THE BELL´S SPELL
The city of Caceres is a wonderful example of what cities were like in the Middle Ages. Within the Old Town there are two areas known as “intramuros”,, the area inside the wall, and “extramuros”,the area outside the wall, which includes the “Plaza Mayor” (Main Square) and the two adjoining neighbourhoods. The intramuros area, is also known as the Monumental City, is an authentic historical treasure declared a World Heritage Sitein 1986.Let’s get to know the jewels that the wall guards! What better way to verify the magnitude of this treasure than by doing so from the heights?
In the Monumental Area is the Holy Mary Co-Cathedral, the most important temple in Caceres and also the oldest, since it was built on a construction dating from the 13thcentury. The sober and rectilinear style of this cathedral results in it being tremendously imposing and majestic, a sensation that is increased by the silence of the surrounding stone buildings. The temple welcomes us through its Gothic entrance, inside, we can admire the plateresque altarpiece, and meet the Black Christ, highly revered by Caceres inhabitants. In addition, this cathedral has a very interesting plan for us…
Climbing the Bell Towerthrough a magic spiral staircase! Thanks to this “bewitched” spiral staircase, we are able to walk through the interior of the three bodies of this Renaissance tower to reach the bell tower while taking a trip back to past times. We can check this out when we arrive at the top of the stair and look out throw the gaps where the bells are located. Thanks to the views that these openings of the tower offer, we will immediately feel part of the past of the city. It’s like every bell can tell us all what they have witnessed throughout the centuries from heights …
General admission to the Holly Mary Co-Cathedral costs 5 euros, although there are different prices for different social sectors. This entry allows you to visit the interior of the temple, the different exhibition rooms, and to climb the bell tower, all explained through an audio guide. Once we descend from the bell tower and return to the present, a curious surprise awaits us in the “Plaza Santa Maria”(Holy Mary Square), right at the base of the bell tower. In one of its corners, almost at street level, a St. Peter of Alcantara Statuewhich is unique for two reasons: the first one is that this sculpture was made in 1954 by Enriquez Perez Comendador, in his own image, a sort of three-dimensions self-portrait.
The second comes as a popular custom that says that anyone who touches or kisses the feet of the saint will find a partner. And if it turns out that love has already knocked on its door, the saint guarantees that the wedding will be shortly…
Holy Mary Co-Cathedral of CaceresPlaza Santa María, s/n. 10003, Caceres
A DIFFERENT WAY OF EATING CHEESE
The gastronomy of this autonomous community is very diverse and nutritive, made with regional products provided by nature. Many of its most typical dishes have very peculiar names, resulting so extremely curious that sometimes it is not easy to remember them. Here are some examples: chanfaina extremeña (a stew made usually with lamb liver, heart, and kidneys), cojondongo (a fresh dish made with chopped garlic, bread, olive oil, vinegar, salt, tomatoes, peppers, and onion), frite de cordero (garlic, onion, bay leaf, paprika, wine, and lamb), zorongollo (it´s a salad based on tomatoes and roasted peppers), perrunillas extremeñas (these are sweets made according to the traditional recipe with lard, eggs and sweet anise)…
Would we be able to repeat them without looking? But among all the delicacies, a succulent one stands out whose name you will remember once you try it, especially if you are a cheese lover. It is the cheese Torta del Casar, a wonder among wonders. This cheese made with sheep´s milk, vegetable rennet, and salt, owes part of its name to its flattened shape and bulging sides, reminiscing the shape of a pie. The cause of this shape is precisely the vegetable rennet used in its preparation, which generates a reaction during the ripening process in which the cheese does not support its own weight and ends up flattened due to its very soft rind.
During the cheese making, the rind is so soft that each piece must be bandaged so that the inner paste does not spill through the cracks in the rind. Pure cream. The final result after the production process is a flattened cheese with a thin semi-hard rind, whose interior contains a creamy delicacy. And here comes what really makes this cheese so special: the way to enjoy it. The first thing that must be known before getting ready to taste it, is that it should be enjoyed warm. Carefully slice the upper part of the cheese with a knife, part that we will save to cover the cheese once it has been tasted. In this way, the rind remains as if it were a bowl that reveals a whitish interior paste, very creamy.
