I hope the stationers of Segovia have stocked up on notebooks. They need to be ready for the annual invasion of writers from all over the world who come to the Castilian city to take part in the Hay Festival at the end of September. The medieval lanes, ancient doorways and mysterious passages are fertile places for novelists as well as travel writers.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the crime writer Val McDermid, who will be talking to the journalist and Hispanist Giles Tremlett this year, scribbling at a café table in the Plaza Mayor, the porticoed square that is the natural meeting point at festival time. One of the main venues this year is the Teatro Juan Bravo, which dominates the north end of the square, so the café terraces will be busier than ever as writers and audiences while away the odd half hour between events.
Talks, exhibitions, concerts and performances are held in palaces, convents, churches, gardens, courtyards, museums and mansions throughout the city. Many of these are open only during festival time. I think Val McDermid might well find inspiration in the Santa Cruz La Real monastery, which has National Monument status and is used for a lot of Hay events. It was founded in the 13th century by Saint Dominic who, appropriately, believed that words were more powerful than weapons and is often depicted holding a book. In the late 15th century, Tomás de Torquemada, the Great Inquisitor, was the prior here and rebuilt the monastery with money from Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic monarchs.
The sprawling building alongside the Eresma river now houses the IE University, which has extensively restored the building. Juan José Prat Ferrer, director of its language centre, told me that in the 19th and 20th centuries it became an orphanage and a refuge for unmarried women, who went there to give birth. “The women usually left the child at the orphanage and carried on with their lives. People of 60 and 70 turn up now and again and say they were born here,” he said.
Continue reading in The Telegraph