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Caceres, Spain

More than ten towers dominate the historic quarter of Caceres, delimited by Arab walls. Cobbled streets marked by medieval, fortified homes and Renaissance palaces make up the most beautiful sceneries in this city, which was declared World Heritage.The local history is closely related to one the historic, peninsular routes: "Vía de la Plata" (the Silver Route), a Roman road that linked Seville and Astorga, used by the pilgrims who were headed to Santiago de Compostela. Pork products and shepherd recipes are the fundamental elements of the rich culinary tradition of this region, the dishes should be served with some of the excellent wines from Caceres.

The city of Cáceres was founded by the Romans in 34 B.C., when it received the name of Norba Caesarina. However it was not until the arrival of the Arabs in the 12th century when the city underwent its period of maximum splendour. A century later, the city passed into Christian hands upon its reconquest by Alfonso IX of León. In the 15th century, Isabella Ibrought an end to the continuous power struggles between the local nobles by ordering the tops of the towers of their respective house-fortresses to be cut off. Thereafter the city experienced an economic boom, mainly brought about by its active role in the discovery of America. The walled city of Cáceres dates mostly from Almohad times and still contains numerous mediaeval defensive elements such as the BujacoYerba or Hierba, and Horno towers, built in the 12th century.The city inside the wallsThe arch of La Estrella provides access to the walled enclosure. This gate is the work of Manuel de Lara Churriguera, and was built in the 18th century to replace the earlier gate known as the Puerta Nueva, dating from mediaeval times.Once in the mediaeval centre, there are numerous palaces and noble mansions to be seen, easily identified by their family crests. Several of these stand around the Plaza de Santa María square. One of these is theCarvajal palace, which was built between the 15th and 16th centuries, and later refurbished in the middle of the 20th century. In the centre of its picturesque Renaissance courtyard there is an ancient fig tree, and beside the house stands a 12th-century round tower built by the Arabs. The palace currently houses the Cáceres Provincial Tourist Department.Also in the square is the Mayoralgo Palace 16th century), the largest in the city with an interior courtyard of semi-circular brick arches, and theEpiscopal Palace. This last building has two façades; one dating from the 13th century with a foiled arch at the entrance, and another Renaissance façade with bossage arching.The site is presided by the pro-cathedral of Santa María, a Gothic building dating from the 15th century. It comprises three naves covered by cross vaults. Highlights include the main altarpiece with stalls in the Plateresque style. This work by Guillén Ferrant and Roque Balduque is made of unpolychromed cedar and features priceless sculptures and reliefs. In the side chapels, in addition to the tombs and Baroque altarpieces, it is well worth taking a look at the image of the Christ of Los Blázquez, known as 'the Black Christ'; according to tradition, all those who dared to look at or touch the figure would die.In the nearby square of San Pablo stands the 15th-century Casa de los Cáceres-Ovando house. Adjoining the building is the Torre de las Cigüeñas tower, the only tower whose battlements were maintained intact by a concession from Queen Isabella 'la Católica'.But one of the most beautiful examples of the architecture of Cáceres is unquestionably the Palace of Los Golfines de Abajo (15th century), with its outstanding 16th-century Renaissance façade, not to mention the superposition of Gothic and Mudejar features, as well as its 17th-century Plateresque cresting. The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabellaare said to have stayed in this fine building on one of their visits.Plaza San Mateo square is the site of the houses of Casa de los Paredes Saavedra, which dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, Casa de Lorenzo de Ulloa (15th century), and Casa de las Veletas. Built at the end of the 15th century on the site of the old Almohad fortress, this palace was rebuilt at the beginning of the 18th century. Its Baroque façade is one of the building's most noteworthy exterior features, not to mention the pinnacles (colloquially known as 'weather vanes') that crown its top. On the interior, under the courtyard, there is an extremely well-conserved cistern from the old Spanish-Arab fortress, possibly dating from the 12th century. Today the building houses the Cáceres Museum, containing a collection of archaeological pieces and ethnographic artefacts which give a valuable insight into the history of the province.The church of San Mateo (16th century) in the square of the same name stands on the site of an old mosque, and has an outstanding Gothic façade.Outside the walls, a magnificent stairway leads to the Plaza Mayorsquare, flanked by numerous towers and the forum of Los Balbos. Nearby stands the 16th-century Renaissance-style Godoy Palace with an attractive corner balcony. Beside this noble house is the church of Santiago, founded by the order known as the 'Fratres de Cáceres', a precursor of the later Order of Santiago. Various other artistic features have been added to the original Romanesque structure, including particularly an altarpiece by Berruguete.On the way out of the city, on a crest of the nearby Sierra de la Mosca mountains, stands the shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Montaña, containing a Baroque altarpiece in the interior. Visitors can see the cave beneath the church where the veneration of the patron saint of the city began in 1668. And to round off the visit, this site offers some of the best views of this monumental city and the surrounding area.Gastronomy and the surroundingsThe main ingredient of the cuisine of Cáceres is pork, and pork products. Recipes based on the typical shepherd's dishes are undoubtedly the most popular traditional dishes throughout the entire province: lamb or kidcaldereta and migas (traditional fried breadcrumbs with chorizo and bacon), etc. Other typical dishes are the sopas canas (soup made with milk, bread, olive oil, paprika and garlic) and ropavieja (meat in sauce with egg and tomato). All of these specialities can be accompanied by a glass of Cáceres wine, the quality of which is guaranteed by the Ribera del Guadiana Designation of Origin label. And for dessert, the options available include ewe's, goat's and cow's cheese, as well as excellent cakes and pastries made in the convents and monasteries, including particularly the sweets from the convent of San Pablo.The old palace of the Commander of Alcuéscar, also known as the palace of the Marqueses de Torreorgaz, has been adapted for use as a Parador hotel, and now stands transformed into one of the best hotel establishments in the capital. It is one of the most outstanding buildings in the 'old', monumental part of Cáceres, originally dating from the 14th century, but later refurbished in the 15th and 17th centuries.The province of Cáceres has a host of interesting routes for visitors. One of these is the old Roman road known as the Vía de la Plata, or Silver Route, that joined Seville and Astorga, and which was later used by the pilgrims as they made their way to Santiago de Compostela. Following this route, in addition to Cáceres we can also visit Plasencia, the second most important city in the province. Indeed, its city walls conceal an important artistic heritage. The Parador hotel in Plasencia is located in a 15th-century convent in the heart of the monumental quarter.Also to the north of the province is the region of La Vera, the site of the town of Hervás, which has one of the best conserved Jewish quarters in Spain; and Valverde de la Vera, declared a Historic and Artistic Site. InJarandilla de la Vera, beside the Yuste monastery, visitors can spend the night in the Parador hotel, a medieval castle-palace.To the east of the city stands the city of Trujillo, the birthplace of conquistadors. This is the site of the old convent of Santa Clara (16th century), which houses Trujillo's Parador hotel. Guadalupe is a few kilometres away. This Historical-Artistic town is home to the Guadalupe Monastery, a Gothic-Mudejar building that has been declared to be a World Heritage site. Guadalupe also has its own Parador hotel, located in the old facilities of the San Juan Bautista hospital (15th century). Finally, the Monfragüe National Park is just one of the numerous natural treasures to be found in Cáceres. This area of extremely varied landscape has been declared a Special Protection Area for birds.

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