Heritage and nature destinations pride the UNESCO seal in Extremadura. A distinctive award given to jewels made up by impressive buildings dated back to the times of the Roman Empire in the region, and also to exceptional environmental enclaves. All are gifts to delight both locals and visitors, thus we propose a route of the UNESCO heritage sites in Extremadura, which is a vast region in Spain, west of Madrid and borders with Portugal.
Historic Cáceres a world heritage site
The only two municipalities in Extremadura that belong to the World Heritage Cities group are Cáceres and Mérida. The medieval citadel of Cáceres is one of the most important monuments in the world, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. Specifically, its historic center displays some thirty buildings that were declared “Heritage of Cultural Interest” (Bien de Interés Cultural -BIC) all located in the labyrinth like layout of its medieval streets.
This is a historical center that impresses visitors by the multiple Renaissance palaces such as the Santa Maria Cathedral, two different Jewish quarters, and numerous churches and convents that are very well preserved. They have also attracted television and film producers, like for the series Games of Thrones and the film Cathedral of the Sea. Other films produced in Cáceres are The Arch of Christ of Roman origin, the Tower of Bujaco a very symbolic film. The Plaza de San Jorge also underlines the beauty of Cáceres.
Through history Romans, Jews and Christians lived in this city. Much of the wealth of Cáceres springs from the melting pot of cultures that started in the original “Norba Caesarina”. The history of Cáceres can be seen at the Palace of Mayoralgo, where from 2017 you can visit the archeological site found in 2001, which certifies the Roman origin of the municipality and allows observers to see layer by layer the different historical stages, which pass by 2000 years of history.
Mérida a historic and archeological site
The capital of Extremadura is dotted with history on all corners, ever since emperor Octavian Augustus founded the city as a retirement place for veteran soldiers that fought in the Roman Legions. Mérida was a treasure of the Roman civilization during the times of the empire. It is the only city in Spain that has been named an Archaeological-Historical Complex and in addition has been named World Heritage Site since 1993.
The “Teatro Romano de Mérida” (The Roman Theater of Mérida) is one of the monuments of Extremadura with the greatest international projection, specially centered on the International Festival of Classical Theater that goes beyond national borders and yearly, every summer, attracts thousands of visitors.
During the last 63 years, the theater continues to amaze those who enter this space of ancestral stones, which houses a stage built between the years 15 and 16 BC. Just to think that more than 2000 years ago people would enjoy the same theater spectacles that are being staged today gives you a sense of historical vertigo.
“Emerita Augusta” the Roman name of the foundation of this city, in honor of Emperor Octavian Augustus has many historical treasures, in addition to the Amphitheater: the “Casa de Mitreo” (House of Mitreo) that was discovered in 1960 and houses the famous cosmogonist mosaic, the Arch of Trajan, the Aqueduct of the Miracles and the Temple of Diana are just a few places worth visiting during your trip to Mérida. The latter is being subject to a process of archeological surgery, which in 2016 made possible a visit to the “Palacio de los Corbos” (Palace of the Corbos) that was originally built next to the columns of the Temple of Diana. Just a few months ago the Palace was not accessible to the public because of its ruinous state.
Monfragüe National Park and Biosphere Reserve
Monfragüe is one of the essential landscapes of Extremadura. It is mosaic made by nature that offers spectacular sites such as the “Salto del Gitano” (the Gipsy Waterfall). A place that has wonderful sites all year around. In the kingdom of the black vultures, on the banks of the Tagus you can see the most unique sunsets.
The Monfragüe National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003) is a paradise for bird watching and its popularity has grown internationally. The international Fair of Ornithology and its attendance that grows every year so testify.
Monfragüe also stands out for astro-tourism. Since 2014, the park houses a new astronomical observatory with a rotating dome of more than four meters in diameter and three and a half meters in height, from where you can make observations with a telescope.
To enjoy the Universe watching the stars under the unique sky of Monfragüe is an enriching experience. As a seal of confidence the park was distinguished in 2016 as the Starlight Tourist Destination of Extremadura, which certifies the quality of its sky in terms of being without light pollution.
