Extremadura is a region of Spain.
The autonomous region of Extremadura lies in the south western part of Spain, and borders Castile and Leon in the north, Castile-La Mancha in the east, Andalusia in the south, and Portugal in the west. The population of this autonomous region according to figures from the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE) as of the 1st of January 2004, after having reviewed the Inhabitants register is 1,100,000. The breakdown by province is as follows: Caceres: 411,390 and Badajoz: 663,896, according to the same source. The cities with the highest population are: Badajoz (150,000), Caceres (100,000), Merida (60,000), Plasencia (40,000), and Don Benito (35,000).
Extremadura has a continental climate, tempered by warm and humid winds that sweep up from the Atlantic. Rainfall is average and mainly falls in spring and autumn. The summer is very dry. The western part of Extremadura tends to rain more than the rest of the region. However, in mountain areas the climate is characterised by cold winters and cool summers. Rainfall in these areas is quite heavy, and in the northern part of the region and at higher altitudes this is converted into snow.
Most of Extremadura is made up of vast stretches of plains with an average height of around 350 metres. There are three mountain formations in the region. The Sistema Central in the north, mainly comprises of Gredos sierra, Gata sierra, Francia sierra, Plasencia sierra and Vera sierra.
They are high mountains, some reaching almost 2,000 metres, with deep gorges heading south such as Jaranda, with high mountain passes that include Bejar and Tornavacas. The highest peak in the area is Calvitero that reaches 2,425 metres. The second mountainous area is the central area that is penetrated by the mountains of Toledo, the highest peak of which is Las Villuercas measuring 1,601 metres. The third area in the south of the region belongs to the Sierra Morena mountain range. They are the lowest mountains in the region. The highest peak is Tentudia, at 1,140 metres.
The most notable river valleys include Jerte and Tietar, La Vera and Las Hurdes, as well as Ambroz valley. Two major rivers criss-cross the region and filter the waters from other lesser rivers in the area. The rivers are the Tagus, that travels through Caceres, finally entering Portugal, and the Guadiana, that encompasses all of Badajoz within its basin and heads south, forming a natural border with Portugal.
The rivers in the region of Extremadura are governed by the various reservoirs in the area, that form a vast hydrological network that supplies water for crops, for generating electricity and for general consumption by the inhabitants. Valdecañas, Torrejon-Tagus, Alcantara, Gabriel and Galan are the reservoirs that lie in the Tagus river basin. Cijara, Puerto Peña (Garcia Sola), Orellana and La Serena are some of the different reservoirs that can be found in Guadiana's basin. La Serena reservoir, in the river Zujar, is the largest in Spain.
More than twenty towers dominate the historic quarter of Caceres, delimited by Arab walls. Cobbled streets marked by medieval, fortified homes and Renaissance palaces make up the most beautiful sceneries in this beautiful city, which was declared World Heritage in 1986 and Third Best Preserved Monumental Town of Europe in 1968.
The city of Caceres was founded by the Romans in 34 B.C., under the name of Norba Caesariana. But it wasn't until the arrival of the Arabs in the 12th century that the city would experience a period of splendour. A century later, the city would fall into Christian hands, after being reconquered by King Alfonso IX of Leon. In the 15th century, queen Isabel the Catholic put an end to the continuous fights over the control of power among noblemen by cutting off the top of the towers that crowned their fortified homes. Henceforth, a period of economic prosperity began in the city, which also benefited greatly from its active role in the Discovery of America. The walled precinct of Caceres, mostly Almohad, still preserves several medieval towers, such as the towers of Bujaco, Yedra and Horno, built in the 12th century. The city within the confines of the wall
The Arco de la Estrella (Arch of the Star), lets you inside the walled enclosure. This gate, built by Manuel de Lara Churriguera, was built in the 18th century to replace the previous medieval gate "Puerta Nueva", (New Gate).
Once inside the medieval quarter, there are palaces and ancestral homes at every step, still exhibiting their families' coats of arms.Plaza de Santa María is surrounded by several palaces. One of them is the Palace of Carvajal, built between the 15th and 16th centuries and later restored in the second half of the 20th. Inside it conceals a picturesque Renaissance courtyard, whose centre is taken by millenary fig tree. Next to the palace, a circular tower still stands, it was built by the Arabs back in the 12th century. The palace presently houses the Regional Board of Crafts and Tourism.
Also surrounding the square is the Palace of Mayoralgo (16th century), the biggest in the city, with an interior patio lined with pointed brick arches. On the same area is the Episcopal Palace, which has a fifteenth-century façade with foiled arches and a Renaissance front with dressed keystones.
The compound is dominated by the Procathedral of Santa María, a sixteenth-century Gothic building. The temple has three naves with orgive vaults. Note the plateresque high reredos and choir stalls. They were made by Guillén Ferrant and Roque Balduque, with cedar wood and include valuable sculptures and relieves. In the side chapels, in addition to the Baroque sarcophagi and reredos, note the image of the Christ of Blazquez, also named "the Black Christ", who, according to traditional tales, used to kill those who dared to look at it, or touch it.
The House of Cáceres-Ovando, built in the 15th century, is located in the neighbouring square of San Pablo. Its semidetached Tower of Cigüeñas is the only one whose crenellations remained intact, pardoned by queen Isabel the Catholic.
But beyond all doubt, one of the most beautiful examples of local architecture in Caceres is the Palace of Golfines de Abajo (from the 15th century), with a gorgeous sixteenth-century plateresque façade and overlapping Gothic and Mudejar elements. The Catholic Monarchs stayed in this noble building during one of their visit to the capital.
