Tag Archives: history

Aldeanueva del Camino to Banos de Montemayor

The 4  Spanish Pilgrims, being young, flexible and in love had slept in 2 small beds. We awakened to much sleepy complaining and groaning. However, when I told them we had watched the soccer game until midnight, I had their rapt attention. They were instantly awake. Hearing that the score was  Real Madrid 1 /  Barcelona 0, all pain was forgotten. An impromptu fiesta erupted with singing and dancing around the room. I was clapping my hands Flamingo style and laughing at their passionate enthusiasm. What a wonderful way to wake up. Oh, to be that young again!

It was raining so hard that the track was a muddy river. Benny and I chose to walk 10 kilometers along the main road until we reached the town of Banos de Montemayor. The Albergue Turistico was full at 9:30 in the morning, before it was even open, because people had reserved spaces. Benny tried to persuade me to walk on another 12 kilometers but I was intent on having a short day walking with time for the spa. I checked into the very last hotel room in town at the very sweet Hotel Eloy located directly across from the Roman Balneario, or spa. Yeah!

This has been a spa town since Roman times and sits nestled in the lovely mountains. The spa is right where the original baths were situated. From the pools you can look into the original baths, separated from the Romans by only a sheet of glass and 2000 years. The high barrel-vaulted chamber in which the pools sit are constructed of stone in the style of old. The pools are separated by a platform with marble sculptures on them, beautiful reproductions of the originals. Soft music played as the bubble jets massaged my tired back and feet. The small waterfall spilling off of the sculpture splashed soothingly. The only thing missing was the slaves with the massage oil.

Just as we were getting really relaxed our “treatment circuit” began. We had an aroma therapy rain shower, then immersed ourselves in authentic Roman individual marble bathtubs. These filled with hot thermal mineral water and a dash of soothing scent. Here we soaked for 20 minutes. After another rain shower we spent 20 minutes in a hot, steamy sauna with mosaic tiled chairs. One more aromatic rain shower, and we moved to the temperate steam room filled with eucalyptus mists for another 20 minutes. Lights on the ceiling changed colors with the music, forming the constellations. I hated to leave that room, but a hot tiled lounge chair and a refreshing bottle of mineral water awaited us. Ahhhhh. I was barely awake enough to notice that the ceilings were a series of crossing vaults in old brick. It made a beautiful texture and pattern statement, partnered with the intricate wall mosaics of Roman Gods and intertwining designs.

After 30 minutes we returned to the pools, but the attendants would only allow us to bathe in the cold pool because they wanted us to lower our core body temperature. I did not want my temperature lowered, thank you! As soon as the Pool Police left we made a run for the hot pool. When we were eventually discovered, we pretended not to understand and squeezed out another few minutes while he went in search of someone who spoke English. Finally we were ejected, so that was the end of a very lovely and relaxing couple of hours in another world.

As soon as we returned to my hotel, Benny put his pack on and headed for the next town. I will miss his interesting company and intellectual conversation. He is a kind man, and very perceptive. I feel like I have known him far longer than 2 days. After he left, I tucked into the very nice little library in a comfy leather chair for the afternoon.

The Senora made me cafe con leche and let me use her computer to catch up on email.The storm raged ferociously outside, and the power was off and on. I was content to be snug in this lovely, friendly little hotel.

Distance from   Aldeanueva del Camino to Banos de Montemayor= 7  Miles /11.5 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 7.75 Miles / 12.5  Kilometers

Accommodations= Hotel Eloy  http://www.hoteleloy.com . This was a great little hotel right across the street from the Termes Romana.  40 Euro for 1 person in a double room, breakfast included. They arranged a spa package for me and were very friendly and helpful. There is an Albergue Turistico in town, 12 places, 12 Euro including breakfast, but it was full.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Caceres, City of the Conquistadors

The old center of Caceres is enchanting. Huge solares, or manor houses, line the narrow cobbled streets. Shady canyons are created by the tall buildings, and as you look up at the sliver of blue sky gargoyles peer down at you. Steep steps lead up tunnels through the fortified walls. From the top you can see all of Cacares and the surrounding countryside. Flowers tumble down the steps, while storks circle over head and land gracefully to become part of the architectural details. Churches and palm trees stand guard over lovely plazas, and a solo guitar player passionately sung the rhythms of Spain. His strong guitar strumming and haunting voice reverberated off of the walls and filled the air.

