Badajoz, Cáceres, Mérida and Plasencia are four essential cities in Extremadura. These are the principal cities of a region in Spain, which is just west of Madrid and borders with Portugal. Culture, history and heritage are combined and take you by the hand to meet the wonders enclosed in these places.
Walk Badajoz after a hearty breakfast
There is nothing better than to discover Badajoz after a good breakfast. Around this first meal of the day there is a whole cultural proposition. Visitors will be able to savor “Migas” which is a combination of sautéed breadcrumb combined with different ingredients that can be either salty or sweet; also, local breads with olive oil and of course the incomparable Iberian Jam. Visitors might want to try a typical dish called “cachuela”, which is fried pork liver in lard, so delicious that it will leave a lasting flavor in you mouth. All this will prepare you for a fine visit to the city.
The Islamic wall of Alcazaba, which can be viewed in the photograph above and the Cathedral are Historical Monuments of Badajoz. From the first, on a clear day you can see neighboring country, Portugal. And if you decide to visit the Alcazaba at dusk the image of the sunset will be unforgettable. The Badajoz Cathedra has paintings of one of the most recognized artist of Extremadura: Divino Morales. In addition of these works at the Cathedral, the city offers a museum to recognize this “maestro”, whose works were recently on display at the Prado Museum of Madrid.
The Tower of Espantaperros has an octagonal floor. The Plaza Alta with its red facades; the Casas Mudejares of the XVI Century, are the oldest well preserved houses in Spain; and the unique buildings of La Giralda and Las Tres Campanas are true icons of the city of Badajoz. At the contemporary side we will find the Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporaneo (The Contemporary Art Museum of Extremadura and Latin America) that is located in a reformed old prison. And the Palacio de Congresos (Exhibition and Conference Center) at a reformed bullfighting arena is one of the most representative buildings, for its architecture, in Spain, according to MOMA. At some point along your route you will reach the Paseo de San Francisco (the Walk of Saint Francis) with its bandstand, palm trees and lampposts of a Fernandina style. There you can breathe nature, at Azud del Guadiana, the dam of river Guadiana. This is a special protection zone for birds. If you plan you visit during Carnival or Eastern, you will enjoy two celebrations that have been declared of National Tourist Interest.
Discover the best view of Cáceres
The old town of Cáceres is a must but if you decide to extend your visit to the historical Castilian part of the city you will be rewarded. This includes de Jewish Quarter, hermitages and city vantage points such as Fuente Fria, Fuente Concejo and San Marquino, from where you can take the best photos of the Monumental City.
Cáceres has been declared a World Heritage Site since 1986 and is a frequent destination for all kinds of travelers and cinematographic production houses, for the beauty of its old town, considered the best preserved in all Europe. It exhibits buildings from de Middle Ages but also from the Renaissance. The traditional access to the old town from the Plaza Mayor is the Arco de la Estrella (The Star Arch), a few meters from which the Co-Cathedral Santa María opens to visitors. The unique Cristo Negro (Black Christ), which is carried through the historic center on every Holy Week of Tourist Interest, can be viewed in the temple. The Co- Cathedral also has a museum of sacred art.
The well or Algibe, which is of Hispanic and Arabic origin, can be seen at the Museo de Cáceres, which is an interesting place to visit. Similarly, the Palacio de los Golfines de Abajo exhibits a noble house. The Casa Palacio de los Becerra is the headquarters of the Fundación Mercedes Calle, a cultural center of art and antiques. While the Casa de los Moraga (the House of the Moraga) serves a center for Extremadura craftsmanship and the Centro de Artes Visuales Helga de Avelar (Center for Visual Arts Helga Avelar) exhibits the most important collection of international contemporary art in Spain.
It is impossible to list the succession of noble houses, churches and cultural centers in Cáceres. The best way to discover them is to get lost along the beauty of its medieval streets.
Stop at Plaza de España in the city of Mérida
Merida is pure and living history that visitors can discover and enjoy in an unlimited way. The Plaza de España with its terraced coffee shops is a good place to stop to recover your stamina after hours of sightseeing. Merida and its Roman Archeological complex have been a World Heritage Site since 1993 and also, a cultural reference of Extremadura in the world. It is a place loaded with active history as demonstrated by their Roman Theater, which host the International Festival of Classic Theater every summer.