The House of Paredes Saavedra, built between the 15th and 16th centuries, is located in the San Mateo Square, along with the House of Lorenzo de Ulloa (15th century) and the Casa de las Veletas (House of the Weather Vanes). This palace was built in the fifteenth century, on top of an ancient Almohad fortress, it was rebuilt at the beginning of the 18th century. The exterior is marked by its beautiful Baroque façade and the pinnacles that crown it, popularly known as weather vanes (veletas). Inside, under the courtyard, the building preserves an ancient reservoir from the old Arab fortress, circa 12th century. Nowadays, the building houses the Regional Museum of Archaeology, which exhibits an interesting collection of artefacts and ethnographic objects that narrate the history of the province.
The church of San Mateo (16th century), with its interesting plateresque façade, is on the square by the same name, occupying the space of the ancient high-mosque.
Beyond the confines of the walls, a magnificent staircase leads to the main square, or Plaza Mayor, which is flanked by numerous towers and the Balbos moat. In the vicinity of the square is the Palace of Godoy (16th century), a Renaissance building with a beautiful corner balcony. Next to this ancestral home is the church of Saint James (Santiago), the temple where the Order of the Friars of Caceres was founded, the predecessor of the Order of Saint James. Among the elements that were added to the Romanesque structure, a reredos by Berruguete stands out.
Located in the path of the Silver Route, or Vía de la Plata, Mérida is heir to a magnificent Roman legacy. The theatre, the amphitheatre and the Temple of Diana make this city —the ancient capital of Roman Lusitania— one of the best preserved archaeological sites in Spain, reason why it was declared World Heritage.
The history of Merida has close ties to the Roman expansion through the Iberian Peninsula. Its foundation as a city took place in 25 B.C., under the rule of Emperor Augustus, from whom the first name of the city, Emérita Augusta, was taken.
There, discharged soldiers from the 5th and 10th Legions settled, after being rewarded by Rome for their participation in the Cantabrian Wars with lands on the fertile plains of the Guadiana River. At the same time, this incipient city had great strategic value, since two different Roman routes met there: the Silver Route (Vía de la Plata), which linked Merida and Astorga and the Roman road that linked Toledo and Lisbon.
Mérida was the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania and it became one of the most flourishing cities of the Empire. Likewise, it was an important religious centre during the first years of the spread of Christianity.
Under Visigothic rule, the city stayed on the centre stage as capital of the kingdom, but this title was later assigned to Toledo. With the arrival of the Arabs, Merida became a fortress, until the Christian King Alfonso IX reconquered the city in the 13th century, when it then became the base for the Military Order of Saint James of the Sword.
The Roman Legacy
The splendorous history of Merida can be observed in the monumental and archaeological ensemble that it keeps, one of the best preserved in Spain.
Thus, the Roman legacy is still present in almost every little corner of town, the Roman Theatre being one of the most emblematic constructions. Erected in the first century B.C., the theatre can seat 6,000 people. The stage is dominated by two stacked rows of columns, ornamented with sculptures of deities and imperial figures. Next to it is the Amphitheatre, a stage where gladiators wrestled with beasts. This building, contemporary with the previous one, preserves some of its original elements, like the grandstands, the box and the gallery.
Both precincts come back to life each summer with the celebration of the Merida Classical Theatre Festival, one of the most important of its kind in Spain.
The Temple of Diana and the Arch of Trajan —one of the gates to the city, rising to a height of 15 metres— are located in the city centre.
On the outskirts, there are ambitious Roman civil projects such as the Roman Bridge, which crosses the Guadiana River. The bridge stands out for its monumental size —800 metres long, with 60 arches— that made it one of the biggest ones in the Empire at the time. It is also quite worth it to mention the Aqueduct of Los Milagros which crossed the Abarregas River and supplied the city with water from the Roman dam of Proserpina, still preserved.
The National Museum of Roman Art, built by Spanish architect, wraps up the journey through Merida's Roman period. Through the more than 36,000 artefacts —all of which were found in Merida and its vicinity— plus the exposed panels, the precinct narrates the history of the city and its Roman legacy and it shows how daily life was at a Roman colony.
Also, a few examples of architecture are left from the Muslim rule. Across from the Guadiana River is the most significant of them all, the Alcazaba (Citadel). The interior of the Arab fortress preserves a Roman aljibe (underground reservoir) which was rebuilt and decorated with Visigothic pilasters.
Attached to this precinct is the Conventual Santiaguista, built during the time that the city was under the jurisdiction of the Knights of the Order of Saint James of the Word. Nowadays, the building is the site of the Extremaduran Government.
Gastronomy and the outskirts
The cuisine from Malaga shares many dishes with the rest of the region, such as the lamb caldereta (a stew made with lamb, onions, garlic and peppers) and Iberian pork products, specially sausages and ham. Other typical dishes include gazpacho (a cold soup made with tomato, peppers, cucumber, garlic, etc.), ajoblanco (another could soup, similar to gazpacho but white, made with garlic, almonds and bread), rabbit and partridge.
Any of the bars and restaurants in Merida serve these and many more delicacies, some of them as appetisers, like pork ears, wild asparagus and cheese. To go with the food, Badajoz offers excellent wines with the label Designation of Origin - Ribera del Guadiana.
When it comes to spending the night, one of the best choices in Merida is the Parador de Turismo, located at the heart of the historic quarter, in an old eighteenth-century convent.
The Extremaduran capital is located on the Vía de la Plata (Silver Route). This road, which was a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela during the Middle Ages, now takes us to interesting Extremaduran towns such as Zafra, Mérida, Caceres (with a historic quarter that was declared World Heritage) and Plasencia. Not far from this road are the nature reserves of Monfragüe and Cornalvo, with Nature Centres where one can obtain information about the best trails to follow to explore the parks.
