Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cáceres City, Extremadura [Part I of IV]

This month, the focus of my travels was all within the autonomous community of Extremadura, located on the South-West of Spain, bordering Portugal.

Over the recent Holy Week (Semana Santa) holidays, I’ve travelled to a few areas in this region. I've witnessed several religious processions, marvelled at the great historical sites and natural sanctuaries, sampled the mouth-watering Extremaduran cuisine, gazed up at countless stork nests built atop the thinnest of spires, and came to realise that there exist a very intriguing 'Extremaduran Language'. It’s been great!

I’ll start off this series of posts with the first city that I dropped in on – Cáceres, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Above: Panoramic view of old historical part of Cáceres City

The historical town of Cáceres City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986 because one can still observe today, the blend of the various civilizations that existed through its history, preserved in its architecture. The mix of Roman, Moorish and Renaissance styles is being represented in more than 60 historical-artistic civilian, religious and defence buildings.

Before I continue, here’s something I’d like to share for those who’re travelling by car. A good place to park the car (within short walking distance to the old town) would be around or at the multi-storey Car Park at Plaza Obispo Galarza. Above this Car Park, there’s a Tourist Centre as well as a restaurant called La Parrilla de Galarza, which is good for its roasted & grilled dishes. Outside the restaurant, there’s a big terrace which overlooks part of the city and towards the old town.

Above: Lunch at La Parrilla de Galarza consisted of Revuelto de Setas (eggs scrambled with mushrooms), and the to-die-for Cochinillo (roasted pork) and Sepia a la plancha (grilled cuttlefish).

Moving on, a good place to start exploring the city is at its nerve centre Plaza Mayor, where most of the important historical buildings can be seen or reached on foot. Here, the iconic Torre de Bujaco continues to stand out like a sturdy fortress, protecting the entrance into the old, walled town.

Above: The Bujaco Tower of Moorish origins is on the left. Right next to it is the Chapel of La Paz. A 2€ entrance fee grants you access to the tower and you can also walk over the Estrella Arch to the Púlpitos Tower flanking the right side of the entrance into the old part of town.

Above: Closer look at flight of stairs leading up to the Estrella Arch, the entrance into the old town.

Above: The open space of the Plaza Mayor.

Above: The Ayuntamiento, City Hall of Cáceres. If you look closely you’ll see the ‘Cáceres 2016’ campaign banner on the building – they are a candidate city vying for the title of European Capital of Culture for 2016.

Past the Estrella Arch, one enters into the maze of the old cobbled street town packed with cathedrals, towers, former palaces and noble houses adorned with ornate façades and family crests.

Above: The Cathedral de Santa Maria.

Above: Palace of the Golfines, one of the most magnificent buildings in which Catholic Monarchs used to live.

Above: The Church of San Francisco Javier.

Above: The Palace of the Storks, with a tall tower crowned with battlements.

Above: The Gothic San Mateo Church.

Above: The Palace of the Veletas which currently houses the Cáceres Museum.

Above: A common sight in Spain, here a bubble-maker stands outside the Church of San Juan, making bubbles just so that the kids could burst them…

Being Maundy Thursday, from about 7.00pm, the police were cordoning off streets and crowds of people were moving to certain key areas marked for the Semana Santa procession. Following the faint sound of the band from the parade, I too, gradually made my way to where it was all happening.

While this was not my first Semana Santa procession, it was my first time witnessing a Saeta being sung by an elderly lady from her balcony as the floats passed under her. As she sang out loud the emotional, mournful psalm, the entire procession and band were in total standstill for her till she finishes.

Remembering that our car was parked near the multi-storey Car Park with a terrace, we went back up there and got a great view of the procession.

Further down south of Cáceres city is where you can find the Maltravieso Cave. The cave contains Palaeolithic art that holds the proof to human inhabitants in Cáceres since prehistoric times.

Above: Unfortunately, the cave is locked and not opened to the public. The cave today sits under a park and its surrounded by what looks like a modern residential zone.

Also, not too far away outside of the city center is the Mosca Mountain, where the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Mountain is located. The elevated point commands a great view over the city.

Next up, a truly unique city that's LIKE NO OTHER I've ever seen in Spain…

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