The bellowing of the deer is another touristic proposal offered by this biosphere reserve, where you can witness the spectacular roar of the deer as a prelude to the autumnal mating season in Extremadura, during the months of September and October.
The Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe
Before landing at one of the most beautiful villages in Extremadura, it is worth seeing the imposing Monastery from the hill of “Altamiras”, about four kilometers away from Guadalupe. There you will find a hermitage named “Humilladero”, an excellent vantage point for the region of “Ibores”. From this point, the Fifteen Century pilgrims were able to see, for the first time the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe, World Heritage Site since 1993. Thousand of Pilgrims, each year, come to this place to express their devotion to the Lady, who is the patroness of Extremadura and of major Hispanic countries.
Visitors can admire a melting pot of various architectural styles that make up this monastery: Gothic, Mudejar, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical. This is a spectacular symbiosis amidst a unique natural environment.
The picturesque Mudejar facade of the Monastery attracts the awe of visitors that cross the Plaza before the entrance of the Monastery, a building that is surrounded by history. Here, Columbus was entrusted to the Virgin, Patroness of Extremadura and Queen of Hispanity. And Columbus himself baptized two New World natives at the historic stone fountain that still stand at the Plaza.
The royal Monastery has important works of art that can be enjoyed during a visit. We must highlight the beauty of the main altar and its altarpiece. The tabernacle was originally a desk owned by king Phillip II of the 16th century. The choir stalls and the sacristy, both from the 18th century, are very interesting. Additionally, a key masterpiece of Zurbaran can be seen at the Monastery: “The Apotheosis of Saint Jerome”.
The Guadalupe Monastery is also a National Monument and it is located next to our forthcoming stop on this route of Heritage Sites in Extremadura.
The World Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara
When in November 2015 Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara received the UNESCO denomination of World Heritage Site, it entered an exclusive worldwide network of geoparks.
At this place ecotourism becomes an art, with a great diversity of routes that offer unparalleled views: like the path that leads to the geodesic vertex of Berzocana, at an altitude of more than one thousand meters.
Geo-tourism is a big attraction at this park and in order to cater to the aficionados the administration is developing two new geological itineraries between Berzocana and Navezuela and the other between Castañar and Navatrasierra.
The Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark summarizes the culture, the anthropology, the archeology and the history of the territory as much as it does with the geological and natural heritage of this land. An area shaped by the passage of time, which houses the human remains of history that can be confirmed on the rocks, the cave paintings, the dolmens and the remains of the prehistoric settlements.
The Tajo International Park a cross Border Biosphere Reserve
The last title obtained by Estremadura is really a joint title. In 2016, the Tajo International Park was designated as a Biosphere Reserve. This recognition highlights the cross border nature of Extremadura. Considering that this distinction is shared by Spain and Portugal, as the “Tajo-Tejo” Park is located in both countries.
This recognition has constituted the consolidation of the Park as a tourist destination, which has one of the most important attractions of the entire region: A floating interpretation center called “Balcón del Tajo” (the Tagus Balcony). This is a boat that not only offers a river ride but also invites you to discover the curious fauna and flora that resides at this site.
From the imperial eagle and to the black vulture, to the Portuguese lily and the “lusitano” lily all are authentic biological emblems of the International Tajo-Tejo. The best endemic specimens can be bound at this bi-national location.
Ammaia, the Roman city of the International Tagus; the Castle of Marvâo, a small village that looks like a fairy tale; the Jewish quarter of Valencia de Alcántara and the synagogue that comes from the XV Century; the natural pool of Portagem; a route through the dolmens of Valencia de Alcántara or a river trip to Castelo Branco are just some of the attractions offered by the park. In addition, the area of the park combines the best cuisine of the two countries: from the Spanish meats and stews, to the Portuguese fish and desserts.
Original article by Eduardo Villanueva
Translated by Susana Windt
Published on August 2017