Other interesting towns are also found in the vicinity of Merida. To the south is Alange, with a Roman bath and Almendralejo, the capital of the fertile farming region of the Land of Barros. To the east is Medellín, the birthplace of the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés, where the remains of an Arab castle are preserved Don Benito, where you can visit the Ethnographic Museum, one of the most important ones in Extremadura and Villanueva de la Serena, with remarkable buildings like the church of Asunción and the Town Hall.
Trujillo, situated on a fertile plain between the Tajo and Guadiana rivers, is a town with an important collection of churches, castles and ancestral homes, laid out around the its main square, or Plaza Mayor. In addition, the city has left a great mark in the course of History, since, in the 16th century, it was the birthplace of many illustrious figures linked to the Discovery of America. For this reason, Trujillo is in the middle of the "Conquerors' Route", a journey that includes other Extremaduran towns like Medellín, Villanueva de la Serena and Jerez de los Caballeros. The Monfragüe Nature Reserve, on the other hand, is one of the most important protected areas in Extremadura. It is located a few kilometres north of Trujillo and contains a unique system of forests, meadows and reservoirs.
The origins of Trujillo go back to the primitive settlement of Turgalium. After been occupied by Romans and Visigoths, Trujillo remained under Arab rule for more than five hundred years, period in which the city experienced remarkable development. It would later fall into Christian hands, after been conquered by King Fernando III in 1232, although it was King Juan II who recognised Trujillo as a city in 1430. In the 16th century, Trujillo would experience great splendour, given its important role in the Discovery of America. The city was the birthplace of two famous conquerors: Francisco de Pizarro, who discovered Peru and Francisco de Orellana. It was also the birthplace of other illustrious figures like Friar Jerónimo de Loaísa, the first bishop of Cartagena de Indias and Nuflo de Chaves, who discovered Bolivia.
The city is structured around the monumental main square, or Plaza Mayor, dominated by an equestrian bronze statue of Pizarro. For centuries, this square has been at the heart of all social and commercial life in this town, hosting street markets, holiday celebrations and all kinds of shows. In the 16th century, it became a stately square, since conquerors and noble families began to build around it their mansions and palaces.
The church of San Martín, built between the 14th and 16th century, was erected in this square. The temple, with one nave and orgive vaults, has in its interior several Renaissance side-chapels.
Next to this church is the Palace of the Duke of San Carlos, from the 16th century. This building exhibits a corner balcony and the coat of arms of the Vargas-Carvajal family. Behind the main façade, a square, classical courtyard is concealed, with two levels of arches and Tuscan columns.
The Palace of the Marquis of Piedras Albas is another noble house that faces the square. This Renaissance mansion, built by Pedro Suárez de Toledo, contains the porches popularly known as "del pan" (bread porches) and three segmental arches.
Another remarkable building in this area is the Palace of the Marquis of the Conquest, or Shield. This palace was commissioned by Hernando Pizarro in 1570. The façade has a corner balcony with plateresque ornaments and balustrades. All of it crowned by the coat of arms of Francisco Pizarro.
Lining the cobbled streets that begin at the square, there are ancestral homes like the old Casa del Peso Real, or Palace of Chaves-Cárdenas, a Gothic building with Renaissance elements and the Palace of Juan Pizarro de Orellana, from the 16th century. The latter belonged to the first chief magistrate of the Peruvian city of Cuzco and was transformed into a Renaissance palace after being the fortress-home of Diego de Vargas. The building has a plateresque courtyard in its interior.
The Alcázar of Altamiranos, also known as Alcazarejo, was erected by Fernán Ruiz in the 13th century. Note its sixteenth-century main front, flanked by two towers whose tops where destroyed and graced by the Altamiranos coat of arms.
Trujillo's historic quarter has two remarkable churches: the church of Santa María la Mayor and the church of Saint James, both from the Middle Ages. The temple of Santa María is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque art in Trujillo. The building, erected on top of an old Arab mosque, has several medieval fronts and a Late Romanesque tower. In the interior you can see gorgeous orgive vaults, which crown a structure of three naves and a Gothic reredos made by Fernando Gallego in 1480, considered the best one in the whole of Extremadura.
The church of Saint James, located next to the city gates known by the same name, was built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 15th and 17th. From the primitive construction, a semicircular apse remains and a tower. The building cherishes a Romanesque image of Our Lady of the Crowning and the image of the Christ of Waters, from the 14th century.
The Arab castle (tenth century) was built during the period of greatest splendour of the Caliphate of Cordoba. It has two gorgeous towers and two underground reservoirs in the parade ground. On the southern side of the bastion is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Victory, patron saint of the city.
To finish your journey around the city, visit the Museum of Coria, located in the old convent of San Francisco el Real. The precinct narrates the most important events in the Discovery of the New World.
It is also recommended to visit Trujillo during its most important holiday celebration, the traditional Chíviri. It takes place every Easter Sunday in the main square, or Plaza Mayor and has been declared a Holiday of Tourist Interest.
Gastronomy and the Outskirts
Many of Trujillo's most representative dishes are typical of the whole region of Extremadura. Iberian pork products are excellent in this area, as well as shepherd recipes, such as caldereta (a type of stew made with lamb or suckling lamb), migas (breadcrumbs with Spanish sausage and bacon), etc. You must not forget the delicious asparagus soup, bean soup, or the traditional gazpacho and ajoblanco (cold soups).