This cream is what we will enjoy spreading on a slice of freshly baked bread or toast. Its intense vegetable flavour has bitter tints, qualities acquired due to the rennet used that comes from a thistle. If we have leftover cheese, it is covered again with the lid that was put aside previously, and it is stored in the fridge until the next tasting. There is a very typical way of tasting this delicacy and it is through a dessert that you will see in many restaurants: “timbal de membrillo y torta del Casar”. It is a dessert in the shape of a small drum made by alternating thin discs of quince jelly with layers of this cheese and topped by crunchy almonds.
The mixture of the sweetness of the marmalade with the bitterness of the cheese is delicious. Do not leave Caceres without enjoying the prestigious torta del Casar, a delicacy exclusive to this region.
A RED TEMPTATION
The extramural part of the Old Town of Caceres is the key commercial area of the city. In fact, the entire set of pedestrian streets that surround the “Plaza Mayor”(Main Square) makes up “the open shopping centre of Caceres”. Among all the types of stores in this area, the Extremadura food products stores stand out. Here, all the gastronomic delicacies of the region can be found, all of them high quality, such as Iberian products like hams, loins sausages, and salamis, that are sold in convenient vacuum packs that can be taken without taking up much baggage space. In these temples of culinary temptation, we find a thousand more Extremadura temptations, and among, them one cannot miss the “Pimentón”(Paprika) de la Vera”, one of the tastiest condiments in the world.
The famous Paprika of la Vera owes its name to the La Vera Municipality, located in the province of Caceres, the cradle of this red powder. The origins of its cultivation are closely related to the history of Spain, since the pepper plant used for its elaboration, was given to the Catholic Monarchsin the Guadalupe Monastery of Cacereswhen it was brought from America. During the 16thcentury, it was the Hieronymite monks of the Yuste Monastery, located in the La Vera Municipality, who began cultivating this plant with all the care in the world. Emperor Charles V was a direct witness to this cultivation, as he chose this secluded place to enjoy peace in his last years.
The intrepid grandson of the Catholic Monarchs found in Vera the peace that he had not had during his bellicose life, while the pepper plant found here the perfect habitat for its cultivation and expansion. They both found their place in the world. The intense flavour of this powder is achieved during the treatment that dehydrates the peppers, carried out through the smoke-drying process with holm oak and oak tree wood, which lasts almost two weeks. The smoky aroma enters the peppers and hence its flavour. Then, to obtain the paprika, the already smoked peppers must be crushed, grinded, and sieved.
La Vera Paprika has great antioxidant power and is an original gift and a wonderful souvenir. Rhis red powder can be found in different varieties, such as sweet, bittersweet, and spicy.
Many of these shops containing products from the Extremadura region can be found in the triangle formed by the Pintores, Paneras,and MoretStreets, as well as in the nearby San PedroStreet.
WHAT A TRIO OF STARS!
Every city has that specific place in which its visitors want to take a photograph that defines the place with only one image and that accumulates all the essence of the city. In Caceres that place is its Plaza Mayor (Main Square). This historic esplanade has always been the nerve centre of the city. In ancient times, the Plaza Mayorhosted different social events, such as cattle fairs or medieval tournaments. Currently, local events continue to be held in this square and it is also a magnificent meeting point thanks to the great number of bars and restaurants that occupy it. In this square, you find the perfect monumental complex that serves as a frame in our “key photograph” since it brings together three of the most important monuments of the city.
Besides, the three of them are so close that they even look like one! But they are three different monuments, with three different stories told through their stones. We refer to the group that forms the Bujaco Tower,the Hermitage of the Peace, andtheArch of the Star. Let´s get to know the components of this stone triplet better… The Bujaco Toweris one of the best examples of the heritage left by the Muslims in Caceres. Built in the 12thcentury following Arab pattern, today it continues to be imposing, both for its strong warlike character and for its pointed battlements that seem to puncture the sky.
In fact, this tower served as a bastion for the Christian knights who fought against the Almohads during the Muslim sieged suffered by the city in 1173. Nowadays, the tower houses a magnificent exhibition in the Three Cultures Interpretation Centre, where they show visitors the passage of the different civilizations that settled in the city. The entrance to this museum allows you to climb to the battlement and enjoy the views from the top of the tower. Next to the Bujaco Tower is theHermitage of the Peace, guarding the heart of the square through its three semi-circular arches.
