City Guides Segovia

Segovia: Casa-Museo de Antonio Machado

Why did you visit?

I went to see the house. I’m an architect. I was curious about how a regular person lived in Segovia in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Antonio Machado actually rented this house while he lived in Segovia during the 1920’s.

How did you find this museum?

It was included in the list of sights-to-see on the back of the map that I picked up at Segovia’s visitor center.

What did you learn?

I had never heard of Antonio Machado previously, so I learned who he was. He was working as a professor, teaching French, in Segovia while he lived in the house. He wrote and published numerous books of his poetry. The audio tour indicated that he was involved in political movements.

One of my goals when I travel, is to see and learn new things. The trip to Segovia served me well. The alcazar was the inspiration for my deciding to spend a week in Segovia. I particularly like to stay in smaller towns. I like the quiet, I seem to be able to soak up their history. I like the sense of being out in the open. I like being able to walk across town in ten minutes. I ended up really liking Segovia. I stayed in the old historic part – the medieval city with much of its walls remaining intact.

What was most impressive?

When he had guests, they slept on the floor in the long hallway. Machado enjoyed having guests come and stay in his home (according to the audio tour). They must have been seriously stoic guests. But money was tight, and hotels were probably expensive and in short supply.

What was most interesting?

The floor plan of the house. Really, an apartment. The unit is on the second floor, and you enter directly at the top of the main stair. You enter a long hallway. The kitchen and a pantry are the first rooms on your right. Then there is nothing for a long way until you go up some stairs. Turn left to enter the dining room. Off the dining room was a small room that Machado used as a library for his books and writings. The another hallway goes off the dining room to another small room, and then the large bedroom that was Machado’s room.

I wondered about the practicality of daily meals with such a long distance (complete with stairs) between the kitchen and the dining rooms. I have a sense that people experienced and used time differently 100 years ago, and 200 years ago, than we do today. I feel like I jam four days worth of activities into one day, every day. I suspect that in 1920, walking dishes back and forth between the kitchen and dining table was simply part of life, and it took ten minutes to setup to eat and another ten minutes to return the dishes to the kitchen after every meal.

What was most unique?

The light and air in the apartment. I expect homes in medieval city centers to be dark, cramped, and airless. This apartment felt expansive. It seemed short on usable room space, but given the hallways, it had quit a lot of actual space. The long hallway between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment, was fairly wide.

Segovia traditionally had three industries providing jobs and income for its residents. The military was stationed there – in particular, the Kings of Castille during the 17th century, the royal mint was there, and the sheep-wool industry. By the 18th century all were gone. The sheep wool production was undercut by new technology in other parts of Europe. Spain stuck to its traditional methods and customers left, preferring the newer methods which produced cheaper fabrics and clothes.

I’ve visited and explored a number of medieval city centers in Italy and Spain. Most noticeable about Segovia, is the amount of open public space available. This is unusual for a medieval city center. I assume that Segovia used to be packed full within its old walls. But the loss of all the industries resulted in a huge decrease of population and wealth. Segovia ‘s open space is a result of these factors. With fewer people, buildings were demolished this creating the open green spaces. By the 19th century Europeans had come to appreciate the value of having more green spaces light and air. And Segovia created a number of public parks within its city walls.

Segovia eventually decided to expand beyond it’s city walls to the southeast once being fortified was no longer necessary. The city, over it’s history, had steadily grown by building on additional land – following the rocky crag that it started on. I wondered if Segovia always had a little more space and less crowding simply because the rocky crag provided a natural defense – the land suddenly jutted upward. The city walls were built along it’s perimeter. Segovia’s land area inside it’s walls is quite large. Segovia’s old city center streets are typically wider, too. And buildings were two or three stories. The result would have been larger homes – more space per floor, and better natural light inside – for even the poorest folks.

When space is limited and housing is small, and buildings cover every inch of land not needed desperately for streets, light and air inside buildings becomes scarce. Something for the rich people only. Machado’s apartment despite being small managed to have substantial light and air. The two hallways were both single loaded with windows in one side. The hall light came from an internal courtyard. The kitchen from the front court off the street. And the dining room and large bedroom light came from another street.

What was most unexpected?

The tour was self-guided with an audio to listen to. There were lots of pictures of the family hung on the walls, including Machado’s wife who passed away only three years after they were married. The walls included newspaper accounts of her passing away, and Machado’s sadness. The newspaper accounts also included stories that hinted at a new mistress and scandal. She is thought to be “Giuomar”.

So learning who Guiomar was – was most unexpected. I rode the train back and forth from Madrid a handful of times. The train station is named Segovia-Guiomar. I thought, is that a girl’s name? But I figured I would never know who Guiomar was. So when I took the Machado house tour, and learned about Guiomar, I wondered if that was the Guiomar that the train station was named after. I looked it up on the internet after I got back home to confirm.

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