You may wish to see two introductory pages to this section first.
Plaza Mayor: (left to right) Torre de Bajaco, Ermita de La Paz (a hermitage which was turned into a small church in the XVIIIth century), steps leading to the walled town and Torre de los Pulpitos
Caceres in Estremadura is the capital of its swinish district. It is the residence of provincial
hidalgos (noblemen) y hacendados (landowners), who fatten and
get rich by the saving and selling their
popular bacon. The climate, like the
bacon, is delicious. (..)
The elevation keeps the tidy town
cool, while the rivulets which flow
from el Marco irrigate the gardens.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
The city's history of battles between Moors and Christians is also reflected in the architecture, which is a blend of Roman, Islamic, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance styles. This property also includes noteworthy religious buildings such as churches, hermitages and convents.
From the UNESCO description of the town which was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1986.
(left) Copy of a statue of Ceres or of the Genius of the Colony near Plaza Mayor (original at the Museum of Caceres); (centre) funerary inscription of M. Accius Crescens at Palacio del Conde de Abanero; (right) National Archaeological Museum of Madrid: pedestal of a statue of Avita Avia from Caceres
On the airy
Plaza, shaded by acacias, is a mutilated Roman Ceres. Ford
The statue, although of a lower quality, is very similar to those which were found at Merida and Cordoba and most likely it decorated a public building of Colonia Norba Caesarina, which was founded by C. Norbanus Flaccus, proconsul in Spain in 34 BC, on the site of a previous settlement.
Accia and Avita are names of Roman gentes ("clans") owing to the fact that the town was built to house Roman veterans of the wars for the conquest of Cantabria, a mountainous region in northern Spain. An Avitus Accius is recorded at nearby Merida as the wealthy donor of fine statues.
(left) Puerta del Rio or Arco del Cristo on the site of a Roman gate; (right) section of the Roman walls near Plaza del Soccorro
The most evident Roman remains are parts of the city walls, in particular Puerta del Rio. Caceres was crossed by the Roman road which linked Asturica Augusta (Astorga), a military town in northern Spain, with Augusta Emerita (Merida), the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania. Puerta del Rio was most likely the northern entrance of the road.
Museum of Caceres: mosaics from a Roman villa at El Olivar del Centeno, north-east of Caceres (IVth century AD): (left) Hunting of the Boar; (right) detail of the Mosaic of the Three Matrons
Palacio de las Veletas, a fine Renaissance palace (you can see its courtyard further down in the page) houses the Archaeological and Ethnographic sections of the Museum of Caceres. The exhibits include some fine floor mosaics and ancient jewels. A IIIrd century AD bracelet can be seen in the image used as background for this page. Almost nothing is known of the history of Caceres between the Vth and the Xth centuries, except that the site was continuously inhabited.
Almohad towers: (left) Torre de Aver, built on Roman structures; (right) Torre de la Yerba and adjoining walls
The imposing towers in the upper part of the town are due to a long struggle for the possession of Caceres. In 1165 Geraldo Geraldes sem Pavor (the Fearless), a Portuguese adventurer and folk hero took by surprise Caceres which was in the territory of the Almohad Caliphate in Spain. The town was very close to the Christian Kingdom of Leon and in 1169 it was annexed to it. The Almohads retook Caceres in 1174 and they soon began the construction of imposing fortifications to turn the town into a main obstacle to the southward expansion of Leon.
The walls of Caceres bear exceptional testimony to the fortifications built in Spain by the Almohades. Frequently compared to Torre de Espantaperros in Badajoz and to Torre del Oro in Seville, Torre Mochada in Caceres is part of an ensemble of walls and towers, which has been largely conserved and which is representative of a civilisation. UNESCO
Construction in tapia or rammed earth, similar to the walls of Seville distinguishes these towers from those which were built in stone after the Leonese conquest of the town in 1229. In 1230 Ferdinand III united the crowns of Leon and Castile.
The Arabs and the Muslims in general developed advanced systems for collecting, storing and distributing water, e.g. the Persian qanats. The systems implemented by the Moors of Spain were very effective. The Andalusian countryside was described by Muslim chronicles as a garden, because of the ingenious way it was irrigated. At Caceres a large cistern with five naves and twelve horseshoe arches testifies to these skills. Another large cistern has been identified near the church of San Francisco Javier and a number of other small cisterns are known to lie beneath the medieval and Renaissance palaces of the walled town.