The city was founded by the Romans in 34 BC and the walls that still circle the old town date to that period. Held by the Moors for several centuries, it became definitively Christian in 1229. The palaces and ancestral houses began to be built at that time, but it was 250 years later that most of the present building emerged. This old center was built almost exclusively in the late 1400’s and 1500’s as the wealth from the Americas poured in.

Many of the Conquistadors came from this region and returned here to settle when finished with their adventures. They went into competition with each other as to who could build the biggest house. Handsome crests decorating the outside of the buildings indicate the family who owned each house. This is the town to which Juan Cano de Saavedra, conquistador and follower of Cortez, brought an Aztec Princess as his bride. What a shock that must have been for her. Daughter of royalty, her civilization no more, how would she have viewed Caceres? This city of gold, so rich and solid, was built with the wealth from the Americas. It is hauntingly beautiful, yet I think of the rape of 2 continents and the destruction of entire civilizations. The enslaving of so many people, and the death of so many more, was the cost. Is it human nature to take just because we can? Why do we have to be so disrespectful and cruel?

These philosophical questions aside, it is a beautiful city and a wonderful place to spend some time. History has moved on to a gentler place, and no one can predict what would have become of the Americas if they had not been discovered and explored by Spanish and other European nation

Actual Distance Walked around Caceres= 4.21 Miles / 7  Kilometers

Accomodations=  We stayed at the very helpful and friendly Pensione Carretero, 25 Euro for a double room or 12.5 Euro per person. Large room with shared bathroom. Right on the main square, the Plaza Mayor. There is an Albergue Turistico near the main square, 70 places, 16 Euro or 18 Euro with breakfast. Additionally, there is the Albergue Las Valetas, 17 Euro or 20 Euro with breakfast.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

Please help others find this blog by Liking me on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/ArtistsJourney Tell your friends!

Museo Romano

Merida has a fabulous museum right in the heart of town. It incorporates a basement area that preserves the in-situ city ruins intact and a road under the building. The main part of the building is comprised of huge brick arches soaring to 75 feet, reminiscent of the original Roman building techniques and materials. The arches are the same height as the ones that they mirror on the Milagros Aqueduct that brought water to the city.

The original sculptures and huge colorful mosaics adorn the walls. There is an extensive collection of glass, coins, household utensils and pottery, and numerous other artifacts portraying a wonderful glimpse of the times. What a rich life they lived, filled with art, theater, running water, a varied diet, painted houses, beautiful jewelry, fine clothing and shoes, and a stable political system.


If you are enjoying this journey along the Via de la Plata and would like to see my artwork, please visit my website at http://www.theartistsjourney.com

Merida’s Pagan Past

Although the city is layered in a rich and varied history, it is the Roman influence which is most evident today. The city of Merida preserves more important ancient Roman monuments than any other city in Spain. Wandering through the meandering streets, we came upon the lovely Temple dedicated to Diana. It sits in what was once the forum, or main public area of the  ancient city. The Temple of Diana was built with local granite and still possesses a regal beauty. Around each corner we saw mosaics, triumphal arches, cemeteries, and houses from the Romans.

Standing directly beside the theater is the Amphitheater, which was more popular with the common people. It was inaugurated in 8 BC, used for Gladiator contests, fights between wild animals, and between men and beasts. The grandstands held approximately 15,000 spectators, with  stairs and hallways that connected the different parts. There was a pit in the center,  covered with wood and sand, used to house animals that later would face the gladiators. There were circuses and wild times until Christianity became the official state religion. They frowned on the blood thirsty pagan spectacles and thought the theater was immoral, so both extraordinary structures were abandoned, and the party ended.