This hermitage was built in the 18thcentury at the request of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Peace, since until then its brothers celebrated mass under the square´s colonnade. Admission is free but it only opens during mass hours. And finally, we come to the third component of this peculiar triplet: theArch of the Star, which is the main entrance to the Monumental City, and which was raised on the place of a small door that allowed carriages to access the Plaza Mayor. The Arch that stands here today is from the 18thcentury and if we look closely, we notice that it shows a turn toward one of the sides.
It was built precisely like this to facilitate the passage of the carriages of the nobles whose palaces were within the walls.
Plaza Mayor of Caceres10003 - Caceres
THE RAIN´S WHAREHOUSE
In the heart of the Monumental City of Caceres is the Palacio de las Veletas (place of the Weathervanes), a 15thcentury building that was built on a very special place, the foundations of the old Almohad fortress, so special that today is an architectural gem. On the façade of the palace, there are two huge Baroque coats of arms related to many old noble families from Caceres. But the most special thing about this façade is its upper balustrade full of gargoyles and pinnacles that point to the sky. The weathervanes that give the palace its name used to be on this balustrade but they have unfortunately not survived until today.
So now you see, the Palacio de las Veletasno longer has weathervanes (veletas), although it does have very nice gargoyles… Nowadays the Palace houses the Provincial Museum, which is free. In its rooms and exhibitions, one can breathe the history of the province of Caceres and exhibits many pieces related to the history of the province, a province that has been the cradle of conquerors and borderland. Both factors have left a great mark on its history. This is reflected in the pride and love for the region that the exhibited pieces in the museum exude. But without any doubt, the most interesting thing about this Palace of the Weathervanes (without weathervanes) lies in its entrails, in its base, in its foundations.
The building was built on a huge 12thcentury cistern that belonged to the old Almohad fortress. And best of all: the cistern can be visited. A part of this cistern was excavated in the natural rock. It is shaped like a huge rectangle whose measures are 15 metres long by 10 metres wide and is divided into five naves separated by 16 horseshoe arches made of brick that are supported by 12 stone columns. Undoubtedly, it is the largest and best-preserved cistern in the entire Iberian Peninsula. For all this, we are facing the most outstanding Muslim heritage of Caceres, an honour that it´s shared with the wall.
The Almohad already used the cistern to store rainwater, and after the construction of the Palacio de las Veletasover the structure allowed for its function as a water storing facility to remain unchanged. In fact, the Cistern has been functioning as a water supplier for the Caceres inhabitants until the end of the 19thcentury, accumulating all the rain falling on the main courtyard of the palace. In a rear courtyard, an old door still exists. A door through which the neighbours of the city used to enter freely to collect the water they needed for their personal use from the cistern.
Today, the thick walls of this construction continue to store the rain that falls on the Renaissance courtyard. This can be seen during the tour of the Provincial Museum, which includes a visit to the cistern. Fancy a visit to this treasure?
Provincial Museum of Caceres (Veletas Palace)Plaza de las Veletas 1. 10003 Caceres
IN THE SEARCH FOR THE LOST BONE
After having strolled around the placid city of Caceres, it is time to discover one of its darkest secrets. And it is that this serene city may not be so… The culprits of this live hidden in the “Callejón de Don Álvaro”(Don Álvaro´s Alley), a narrow passage that owes its name to a councilman named Álvaro Cavestany. Would they dare to cross an alley that keeps a macabre mystery among its stones? It is a quiet passageway that seems normal to the naked eye, and despite being in the Monumental City, it is not usually very busy. Of course, after knowing its secret we can come to understand the reason, although the truth is that it is not a well-known story and perhaps even many locals ignore it…
The Don Álvaro Alley is a narrow passageway that springs from the Cuesta de la Compañía (Company´s Slope), a steep street that connects St. Mathew´s Square with St. George´s Square, that is, right in the heart of the Monumental City. It is so narrow that it seems that the walls are going to meet in their final stretch, even at a specific point, both walls are joined by a small arch that gives the alley a vaulted appearance. Some creeping plants climb these walls to give an aspect of normality to this narrow street that will always be special for its macabre reality.
