at the historic library, a building which once housed Europe’s first mental asylum, and ends at the IVAM, Valencia’s museum of modern art, the first in Spain, is named after Guillén de Castro y Bellvis (1569 – 1631), a dramatist of the so-called Spanish Golden Age. Inevitably, golden ages being what they are, he died in abject poverty.

Guillén was what we used to call an all-rounder, in the days before success meant specialization. He was a playwright, a coastguard, and even a governor, in Italy, in the town of Scigliano in Calabria, appointed by the Viceroy of Naples, a large part of Italy being a Spanish colony at the time.

Guillén_de_Castro

As a coastguard he was in charge of a hundred horsemen, riding up and down the Valencian coast, seeing off Corsair pirates, although he was said to have preferred good book.

He was also made a Knight of the Order of Santiago, although as far as is known he never walked the Camino.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was the drama Las Mocedades del Cid, from the first part of which Pierre Corneille borrowed heavily in his play that turned the true story of El Cid into a melodrama, which in turn influenced the writing of the screenplay of Charlton Heston’s version of El Cid in which, as in the play, El Cid kills Jimena’s father in a duel, a total fabrication of history.

a Le-CID-Poster_large

Like many a writer he died in Madrid and received a pauper’s burial.

 

 

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