Trujillo's cuisine includes local products like Swiss chard, wild asparagus and truffles. Among the most famous desserts are toasted cream and sweet stuffed eggs. All these dishes go very well with the excellent wines with the label Designation of Origin-Ribera del Guadiana.
Many of these traditional recipes can be tried at the Parador de Trujillo, located in the old monastery of Santa Clara. It is a sixteenth-century convent that preserves two beautiful cloisters, one of them from the Renaissance.
Trujillo is on the first stretch of the Conquerors' Route, which got its name because it travels around the places where the most significant explorers from the Discovery of America were born. This route goes deep into the province of Badajoz, passing the towns of Medellín, Villanueva de la Serena and Badajoz, to end at Jerez de los Caballeros.
Forests, rocky areas and meadows washed by the waters of rivers, pools and reservoirs are contained in the Monfragüe Nature Reserve, a few kilometres north of Trujillo. Around this area you can also visit picturesque towns surrounded by a beautiful scenery, like Montánchez, located on the sierra by the same name and Alcuéscar, which sits among holm-oak woods and cork-oak forests.
On the bank of the Jerte River, in the Extremaduran province of Caceres, Plasencia has a historic quarter that is a consequence of the city's strategic location along the Silver Route, or Ruta de la Plata. This town was inhabited by Romans and Arabs until the 12th century, when King Alfonso VIII reconquered it. Since the 15th century, the noblemen of the region began to move to Plasencia, defining its current appearance. Palaces, ancestral homes and significant religious buildings make up a unique old quarter. Plasencia's Parador de Turismo (Inn) is located in an old convent, where visitors can enjoy the best food in Caceres in the most spectacular surroundings.
The medieval layout of the city can be seen in the remains of the walls, with some great towers and gates, such as the Sol gate and the Santa Maria postern. In Plasencia's city centre is the main square, Plaza Mayor, a meeting point that comes alive during the celebration of "Martes Mayor", (Shrove Tuesday), Holiday of Tourist Interest. The City Hall is also located in this square. One of the most representative collection of monuments in the city is the one that includes the Old and New Cathedrals. The Old Cathedral follows a Romanesque floor-plan, in spite of being built in the 13th century. Almost all of the European artistic styles arrived to Extremadura after a considerable delay, since it was the border between the Christian and Muslim kingdoms. Thus, while the Romanesque style reached the north of the Peninsula in the 10th-11th centuries, it would not be implemented in this area until the 13th century. The main front of the Old Cathedral, the Chapel of San Pablo and the Virgin of Forgiveness all show the transition between Romanesque and Gothic styles. The New Cathedral has many Gothic and Renaissance elements, like the choir, the vaults and the plateresque fronts. The Cathedral Museum exhibits the sixteenth-century Gothic panel of "Bodas de Caná" (Caná Wedding). Spanish Baroque masters such as Gregorio Fernández and the Brothers Churriguera also left the important mark of their art in the reredos of the cathedral.
The Military Orders of Saint James and Alcántara, of great political significance in these lands, had a great influence on the number of churches found in the city. The churches of San Nicolás, San Martín, San Salvador and San Pedro are the most remarkable. They are Romanesque and Gothic temples built after the 13th century, on top of Muslim constructions.
Palatine architecture is also present in Plasencia. The Palace of Monroy, also known as the Palace of the Two Towers, is a beautiful example of this Romanesque style. Many emblematic figures stayed at this palace, like Fernando the Catholic and Pedro de Alcántara. The Episcopal Palace, located across from the Romanesque gate of the cathedral, exhibits the most typical elements of Spanish Renaissance architecture. The Palace of Carvajal-Girón and the Palace of the Marquis of Mirabel are great examples of Extremaduran plateresque style.
Besides taking a walk through the medieval streets of Plasencia, visit the Ethnographic-Textile Museum "Pérez Enciso", the Hunting Collection at Palace of Mirabel and the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Orchard.
The old convent of Santo Domingo (15th-17th centuries), at the heart of the medieval historic quarter, is the site of the city's Inn, or Parador de Turismo. Located within the confines of Plasencia's ancient walls, this Inn is the perfect place to rest during this journey and to enjoy the magnificent Extremaduran food. Among the chef's suggestions are: potato soup, partridge casserole, lamb loins with honey from the meadows, fig compote from La Vera and Extremaduran "migas" (breadcrumbs with Spanish sausage and bacon). visitors also needs to try some of the excellent products of this land of Plasencia, like mushrooms, pickled vegetables, trout and suckling lamb, either roasted or stewed. Iberian ham from the Extremaduran pasturelands is never missing from the dinner table, nor are the fabulous cheeses from La Serena and the cherries that grow in the Jerte valley, all these products are protected with the label Designation of Origin.
Plasencia, to the north of Caceres, in an excellent starting point for further travelling around Sierra de Gata, Las Hurdes, the valleys of Ambroz and Jerte and the regions of La Vera, Las Villuercas, Los Ibores and Siberia Mountains. This way you can admire the popular mountain-architecture, the slate farmsteads that sit among waterfalls and meanders, gorgeous Jewish quarters such as the one at Hervás, cherry orchards, monumental villas and health resorts like Baños de Montemayor.
Guadalupe is a historic village, with cobbled streets and traditional homes, filled with valuable monuments, like the Sanctuary-Monastery of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, declared World Heritage. Guadaloupe is also a great starting point if the traveller wishes to visit nearby mountain-towns within the region of Las Villuercas, like Cañamero, Logrosán, or Berzocana. The simple, yet succulent Extremaduran cuisine, prepared with ingredients of exceptional quality, is one of the main appeals of the area.
