Dulcinea of Ulcinj: The hometown of Don Quixote’s Love

Dulcinea of Ulcinj: The hometown of Don Quixote’s Love

Aleksandar Pavlović

The statue of Miguel de Cervantes, father of Don Quixote and modern European novel, seems an odd ornament at the Ulcinj’s old town.

True, its ancient, originally Illyrian and Greek walls preserved quite a few surprises, curiously blending Muslim and Christian traditions through the centuries; Venetian palace and Turkish bay’s house standing together side by side; former Renaissance church turned into a mosque ad hoc, without removing the Latin inscription in the footsteps clearly testifying to its Christian past, now serving as the city’s archaeological museum; former Venetian customs office used as an infamous pirate’s house during their factual rein over the city from the late 16th to the late 18th century.

Renaissance Church turned into a mosque, nowadays Ulcinj’s Archeological Museum

Still, these old testimonies of the city’s hybrid and diverse nature arguably raise less eyebrows than Cervantes’ sculpture at the Restaurant Dulcinea in the middle of all this. The explanation, given by the locals, is an irresistibly romantic one. After being captured at the battle of Lepanto in 1571 and taken as a slave to Ulcinj by infamous local pirates, Miguel de Cervantes served there for several years before being taken to Algeria and eventually returning to Spain after five years of captivity. Now, in the tales told by traditionally tolerant locals, there is no space for brutality and domination – according to them, Cervantes enjoyed certain freedom and could walk through the Old Town, where his Spanish songs and charms attracted local women; Miguel fell in love in one of them, taking her with him to Algeria and later immortalizing her as Dulcinea, the Lady and inspiration of his hero Don Quixote. As a proof for their claims, the locals offer her name – De Ulicini i.e. from Ulcinj. They also stress Dulcinea’s common peasant origin in the book, as well as Don Quixote’s famous obsession with windmills that once stood in Ulcinj.

Don Quixote’s statue at the Ulcinj Old Town

Cervantes’ Spanish biographers might be inclined to label Ulcinj’s romance as a rather apocryphal; that there is no actual proof for his captivity in Ulcinj, as well as that Dulcinea comes from the Latin adjective “dulce” meaning “pleasant, sweet”. But, so what if Ulcinjers are perhaps imagining things? Don Quixote himself was doing just so, and yet his delusions provided us a glimpse into a better, nobler and more righteous world than the one we live in. Hence, let us embrace this legend in the name of Ulcinj and its inhabitants’ strivings in overcoming historical memories of slavery, captivity, piracy, wars and conflicts with a love story about a beloved Ulcinjian beauty immortalized by the writer in the following way:

Former Venice customs, later infamous pirate’s house, featuring Christoph, the last pirate of the Adriatic

she is my queen and lady, and her beauty superhuman, since all the impossible and fanciful attributes of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are verified in her; for her hair is gold, her forehead Elysian fields, her eyebrows rainbows, her eyes suns, her cheeks roses, her lips coral, her teeth pearls, her neck alabaster, her bosom marble, her hands ivory, her fairness snow, and what modesty conceals from sight such, I think and imagine, as rational reflection can only extol, not compare.

Restaurant Dulcinea at the top of the Ulcinj Old Town, with Venice Palace behind it