By Robin Graham
It’s Unesco listed but a lot of visitors to Spain won’t make it here. Far away from any coast and ensconced in much-overlooked Extremadura, Cáceres is a history lesson in brick, mortar and especially, stone. Not satisfied with a casco historico (old town), this provincial capital boasts an even older town, which nowadays they call the Ciudad Monumental, or City of Monuments.
Accessing it from the beautiful Plaza Mayor, the Ciudad Monumental pretty much does what it says on the tin. The rich and noble of numerous times and cultures built their homes and places of worship here. Very few people live in this spookily well preserved walled city now – instead it’s filled with churches and palaces, museums, an Arab aljibe, or water cistern, a Jewish quarter, Roman remains and more palaces.
You can see why they shoot movies here. No need to remove any tell-tale signs of modernity – there are none. And none of the whitewashed charm of Andalucia. The stone is bare and heavy: from grey to warm brown in the form of towers, steeples and fortified walls. Balconies for Juliet and turrets for Rapunzel.
In Extremadura’s summer, it’s hot – the narrow, shady streets are cooling. Around every corner another antique vista. It’s popular with domestic tourists but an early morning walk will ensure that you have the place more or less to yourself. I wander as the first light of the sun drapes itself like gold leaf over the upper reaches of the bell towers, leaving the squares and alleys below in shadow for now.
There’s a Parador Hotel here if money is no object – we satisfy ourselves with a peek through the window and a gasp at the opulence. Just a few restaurants within the walls. Down-to-earth food and good clean rooms are available around Plaza Mayor. It means that the Ciudad Monumental is given over almost entirely to conservation and visitors – something that might have sucked some of the life out of it, but wandering the streets at quiet times it’s one of the most convincing and immersive medieval cityscapes in Spain.
Robin Graham writes at www.alotofwind.com.