Set on the foothill of Sierra de Altamira, La Puebla de Guadalupe is an illustrious town, because of its history and the remarkable monumental patrimony that it preserves. This typical mountain village, declared Historic-Artistic Site, grew under the wing of the Sanctuary-Monastery of Our Lady of Guadaloupe.
The Monastery, which was declared World Heritage in 1993, was commissioned by King Alfonso XI of Castile in the 14th century as a sign of gratitude to the Virgin, after winning the Battle of Salado (1340).
Since its foundation, the Monastery became one of the main pilgrimage centres in the Peninsula. It was also the stage of significant events, like the audience that the Catholic Monarchs granted Christopher Columbus to give him the caravels that would take him on his journey to the New World.
After passing the astonishing façade, with a remarkable bronze gate, you enter the building. Inside there are two outstanding cloisters, one Gothic and one Mudejar and a pavilion that exhibits the transition from Gothic to Mudejar.
You must not miss the sacristy, which has eleven paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán. Likewise, you must take a look at the Virgin's side-chapel, built by Lucas Jordán, which holds the image of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, patron saint of Extremadura.
Located in the central Plaza de Santa María, the fountain of Tres Caños is a reminder of one of the historical milestones of La Puebla, since it was in this square that the first Indians brought by Columbus from his second journey to America were baptised.
Across from the Monastery is the old hospital of San Juan Bautista (15th century), the present Parador de Turismo of Guadaloupe (Inn). Throughout its existence, the building received thousands of pilgrims that travelled to Guadaloupe. It was also an important School of Medicine, where many of the doctors that worked for the Royal Court were trained.
The hospital has an annexe that constitutes a reminder of the cultural splendour that the town enjoyed in the past: the Colegio de Infantes (College of Infantes), where students learned grammar, singing and theology.
Main Street (calle Mayor) is the main artery in a network of cobbled streets lined with traditional homes that have wooden balconies, porticoes and porches and it connects the higher and lower parts of the city. The College of Grammar and the Hermitage of the Shrine (15th century), in the outskirts of the city, are also worthy of note.
Culture, gastronomy and the outskirts
Guadalupe is a great showcase of the regional cuisine. Dishes that are characterised by their simplicity and excellent quality of their ingredients are: Iberian sausages, "ajoblanco" (a cold soup with almonds, garlic, bread and olive oil), "migas" (breadcrumbs with Spanish sausage and bacon), lamb stew and "Father-Pedro-style" chicken. Wines with the label Designation of Origin-Ribera del Guadiana go very well with any of these dishes. One of the most important holidays in La Puebla is the one celebrated to honour the Virgin of Guadaloupe, which takes place on the 8th of September.
A trip to Guadalupe is the perfect excuse to travel around Las Villuercas, a massif situated in eastern Extremadura. Gorgeous mountain scenery will dazzle the traveller, as he or she visits the towns of Bohonal de Ibor, Cañamero, Logrosán and Berzocana.
CUACOS DE YUSTE.
The monumental site of Cuacos was declared a Historic-Artistic Site in 1959.There are three squares that we must visit in Caucos de Yuste: the Plaza de Don Juan de Austria, shaped like an oval and lined with houses that have wooden balconies and porches; Plaza de España; and Plaza de los Chorros, with a harmonious popular atmosphere. The parish church of Nuestra Señora de Asunción, from the 15th century, is one of the most elaborate and interesting temples in the region.
However, a considerable part of Cuacos de Yuste's patrimony is located in its municipality. There we find the hermitages of El Salvador, La Soledad, and Santa Ana. Also, the Gorge of Cuacos, located on the foothills of Sierra Gredos, on a smooth hollow terrain sheltered by Sierra Tormantos, Sierra del Salvador, and Mount San Simón, by which we find beautiful gorges such as "Las Ollas".
The monastery of Yuste deserves special attention. During the 15th century, the church and its first Gothic cloister were built. In the 16th century, a Renaissance cloister was erected east of the other one. Its international fame, however, is due to the fact that this was the dwelling place of emperor Charles I, when he left the crown to his son, Phillip II. A small and austere palace was erected for him, in the southern flank of the convent. The order of Hieronymite inhabits the monastery.
Zafra, also known as Little Seville, is right at the heart of Baja Extremadura, on a plain at the foot of the steep rocky mountains of Sierra de Castellar. The city was consolidated thanks to its location on the strategic "Via de la Plata", or the Silver Route, in Roman Hispania. The San Miguel Cattle Show is in tune with this town's historical commercial tradition.
The town is dominated by the 15th-century Alcázar (fortress). From the outside, it has a military appearance, but the interior resembles a palace. Note the Renaissance cloister in the central courtyard. Nowadays, the Alcázar houses the local Parador de Turismo. The medieval quarter stretches around the fortress, in a network of narrow streets that form a peculiar pattern that resembles the shell of a turtle. A stone wall from the 15th century used to surround it completely; today, only three of the eight gates that it formerly had are still standing. Plaza Grande (Big Square), lined with arches, is at the heart of town. Its little sister, Plaza Chica (Small square) is connected to it through the popular "Arquillo del Pan" (the small arch of bread). Zafra's monumental heritage is very rich, with great buildings such as the sumptuous collegiate church of La Candelaria, erected in 1546, whose interior keeps three reredos, one of them by Zurbarán, and another one by Churriguera; the parish church of San José; several convents, most of which date from the 16th century; the hospital of Santiago, founded in the 15th century, and so forth. As for civil architecture, we have numerous ancestral homes from the 16th-18th centuries, as well as middle class homes from the 19th century.
