Cáceres (way out west)
Cáceres may not be so well-known to the average traveller as, say, Seville or Barcelona, but it is certainly a place that rewards those intrepid voyagers who are prepared to go that extra mile. It is a city characterised by numerous old palaces, endless archaeological exhibits, and the unique Moorish underground water deposit (the “aljibe”) with it’s 16 arabic vaulted arches.
The old city is a centre of both commerce and tourism, bounded at one end by the Plaza de Santa Maria and at the other by the Plaza San Mateo. No fewer than 30 mediaeval towers lie within the curtilage, as well as the Moorish mud-brick Torre del Horno. The Church of Santiago, built in the 1100s is a beautiful, highly ornate building, and for enthusiastic students of religious architecture there is also the church of San Mateo and the gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria.
Archaeological finds around Cáceres date back to stone-age and bronze-age times, but the city first enters recorded history with the arrival of Celts, who foreshadowed the subsequent conquests by the Romans and then the Moors. Like elsewhere in Spain, the Moorish influence was huge, and still remains in so much of the old buildings, place names and even many words that survive into modern Spanish. Eventually, the Moors were ousted by the Christian re-conquerors, and a new golden age was created as the churches and the palaces of the christian nobility took their place alongside the surviving older buildings. Bit by bit, the simple forms of the old order were replaced by the increasingly ornate fripperies that culminated in “Spanish baroque”.
In 1833 Cáceres was named the official capital of Extremadura and the population and the economy grew until the Spanish civil war. In 1986 Cáceres was awarded the title of World Heritage Site by UNESCO, in recognition of the city’s place as one of the lesser-known gems of Spanish architecture and history. Visitors who venture west will be well rewarded by both the city of Cáceres and the rural beauty of Extremadura.