Cáceres and Extremadura – The Siberia of Spain (Blog #17)

Spain is a marvel. My journey has been great. Thank you for joining me on this pilgrim and journey!

Cáceres and Extremadura – The Siberia of Spain

You can fall in love with a city, just like falling in love with a person or visiting a college and quickly at once that this is where you be. There’s a sense or feeling of compatibility between the city and you. Such was Cáceres for me.

I had seen pictures of this medieval city and some old photos made it look like the essence of the Spanish Middle Ages. This is the time period that I find most interesting. The Church was strong and played a major role in society. There were thriving monasteries, convents and religious orders, great theologians and fantastic churches. The culture, authors, architecture, art and history of the Middle Ages all appeal to me.

I do not have the same feeling about ancient Roman civilization or the paleolithic period. If I could go back in time, it would be interesting to visit Europe in the Middle Ages, but it would be extremely rigorous compared to the amenities that we enjoy today.

Cáceres is a city of churches, convents and medieval family mansions. It’s located in the Extremadura – one of Spain’s 17 self-governing regions. The Extremadura is known as the Siberia of Spain. It is one of the largest regions in Spain but only has a population of only 1.2 million residents, who are widely scattered. Much of this region is sparsely populated.

Cáceres has 96,000 residents. The city that lies on the Via de la Plata, which is one of 26 major routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela. This is the longest route leading to Santiago, taking you 960 kilometers or 596 miles with the average stage being 35.5 kilometers or 22 miles. In the summer, it’s impossible to walk this due to the extreme heat, lack of shade and long stretches of walking. There are few albergues to stay in and very few pilgrims walking it.

The first evidence of humans living in Cáceres dates to the Late Paleolithic period some 25,000 years B.C. The city was founded by the Romans in 25 B.C., who erected walls around the city. Unlike most walled cities, the plaza mayor (main plaza) is located outside the city walls. Cáceres is Spain’s 68th largest city, but it has one of the ten largest plaza mayors in Spain.

The Roman city was destroyed by Visigoths, rebuilt by Arabs, fortified by Moors, and conquered by Christians on the feast day of St. George (April 23, 1229 A.D.), who legend says slayed a dragon. Because Christians conquered the city on this day, St. George has been the patron saint of Cáceres ever since.

Today, it is a university town and has several regional governmental departments located there as well. There are few thriving corporations or businesses to serve as major employers. Tourism is vital to the city. Approximately 85% of the tourism comes from Spaniards. Only 15% of the tourists are international, with the largest portion coming from England, Germany, France and Italy.

Few Americans visit Cáceres, which is regrettable as this is the Spain that you imagine when watching old movies. Indeed, many movies have been filmed here, including a life of St. Francis of Assisi, which used Cáceres instead of Assisi as its setting, and most recently Game of Thrones. Cáceres is a medieval city that appears to come right out of central casting. It is a UNESCO World Heritage city, one of only 47 in Spain, which has the third most World Heritage cities in the world after Italy and China.

The main church in Cáceres was built over the ruins of a mosque. It was begun in Romanesque style, evolved with Gothic touches and was finished in Renaissance style. Much of Cáceres was built when Spain and Portugal were the two leading powers in the world.

The walled city originally had 30 towers. It would have resembled San Gimignano in Italy had Queen Isabel of Spain not ordered the towers to be cut down in size. Only one was allowed to remain in its total height. The Jewish quarter in the lowest least desired part of the city – one a sloping piece of land on the lowest area inside the city walls. In 1477, the Jews living inside the walled city were forced to move outside the city walls. They resettled in homes near the Plaza Mayor, but were expelled completely from Spain in 1492. These were the Sephardic Jews as opposed to the Ashkenazi Jews, who hailed from Northern Europe.

During my stay, I took three two-hour walking tours in Spanish, which were incredibly interesting. Private tours can be booked in English. Few signs in museums, churches and monasteries are found in English. Cáceres would be harder to navigate than Toledo or Segovia if someone has no knowledge of Spanish, but unlike Toledo, it’s not a city crawling with tourists. In the old quarter of Toledo, it’s almost impossible to find a shop that does not cater to tourists. Segovia, by contrast, has a mixture of shops designed to cater to local residents and others to tourists and many to both. It is my favorite city in Spain. Cáceres is more like Segovia.

During my visit to Cáceres, I made a reservation to eat at Atrio – one of only 25 two-star Michelin restaurants in Spain. It was a splurge, but well worthwhile. I have only eaten in a few Michelin starred restaurants, but you never forget the meals. They awaken all of the senses and the service is incredible. Atrio was located next to the Parador where I was staying. It had not been on my agenda to eat there, but was fabulous.

After the three-hour lunch, the sommelier took me on a brief tour of the wine cellar, which was incredibly interesting. Atrio’s wine cellar is deemed to be one of the five best in the world. They have wines valued at up to 300,000 euros. They actually have visitors from Mexico and other places who order 30,000 euro bottles of wine. It’s hard to imagine someone doing this. You could buy a small house in Cáceres for this price. Spain has over 200 different types of grapes. The landscape of Extremadura is dry and punctuated with olive groves. Everything is fresh. Farm to table is the Spanish way of life.

My next stops were Trujillo, the city where explorers and Conquistadors who settled 20 countries in South and Central America came from and Merida, which has some of the greatest Roman ruins in the world outside of Rome. They are both worth a visit. Trujillo has no train station. It can only be reached by car, bus or taxi. It didn’t have the same warm feeling to me as Cáceres. Merida is wonderful, if you like Roman ruins and can stand the heat. It’s extremely warm. Spain is a marvel. My journey has been great. Thank you for joining me on this pilgrim and journey!

With love and prayers from Spain,

Marek

 

 

 

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