Caceres bears the traces of highly diverse and contradictory influences. The urban design in the area inside the walls is an example of a medieval city, which has shaped its current aspect over centuries. UNESCO
Caceres is a "city of stone" in the sense that its medieval and Renaissance monuments are faced with stone. This house is an exception because of its brick decoration which brings to mind patterns which were developed at Toledo, where the kings of Castile often resided.
Mudéjar is the term used to indicate the Moorish style which characterizes some monuments which were built after the Christian Reconquista of Spain, the finest example being the Real Alcazar of Seville.
(left) Arco de la Estrella; (right) Torre de los Pulpitos (XVth century), the main Christian tower of Caceres with slits for firing hand firearms
The town retains its ancient walls and towers; observe the Arco de
Estrella, and the communication with
the Plaza; it is by
Churriguera, 1726. Ford
The Christian conquest of Caceres was followed by those of Merida in 1230, Cordoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248, thus the town lost its military importance and its fortifications were not upgraded to the requirements of cannon warfare in the XVIth century.
In 1726 a large gate was opened in the walls to facilitate the access to the town. It was designed by Manuel de Larra Churriguera, a relative of José Benito de Churriguera (1665-1725), a Spanish architect known for the elaborate decoration of his buildings (hence Churrigueresque, often used with a negative meaning in the XIXth century).
(left) Santa Maria la Mayor; (right) the church and Palacio de la Diputacion Provincial, the Renaissance portal of which belonged to the Seminary
For ecclesiologists there is a fine
Seminario, founded in 1603. Ford
A short walk from Arco de la Estrella leads to the main church. The walled town is characterized by monuments built between the XIVth and the early XVIIth centuries which have Gothic and Renaissance features. It is characterized also by the consistent use of a stone having a light yellow colour.
Santa Maria la Mayor: (left) interior; (right) altar
Observe in the Santa
Maria the retablo carved by Maestre
Guillen, 1556, with her Assumption,
Coronation, etc. Ford. The interior of the church has Gothic and Renaissance elements, similar to the exterior.
The town of Caceres has four parish churches, and seven convents. It is the residence of a vicar-general of the bishop of Coria for the exercise of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
Alexandre de Laborde - A View of Spain - translated into English for Longman, Hurst, etc. 1809
In 1957 Santa Maria la Mayor was upgraded to the function of Co-cathedral of the Diocese of Coria-Caceres. In the past in Spain, as well as in Italy, being an episcopal see had a major impact on the development of a town, because it entailed housing a number of religious institutions. Caceres was part of the diocese of Coria, a small town near the border with Portugal, but its Bishops promoted the founding of convents and had a palace also at Caceres.
Coats of arms at: (left) Casa Sanchez Paredes; the Latin inscription is a (not precise) quotation from Hebrews 13:14 "Non habemus hic manentem civitatem sed futuram inquirimus" (Here we do not have an enduring home, but we are looking for the home that is to come); (right) Casa de los Sande or Casa del Aguila
Caceres is full of feudal architecture -
of baronial massive houses, decorated
with granite doorways and armorial
bearings. Heraldry and hams, indeed,
run riot here. Ford
The town has a number of interesting churches and public buildings, but its appeal lies in the palaces which were built by the local nobility.
Details of Palacio de los Golfines de Abajo (of the lower part of the town)
Caceres is an outstanding example of a city that was ruled from the 14th to 16th centuries by powerful rival factions, reflected in its dominant spatial configuration of fortified houses, palaces and towers. UNESCO
In 1505, in order to gain the support of the local nobility, King Ferdinand of Aragon, acting as guardian of his daughter Joanna, Queen of Castile, issued a law which favoured the establishment of mayorazgo, legal arrangements by which the whole property of a nobleman was inherited by the oldest male child. The inscription Fer de Fer is a tribute to King Ferdinand and to his favourite grandson, another Ferdinand who became Holy Roman Emperor in 1556. Similar to the Vitelli at Città di Castello and the Rasponi at Ravenna, the Golfines had more than one palace at Caceres.
(left/centre) Palacio de Toledo Moctezuma; (right) coat of arms on the tower
In 1519 Hernan Cortes, a nobleman from Medellin, almost a village east of Merida, sailed from Cuba to Mexico with some 500 men. In two years he destroyed the Aztec Empire and established the Viceroyalty of New Spain. He attained this extraordinary achievement by a mix of force and diplomacy. In 1526 he promoted the conversion to Christianity of a daughter of Aztec Emperor Monteczuma II who was christened as Isabel de Monteczuma. She was the widow of three Aztec princes and she married again three times. Her Christian husbands were chosen by Cortes (to whom she bore a daughter), the last one being Juan Cano Saavedra, from Caceres. Palacio de Toledo Moctezuma was built before the XVIth century, but it was largely redesigned by the heirs of Isabel.