And it is that one of the walls that form this alley is built with stones… and human bones! A few metres away we find the reason that explains such a macabre presence on the wall, more specifically in our already known House of the Sun. Next to the main door of the House of Solís there is a slab that preserves the word “cimeterio” and is that all this extensive area was formerly the cemetery belonging to the neighbouring St. Mathew´s Church. In the past, it was customary for cemeteries to be next to churches, until for reasonable hygiene reasons they were moved to the outskirts of the cities.
The reason for the presence of human bones on the wall of the alley is that the same earth that was in that area was used to raise the wall and still had bone fragments from the bodies of the cemetery. After the construction of the wall, lime was used to camouflage the yellowish bones that remained visible, but with the pass of time, this lime has gradually disappeared, revealing the sinister encrustations. The residents say that in the Don Álvaro´s Alley it is always windy, which is quite overwhelming. Perhaps these air currents have helped to remove the lime and thus the truth of the bones has been able to come to light…
You see, travelling friends, Caceres is not all stone. There are also bones! From these lines, we launch the challenge of locating them among the stones of the Don Álvaro´s Alley.
Callejón de Don Álvaro10003 Caceres
THE LEGEND OF THE HOUSE OF THE SUN
In the tour of the previous point we have not mentioned, on purpose, one of the most special noble palaces of the Monumental City of Caceres. The reason for this is that its history deserves a separate mention. Very close to St. Mathew´s Square is the Casa de los Solís(House of the Solís), also known as “Casa del Sol” (House of the Sun), due to the heraldic coat of arms on its main façade, formed by a sun with a serene human face whose rays are bitten by serpents, and all this crowned by a lavish helmet. But what is really special about this 15th century Gothic palace is the history behind its coat of arms , or rather, its coat of arms.
And it is that the House of Solís has two very similar shields whose history holds a sad secret… This house-fortress was built in the 15thcentury, but it was during the 16thcentury that restoration works were carried out that gave it its current appearance. And it was precisely during these works that events occurred that have survived to this day in the form of legend. It was around the year 1549 when the noble Solís family, in the process of renovating their palace, hired a stonemason from Salamanca, who moved to Caceres with his two sons to carry out his work. The children of the stonemason were his apprentices and helped him in his work. The family work was excellent, resulting in the sun with a serene face coat of arms that we can now admire on the main façade.
The lords of Solís were so happy with their new and ostentatious coat of arms that they hired the same stonemason to make a second coat of arms to decorate the side of the palace. But by then the problems had already started, as the eldest son began to have bad night habits surrounded by bad company.One morning, the eldest son came home crying and with bloody hands. He had killed a man for some debts!The father made the decision to hide his eldest son in a hole made between the palace walls, leaving only a small hole to be able to pass food to him. When the authorities arrived, they detained the little brother out of confusion.
The father felt ill due to all the anguish that this situation created him, losing consciousness for several days. The same days that the younger son was imprisoned until he could prove his innocence, and the same days in which the older son lost his life alone, immured between those walls, without anyone being able to pass him food or drink… During the father´s recovery, the younger son closed the hole of the hiding place, forever bricking up the corpse of his older brother between the walls.
He also finished the second coat of arms… But the new emblem no longer had the serene face of the first, but the great sorrow that he felt for what happened was reflected in the face of the sun of his second coat of arms.
House of Solís / House of the SunCalle de la Monja, 2 – 10003 Caceres
THE STONES AWAIT US (AND MADAM HIGUERA ALSO)
The Monumental City of Caceres is a feast of noble palaces, churches, towers and cobbled streets. Here everything is stone, stone and more stone. Such a number of ashlars creates an atmosphere so evocative that this intramurosarea has been chosen as a backdrop for very important film productions. Going around the Monumental City of Caceres is fascinating, especially if we stop to listen to the stones… In order to feel this experience, we have prepared a comfortable route through the Monumental City. We start the route from its highest point, so once started, everything will be down the hill…
Starting from the highest point within the walls, the “Plaza San Mateo”(St. Mathew´s Square), where we can visit St. Mathew´s Church, a place chosen by the nobles of the city for their eternal rest. Very close to this square, we have the first noble house of the tour: the Golfines de Arriba Palace, the only house-fortress in Caceres that maintains its defensive tower. This 15thcentury palace served as the Headquarters of Francisco Franco in the first weeks of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. We continue our journey through the Aldana Slope until we reach Casa del Mono(Monkey´s House), a 15th century Gothic building named after the enigmatic figure of a monkey (Mono in Spanish) that is on the inner courtyard stairs and which is loaded with legends.