In the last spurs of the Sierra de San Pedro, on the banks of the Tajo river, the historic quarter of Alcántara unfolds. The city, located on the border that separates Spain from Portugal, informally called "Raya", has a valuable monumental patrimony. Some of the most important constructions include the Roman bridge and those built by the Order of Alcantara. Holm-oak and cork-oak forests are part of the gorgeous scenery that surrounds the Alcántara reservoir, an excellent place for water sports, hiking and horse riding. The bank of the Tajo river also provides many points where the traveller can go fishing.
One of the most emblematic constructions of the town of Alcántara, in Caceres, takes you back to Roman Hispania. It is the Roman bridge, an engineering marvel that was built in the second century over the waters of the Tajo River, which the Romans called Tagus Aurifer. The bridge is more than 200 metres long and 60 metres high, it has six arches and preserves an honorary arch dedicated to Emperor Trajan. Some of the most important monuments in the urban layout of this town were built at the initiative of the Order of Alcántara. During the Middle Ages and up to the 13th century, Extremadura was the border between the kingdoms of Leon and the Moors. For this reason, a number of Military Orders took control over these lands after the Reconquest. The parish church of Our Lady of Almocóvar is a great example of this period, which mainly followed the Romanesque style (already widespread in the north of the Peninsula). Raised on top of an ancient mosque, the church has beautiful fronts that announce the incoming Gothic style.
Alcantara preserves many other buildings, among which are the churches of San Benito, San Pedro and Rocamador. The discovery and colonization of America brought great wealth to Spain, as evidenced by the rich ornamentation of these religious temples. The political power of the Spanish Austrias also left a mark in these new buildings and in the medieval remodelling work, which enhances the town of Almocóvar with the panels of the great painter of the times, Luis Morales.
Thus, construction work in the administrative and religious see of the Order of Alcantara at San Benito de Alcántara began in the 16th century. The best artists of the times, like Pedro Larrea and Pedro de Ybarra, worked in the construction of the compound, which includes a convent, a church and a hostelry. The Gothic cloister was erected on top of an Arab fortress. A remarkable feature is an exterior loggia with three levels of arches.
A city in Badajoz where many different cultures, knowledge and artistic styles overlap, from prehistoric times to Gothic and Baroque. It is surrounded by meadows with excellent pasture for stockbreeding, the base of the local economy.
The origins of Jerez de los Caballeros dates back to the times of the Phoenicians, although many other cultures have settled there. The oldest archaeological finding in this region is the Dolmen of the Torriñuelo Farm, a National Monument, where paintings and an interesting funeral offering were found. Roman villas, Visigothic remains and Arab influences form part of this town, midway between Portugal and Andalusia. This fact is also seen in the many traditions and customs that overlap there. But Extremadura has always been the birthplace of conquerors and discoverers, and it was precisely in Jerez de los Caballeros where the first European to ever see the Pacific Ocean, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, was born. After the colonization of America, many noblemen and public officers returned to their motherland, bringing along wealth from the New World. Palatial houses and ancestral homes now grace the urban layout of this town, along with convents and hermitages.
Among the most important monuments in this town are the Templar Fortress, since Jerez de los Caballeros was the site of the Bayliato of the Order of the Templar Knights until the 14th century. The church of Santa María de la Encarnación, on the other hand, gathers Baroque and Rococo elements. These characteristics can be observed particularly in the side-chapel. The towers of the churches of San Miguel, San Bartolomé and Santa Catalina exhibit a Baroque style. Its stone structures are ornamented with brick, plasterand glazed ceramic, making up compounds of great beauty and decorative value.
Narrow streets lined with whitewashed façades and stone towers are the scenery of the religious Easter processions, a festivity that has been declared of Regional Tourist Interest. The images, usually venerated inside the churches, are then taken out to the streets, for the joy of hundreds of participants.
Another excellent time to get to know Jerez de los Caballeros is during the Ham Trade Show. For a few days, products with the label Designation of Origin - Dehesa de Extremadura compete with each other, offering the best hams and sausages made with acorn-fed Iberian pork. The sampling of the local cuisine can continue with tomato soup, roast lamb, lamb casserole and several different kinds of cheese. The stews are all prepared with the exquisite olive oil produced in the region. And next to these tempting foods, wine with the label Designation of Origin - Ribera del Guadiana, is the best companion.
The stone bridge, a civil architecture project from the Renaissance, stands over a riverbed that is dry since 1590, when the Alagón river was naturally diverted from its course as a result of a powerful flood. Coria's past is Roman and Arab. Its walls, with 20 square towers and four gates, are a magnificent example of Roman defence architecture from the 2nd though 4th centuries, preserving still some of their original funerary steles on them. The 15th-century castle still has its keep standing, as well as the "castillejo", a bastion. The cathedral was built in a variety of styles, given the long time it took to complete, which began in the 15th century in Gothic-Renaissance style. A few kilometres away we find the high seminary, a 17th-century building that preserves the remains of a Roman funeral monument.
Another outstanding buildings from the town's monumental heritage are the 15th-century convent of Madre de Dios (Mother of God), located within the confines of the wall; the episcopal palace, built in 1626; the church of Santiago, from the 16th century, with a Mannerist reredos, and images from the 16th to the 18th centuries; the royal prison, present site of the City Museum; the ecclesiastical prison, built in 1760; and a botanical garden in the outskirts.
There are two traditional fiestas in Coria: "the bull of Saint John", celebrated from the 23rd thru the 29th of June, where bulls run freely through the streets, followed by the local folk; and Tourist Thursday, on the second Thursday of August, date when people who emigrated from Coria get together again.