The Merida Amphitheater was the site of fights among gladiators during the times of the Roman Empire; the Roman Circus hosted horse races during the same period; the Morería together with its Center of Interpretation- Via de la Plata; the house of Mitreo where you can see how a noble Roman house was set for living, in the outskirts of the Roman Empire; the Aqueduct of the miracles, which is 27 meters high; the Roman Bridge with stunning views of the city; the Temple of Diana, where sacrifices were offered to the gods… are part of a legacy that is summarized in the National Museum of Roma Art, with the largest collection of Roman Art in Spain.
Merida is a summary of cultures way beyond the Romans, with examples such as the Arabic Alcazaba, the oldest in the Iberian peninsula; the Church of Santa Clara with its Visigoth Art Museum; the Basilica of Santa Eulalia, the first Christian temple of the Iberian peninsula or the Co-Cathedral of Santa Maria Mayor. These historical sites share their space with magnificent examples of modern art, such as the Lusitania Bridge, designed by Calatrava and the Palacio de Congresos (Convention Center).
During the year 2016 Merida has been named the Capital Iberoamericana de la Cultura Gastronómica (Iberia- American Capital of Gastronomical Culture).
Plasencia to the rhytm of Mayorga
Walk through Plasencia with the sound of the clock of Grandfather Mayorga in the background. This is an icon for all the people of Plasencia; it is the figure on the top of the tower at the Plaza Mayor. This is the place where every Tuesday, since the founding of the city an open air market takes place for the selling of the produce from the northern regions of Extremadura. This is a market that every year has its maximum celebration with the Martes Mayor (Grand Tuesday). It is a celebration of Cultural Interest in Extremadura and takes place the first Tuesday, every year, in August.
Plasencia unites its historical legacy since the founding of the city in the XII Century with a magnificent Wall that opens to the historical area through multiple gates: Trujillo, Coria, Berrozanas, Sol, Talavera, del Carro, de Clavero, and Postigo del Salvador. Also, Torre Lucia with its Interpretation Center of the Medieval City is one of the most interesting points of the Wall and offers visitors a special vantage point while strolling through the barbican. The views toward Santa Barbara and the Valle del Jerte (Jerte River Valley) are impressive.
The stone pavement of the Cathedral is another vantage point and around the corner is the New Cathedral with its facades in Renaissance Plateresque style. While the Old Cathedral is a transition form Romanesque to Gothic. The two building seem to grow into one construction. The Major Altar Piece and the Choir of the New Cathedral, the Chapel of Saint Paul and the Tower of the Melon of the old Cathedral depict the richness of the entire buildings. And demonstrates the reason why it has captured the imagination of set designers and the producers of television series such as Isabel and “Still Star Crossed”.
In the surrounding areas of the Cathedrals there are many points of interest such the Casa del Dean (Home of the Dean) with its chamfered balcony and the old hospital of Santa María, which now houses the School of Fine Arts and the music Conservatory Garcia Matos. Just a few meters ahead, around Santo Domingo, visitors will find the Palace of the Marqués de Mirabel and the Parador Nacional de Turismo, an old Dominican convent, now converted into a five star hotel, one of the most beautiful representatives of the Spanish hotel chain. This is an area where the visitors will find samples of the Jewish heritage of Plasencia. Also, Jewish is the ancient Cemetery, which is now well marked for visitors and is situated in place called Berrocal.
The parks of Plasencia are a good choice for touring visitors, especially Los Pinos if travelling with children or La Isla, crossed by the Jerte River and can be reached by the Puente de Trujillo. At this place a sign posted shows the place where Sorrolla, an important Spanish painter, created one of his masterpieces: El Mercado (the Market).
The protected location of Valcorchero, with its very special cave Boquique and the sanctuary of the Puerto (Port) from where you can see the city, should be included in any visit to Plasencia.
Original article by Pilar Armero
Translated by Susana Windt
Published in December, 2016