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A King that dared to hope: how Alfonso XIII’s trip changed Las Hurdes forever

Wiki Commons

The year was 1922 and Spain was under the rule of King Alfonso XIII. Las Hurdes was a small territory in the Extremadura province, that, aside from the name, shared little with the territory it is today. 

His Majesty decided to explore the area, but was strongly advised against it by many prominent voices at the time, who had conducted studies on the area and were less than impressed. 

Spanish intellectual José Pedro Domínguez writes in his study that “without medical or pharmaceutical assistance, they could only count on the heroic missions on some priests who tried to stop the outbreaks of progressive misery and ignorance”. 

With this backdrop, the King set out for his visit to Las Hurdes, which took place between the 20th and the 24th of June 1922. The King was accompanied by many journalists, and what they witnessed was “unsettling”, according to many newspaper articles published at the time. 

The area was swampy, riddled with viral diseases such as typhoid, malaria and smallpox, and there were no doctors to cure the ill nor any medicine to alleviate their suffering. There were barely any roads, which meant that the King and the rest of his team had to make their trip on horseback, and, sometimes, on foot. 

Las Hurdes was a forgotten territory, and the fact that the Monarch was willing to brave those many challenges and issues was the push needed for the inhabitants to receive the help they required. 

Once the press traveling with the King brought back their reports about the situation, a Royal Patronage for Las Hurdes was established, swamps were drained and doctors and medicines started flowing to the area. Schools were opened, infrastructures were built and quality of life slowly started improving. 

Nowadays, one century later, Las Hurdes is an area that attracts a lot of tourism, while also remaining proud of its roots. It is invested in the fight against climate change but also supports an aging population and better digital infrastructure while remainig bonded tightly with its past. 

King Felipe and Queen Letizia’s visit, then, marked the beginning of a new era for the area of advancements and prosperity, adaptation and celebration of the unique past that this land has had. 

A future that they are allowed to plan for because one King defied all odds and public opinion to tell the story of the potential he saw behind the desolation of Las Hurdes.