The disturbing figure represents a monkey chained to the stair rail. The Monkey´s House is nowadays a library that houses more than 30,000 volumes. Following the Monkey´s Street, we arrive at “Plaza de San Jorge” (St. George´s Square), where we are welcomed by the Church of St. Francis Xavier, a Baroque Jesuit temple from the 18thcentury whose two white towers will remind us of so many churches in South America.
In St. George´s Square, in a camouflaged niche between stone walls and stairs, rests the bronze figure of the patron saint of the city, St. George, who in horseback kills the dragon. In one of the corners of this square, the Golfines de Abajo Palaceawaits us. This noble palace from the 16thcentury is the only one in Caceres that has the coat of arms of the Catholic Monarchs on its façade, an honour granted by the monarchs to the Golfín family for their numerous services performed. Once in the “Plaza Santa Maria”(Holy Mary´s Square), the stones on the ground will be the ones to speak to us. If we look closely, we notice that they are of two different classes.
The cause? A sector of its land had to be rebuilt after being annihilated in the bombings that the city suffered during the Civil War. And we have already reached our last location! TheCarvajal Palace, whose visit will allow us to know the interior of the 15thcentury buildings. Do not miss the garden… there a 500-year-old fig tree is waiting for you! Free admission.
St. Mathew´s Church. Plaza San Mateo, 2 - 10003 Caceres.
Golfines de Arriba Palace. Calle Condes, 2 - 10003 Caceres.
Mono House. Calle del Mono, 4 - 10003 Caceres.
St. Francis Xavier Church. Plaza de San Jorge, 9 - 10003 Caceres.
Golfines de Abajo Palace. Plaza de los Golfines - 10003 Caceres.
Carvajal Palace. Calle Amargura, 1 - 10003 Caceres.
Caceres has the perfect place to recharge before walking the cobbled streets of its Monumental City or to recharge after having visited it. It is the “Plaza de San Juan” (St. John´s Square), a lively place that has many restaurants and terraces where you can have a drink in one of the most peaceful cities in Spain. Plaza de San Juanis located outside the wall, very close to Plaza Mayor, at the confluence of the Pintores and San Pedro commercial streets. In this cosy square, it´s possible to find everything: a church, a park, terraces, good atmosphere, palaces… even meet a popular and beloved inhabitant! The square is dominated by the Gothic St. John´s Church, built in the 13thcentury, although it has undergone many subsequent reforms.
Its entrance portico is guarded by Nazarenes who, carrying a large cross, welcome us to the temple. It is a monument that pays tribute to the Holy Week of Caceres, an important celebration considered a “Fiesta of International Tourist Interest”. Formerly, St. John´s Church was known by the name of St. John´s of the Shepherds. The reason for this lies in the triangular park at the end of the square, since it was there where the shepherds and ranchers met in the cattle fairs held centuries ago. On one side of this park, we come across the Marquis of Oquendo Palace, a 16thcentury jewel that today is a four-star hotel.
And now what was promised. We are going to introduce you to a very well known and loved lady in the city, and almost in the whole world! She awaits in front of the church´s door, in the middle of the square, represented by a statue, we are referring to Leoncia Gómez Galán, the last spokeswoman for the Extremadura Newspaper and who had a very special life.
She was abandoned as soon as she was born, she worked for many years as a servant in a Caceres lawyer house, but during her last years, she was hired by the Extremadura Newspaper to act as spokesperson and sell copies of the newspaper at the top of her lungs. She precisely chose St. John´s Square for this, a place where she earnt the affection of the neighbours due to her great charisma. For all this, said newspaper decided to honour their last spokeswoman with this sculpture.
The emotions in Leoncia´s life continued throughout her maturity, as at the age of 74 she met her great love, and she married him! And here we wonder… could it be that she kissed the feet of St. Peter of Alcantara? You can ask Leoncia when you pass by her to go to a terrace in St. John´s Square to enjoy your well-deserved rest. You should know that she is a symbol in Caceres that even has a Twitter account!
Plaza de San Juan (between San Pedro and Pintores Streets)10003 – Caceres
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