Towers: (left) Palacio de Golfines de Abajo; (centre) Palacio de las Ciquegnas (storks); (right) Palacio de los Marqueses de Torreorgaz
The order of the Vanda
is very prevalent. The lover of old
houses will notice that of the Veletas,
that of the Golfines; one of the Counts
de la Torre. Ford
There were four orders of knighthood originally established in Castile. (..) The order of the Vanda or the Band was instituted in 1332 by Alphonso the Fifth for the first nobility of his states; its members were distinguished by a blue ribbon which was worn over the right shoulder and under the left arm. (..) The conquerors of the New World were natives of this province, they inflamed the ambition of their fellow-citizens, they strongly persuaded them to fight under their standards, and to obtain the riches of the country which they had conquered. The emigration from this province was greater than from any other province of the Spanish monarchy. Laborde
The noblemen of Estremadura were high in the rank of the Spanish aristocracy, but low in that of wealth. Many young members of these families pursued glory and riches in the New World. Trujillo, another small town of this region, was the birthplace of Francisco Pizarro who conquered Peru in 1524-1532.
Courtyards: (left) Palacio de las Veletas; note the excessive entasis (bulge) of the columns (see the entasis of a classical temple at Paestum); (right) Palacio Carvajal
The town of Caceres is neither large nor well built; it
boasts of no edifice that is worth the attention
of the traveller: yet we must remark the court
of the hospital of Mercy, which is surrounded
by a double portico, one over the other, supported by columns of the Doric order. Laborde
The hospital was eventually turned into a tribunal, but it was not the only building of Caceres with a fine Renaissance courtyard.
Iglesia de Santiago (Saint John the Apostle): (left) bell tower; (right) its massive Doric columns
The church of Santiago,
outside the walls, and once Musarabic,
is buttressed up with Doric pillars. Ford
Mozarabs were the Christian inhabitants of Muslim Spain. They were regarded as second-class citizens and often they were not allowed to live in the walled town. This church was most likely built soon after 1229 in what was a Christian neighbourhood outside the walls. It was largely redesigned in the following centuries. Saint John the Apostle is particularly venerated in Spain for his legendary intervention on the Christian side in a battle against the Moors, hence he is often referred to as Santiago Matamoros, Slayer of the Moors and portrayed as a medieval knight, e.g. at Granada.
Iglesia de San Mateo: (left) façade; (right) second bell tower (1780)
Parroquia of San Mateo, built by
Pedro de Ezquerra, has a striking
The church shows a mixture of styles and it is said it was built on the site of a mosque. In its interior there are funerary monuments and chapels which were built during the XVIth century, but apparently all additions and improvements stopped at the beginning of the XVIIth century.
(left) San Francisco Javier; (right) a very Roman Baroque altar
Throughout the whole province of Estremadura there are scarcely any gardens or orchards to be met with; neither fruit, mulberry-
trees, nor hemp; wheat and rye are almost the only productions. These are generally sufficient for the support of
the population, because, as has been said, it is exceedingly
small, and because the principal part of the country people eat
very little. (..) A province which produces hardly any thing, which manufactures still less, and which must receive every thing from
other countries, cannot give an idea of advantageous commerce; every thing must be imported, every thing must be
burdensome to it; its impoverishment must daily increase. (..) This is the most neglected and most backward province of Spain in the arts and
sciences. (..) It has neither schools nor establishments of
any kind; the people live in ignorance. (..) The inhabitants of this province, fonder of
war than sciences, have always disregarded or neglected
study; and if any of them have deserved to be greatly distinguished, it is as warriors, and not as learned men. Laborde (learn about the misery which existed at La Macarena, a poor neighbourhood of Seville)
This depiction of the living conditions of the inhabitants of Estremadura is perhaps unfairly dramatized, yet the fact that the urban appearance of Caceres is almost frozen in time at the year 1620 or so is evidence of its economic decline. The Jesuit church of San Francisco Javier is a rare monument of the second half of the XVIIIth century.
Tower of Palacio Toledo Monteczuma and a view of the countryside with the snowy mountain range which divides the basin of the River Tagus (see it at Toledo) from that of the River Guadiana (see it at Merida); the stork on the tower ...
... can be seen above in the central image (see the storks of Merida)
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|