By rule of the 1297 Alcañices Treaty, Olivenza belonged to Portugal until 1801. Both Spanish and Portuguese monuments were restored thanks to a municipal initiative. Olivenza was founded by the Order of the Templar Knights in the 13th century. Nowadays, the town still follows its Portuguese tradition. In general, its architecture combines styles from both countries, and its monumental heritage is quite rich.
The historic quarter, surrounded by a wall, had a total of fourteen towers. In 1334, construction work began for the fortress inside the walls. But it was in 1488 when the tallest tower in the border was built, thirty-seven metres high. Within the fortress, in the King's Bakery, which dates from the 18th century, we find the Ethnographic Museum. The church of La Magdalena, from the 16th century, is a genuine masterpiece of the Manuelline style. The church of the Hermandad de la Misericordia (Brotherhood of Mercy) reached its present appearance in 1732, although its hospital has gone through countless remodellings. The construction of the convent of Clarisas (Nuns of the Order of St. Clare), also known as the convent of San Juan de Dios, took almost a century (1556-1631). Nowadays, this building houses an Arts Centre, and a Theatre and Dance School. In the chapel of Evangelio, in Santa María del Castillo, we can admire the most stunning reredos in Olivenza, one of the few of its kind that still remains. It represents a fifteen-metre-high tree.
Being on the border with Portugal, Olivenza built many fortresses lined with bastions, as well as many other fortified structures such as the Arsenal of Santa Bárbara, the watchtowers found by the gates, and the barracks.
The festivities of the converted Jews, in addition to plays that are staged about Jewish culture and customs, are a testimony of the important legacy that this community left in Hervás. The most significant feature in Hervás' historical heritage is the Jewish quarter. Its narrow, steep streets are lined with houses clustering together like grapes, which were made with adobe and chestnut-wood frameworks, their roofs plastered with Arab tiles to shield the wind. The architectural heritage includes remarkable civil buildings such as the palace of Dávila, a large house from the middle of the 18th century, which at present houses a stately home-museum, and a public library. The religious heritage includes the parish church of Santa María, erected in the 13th century, which exhibits elements that were added from the 16th century thru the 17th; the convent of the Trinitarian Fathers, inaugurated in 1659; the hermitage of San Andrés, from the 14th century, which at present houses the religious image of Cristo de la Salud, patron saint of Hervás; and the hermitage of San Antón.
The infirmary of the Franciscan monks, from the 18th century, is currently home to the City Hall and the Municipal Police.
In Hervás, we can find beautiful leather and wooden handicrafts, as well as a peculiar collection of classic motorcycles, the first in Spain and the second in Europe.
Extremadura is a meeting place between the works of Nature and those of Man. Nature remains intact in the extensive forests and scrublands which cover much of the rural landscape and which now provide a refuge for some of the most threatened species in Europe. Human influence is seen in the managed oak forests, pastures and cultivated land, which also provide havens for wildlife.
Woodlands, scrubland (Maquis) and oak-studded plains make up the natural landscape of Extremadura. Large tracts remain intact and untouched, such as in the nature reserves of Monfragüe and Cornalvo and also in La Vera, the valleys of Jerte and Ambroz. The mountain regions of the Sierras de Gata, Las Villuercas, San Pedro, Hornachos, Jerez de los Caballeros and Tentudia all remain in a wild state.
These regions, with their rich and diverse flora and fauna, provide one of the last European refuges for numerous endangered species such as the Spanish Imperial Eagle, the Black Vulture, the Black Stork, the Iberian Lynx and the Wolf. The European Cranes which migrate each year to winter in the oak forests of Extremadura are another indicator of the region's international significance.
Pastures and cereal crops make up the characteristic Steppe landscape of the extensive Extremaduran plains. The best examples of these are in the Llanos de Cáceres, in the southern half of that province, and also in La Serena, La Campiña Sur and the Guadiana floodplain. Here the Great Bustard is the flagship species; a quarter of the global population lives here. Other Steppe species, adapted to open terrain, are also abundant. They include the Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Montagu's Harrier and Lesser Kestrel.
Extremadura has extensive wetlands, chiefly reservoirs (Embalses) along the two main river systems. The Tagus is dammed at Valdecañas, Torrejón, Alcántara and Cedillo. The Tagus tributaries include the dams of Borbollón, Gabriel y Galán, Salor and others. The Guadiana links the reservoirs of Cijara, Puerto Peña, Orellana, La Serena and Alange.
The wetlands are home to a diversity of flora and fauna, including ten fish species endemic to Iberia. Otters are abundant along the rivers and a great diversity of aquatic and waterside birds use the marshlands to breed as well as on migration and in winter.
The towns and villages of Extremadura bear the stamp of centuries of influence by many different cultures. They include Mérida, the regional capital, Cáceres, Badajoz and over 500 other settlements. Here human initiatives for sustainable development of the region are under way. The settlements accommodate many birds which have long-ago adapted to the man-made environment. White Storks and Lesser Kestrels are typical. Together with Barn Owls, Barn Swallows, House Martins, swifts and sparrows, they present a very visible example of Man and Nature coexisting in harmony.
In Extremadura, a variety of Spanish called castúo is spoken by 200,000 to 500,000 people, including some monolinguals. Most speakers are in the northern dialect. There are also a Portuguese dialect-speaking strips in the west.
The Fala is still used by 5,500 active speakers in the language area and other 5,000 outside, many of whom return each summer. The influence area is in the northwest corner of Extremadura, an isolated valley on the Portuguese border called Val de Xalima or Val du riu Ellas, towns of Valverdi du Fresnu, Sa Ellas and Sa Martín de Trebellu.
The A-5 highway connect Caceres and Badajoz with Madrid and Lisbon, and the A-66 crosses the region from north to south. The airport located on the outskirts of Badajoz connects the inhabitants of region with Madrid and Barcelona. The road and rail network extends to all the towns in the region, and connects them with Spain's major cities.
THE VÍA DE LA PLATA.
It is the road axis which has crossed Extremadura from north to south since ancient times. (The name itself refers to the Roman road which followed its course.) This is an attractive tourist route, from the point of view both of culture and landscape, since it goes through some of the region’s most important historical sites. It also provides easy access to some interesting locations which are among the most representative of the peoples and cultures which have settled in Extremadura.
The “Via de la Plata” Route begins in the Ambroz valley, up in the north on the border with Castilla y León, and passes through the stately, renaissance city of Plasencia, and through Cáceres, one of Europe’s most beautiful historic cities, and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, where time seems to have stood still since the palaces were built. It then continues through Mérida, another UNESCO World Heritage site, and possibly the most important archaeological site in Europe, with its spectacular Roman Theatre, (where after 2,000 years you can still go to a performance when the prestigious Classical Theatre Festival plays here every summer) and the unmissable National Museum of Roman Art. The “Via de la Plata” Route continues through the “Tierra de Barros” (so called because of the region’s exceptional pottery traditions) and ends in the southern county of Tentudía-Sierra Sur, whose broad horizons stretch into Andalusia.
Less than an hour off this major route there are other key sites such as the border city of Badajoz, with its magnificent “Alcazaba” or Moorish castle, a reminder of its glorious Arabic history; the Monastery of Guadalupe, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a classic example of the Mudejar period; and majestic Trujillo, with its peaceful and charming old quarter, legacy of the renaissance period.
For lovers of contemporary art, Extremadura is noted for museums such as the Badajoz MEIAC, which specialises in Extremaduran and Latin-American artists, and the Vostell-Malpartida Museum founded by Wolf Vostell, the father of the “fluxus” and “happening” movements, who has blended the avant-garde with rural surroundings to a most surprising result.
In spring, the skies around the villages of Extremadura are thronged with birds. Swallows, Martins and Swifts nest in the eaves and balconies. Sparrows, Spotless Starlings and Lesser Kestrels inhabit the roofs. White Storks stud the belfries, greeting each other with resounding bill-claps, "making Gazpacho" as the Extremadurans call it since it reminds them of the chopping of the ingredients for the traditional chilled soup (Gazpacho). The White Storks are undoubtedly the most representative of Extremadura's birds. They have been neighbours and friends to Man for centuries, witnesses to the history and living heritage of the stunning architecture of cities such as Cáceres, Plasencia and Trujillo. They are also in the villages, notably in El Gordo, often known as the stork village, Alcantara, Brozas, Garrovilla and Malpartida, on the famous Roman aqueduct in Merida and on the churches, palaces and convents of Zafra, Llerena, Jerez de los Caballeros and Fregenal de la Sierra.
Extremadura is the land of storks. White Storks are present everywhere, in town and country alike, including in the pine woods of the Tiétar, the dehesas of Cornalvo Nature Reserve and on the unusual granitic formations of Los Barruecos.
Black Storks too can also be seen, shy and comparatively elusive, but finding safe nesting sites among the high cliffs of Monfragüe Nature Reserve, one of the best sites in Europe for this rare and threatened species.
The quality of Extremaduran gastronomy stems from the excellent quality of its basic ingredients, which is the reason why the region has one of the most extensive lists of “Denominaciones de Origen” in the whole of Spain. Such success is mainly the result of maintaining traditional large scale production methods generally associated with the pasturelands, and with the concept of sustainable development which reconciles high productivity with respect for the environment.
Food and gastronomy have always had a special place at the heart of the Extremaduran identity. If you get to know and to enjoy the flavours of Extremadura, you will come that little bit closer to understanding Extremadurans, and the way they have kept their diet natural and healthy. In addition to free-range lamb and beef, excellent cheeses – especially sheep’s cheese – red wines and “Ribera del Guadiana” white wines, olive oil, honey and paprika, Extremadura is particularly famous for Iberian ham products. The pigs are reared in semi-wild conditions, foraging on acorns in the cork-oak woods, and this is the key to producing the world’s best ham and cured sausage.
Besides the centuries-old traditional recipes there is also a distinctive and creative Extremadura cuisine which has taken its place within the national gastronomy, and which has an increasing number of followers. In fact, Extremadura is a region where tradition and the newest trends mix, where the avant-garde has found the best quality ingredients which will captivate the visitor.
Extremadura has 77.844 hectares of vineyards (4.850 hectares in Caceres and 72.994 hectares in Badajoz), divided in six vine-growing regions, today make up the Guarantee of Origin Ribera del Guadiana.
Extremadura's first DO takes its name from the river that runs east to west through its vineyards. The DO Ribera del Guadiana groups six sub-zones distributed between the region’s two provinces: Badajoz to the south, and Cáceres to the north.
Today the area shows evidences of a decisive belief in the modernisation of viticulture and oenology. At the same time each producer continues to preserve his or her own style. As a result, there has been an exceptional improvement in both the red and white wines made here.
The largest sub-zone is Tierra de Barros, which achieved a certain fame exporting wines in the Vino de la Tierra category. The DO continues to encourage new working methods such as the renewal of varieties, the updating of harvesting methods and the modernisation of the facilities needed to handle the increase in the number of barrels produced.
Thanks to all these factors, this region's image as a producer of wines with a high alcohol content and little structure is changing. Today, the emphasis is on greater fruitiness in the young wines and good wood blending in its aged wines.