Another attraction for the common people was the huge Roman Circus . It seated 30,000 people who wanted to see the Chariot races. It was built around the time of Christ and used for 600 years. It was a race track on a grand scale: 440 meters long and 115 meters wide, ringed with stands complete with shade for the spectators. The central structure of obelisks and a long platform around which the chariots raced is still present. It is one of the best preserved circuses from the entire ancient world. There was once a building like a barn forming the far end of the circus. It was called the parade area, but I wonder if it was intended to be used like a starting gate for the chariot races. It was a long stretch of track from the structure to where the center platform designated beginning of the official track. I can just picture the chariots bursting forth and fighting for position on the rail as they headed into the first stretch. I could almost hear the roar of the crowds and smell the dust. In the museum there is a huge mosaic depicting a charioteer with 4 magnificent prancing horses in harness. It was christened “Marcianusnicha”! This must have been my former life. I have always loved horses, fast driving, and excitement.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

Merida’s Moorish Influence

After the fall of the  Roman Empire in the west, Merida maintained much of its splendor. During the Visigothic  period,  especially under the 6th century domination of the bishops,  it was the elegant, thriving capital of  Hispania.  In 713 it was conquered by the Muslim army , and remained the capital under a different culture and a new set of rulers.  The  Arabs used and expanded  the old Roman buildings. A prime example of this is the Alcabaza, the first structure of this type in Moorish Spain, begun in the year 835. It remains one  of Spain’s oldest Moorish buildings. Sitting above the Rio Guadiana, it incorporates part of the city’s defensive walls and offers a fine view of the surrounding country and the Roman Bridge. The walls are 30 feet high and 8 feet thick. Inside there is a perfectly preserved cistern, or well,  that is a type rarely seen outside of north Africa. We stepped carefully down a long passageway, descending from the hot sunshine into the cool dark depths. At the bottom was a lapis blue to turquoise pool, alive with gold-fish, pierced by shafts of natural light spilling down from the  vaulted window far above.

The city returned to the  Christians  in 1230, when it was conquered by Alfonso of Leon.  It became the seat of the priory of San Marcos de León of the Order of Santiago. A period of recovery started for Mérida in the 1400’s. In the 19th century,  many monuments of Mérida and of Extremadura were destroyed or damaged during the invasion of Napoleon’s forces.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Merida’s Roman Heritage

It seems that all roads in Roman Hispania led to Merida: The Via Pecuria from Sevilla in the south to Astorga in the north, the road west to Lisbon and east to Toledo and Zaragoza, and the road southeast to Cordoba all crossed right here. The city was founded in 25 BC and became the social and economic center of the province of Lusitania. Today it is a thriving town featuring a treasure trove of well-preserved Roman ruins, and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We entered Merida over the fantastic, long, arched bridge, the Puente Romano. It crosses the Rio Guadiana with 60 perfect stone arches spanning a distance of almost 800 meters, or 2400 feet. That is nearly 8 football fields! It has been restored through the centuries, but it’s core foundation and design remains from the original Roman construction begun around 25 BC  with the founding of the city. It is the longest bridge ever built by the Romans, and remains the longest surviving bridge from ancient times. It is still used by pedestrians, and at night one can walk along the banks of the river with the lights illuminating this beautiful structure.

The Teatro Romano, or Roman Theater, has been partially restored and is still used for performances and concerts. Until excavation began in 1910, most of the theater lay hidden beneath the ground. Only the very top of the seating area was exposed. The local population referred to it as “The Seven Chairs”, because of its resemblance to giant seats. Legend said that these were the seats of the 7 Moorish Kings who deliberated the fate of the city. As the excavation progressed, refined and expressive marble statuary, mosaics of incredible beauty, stately marble pillars, an orchestra pit, a classical stage, and seating for 6000 people was unearthed. Built into a natural hillside, the structure was extended to form a perfect semi-circle. The building techniques that have lasted throughout the millenia are clearly evident. It is complete with arched passageways, marble seating, red marble stage parts forming a base for 2 tiers of blue-gray marble Corinthian columns. What must it have been like 2000 years ago to sit in the hot nights, under the stars, and watch the performances?

What did the people think and talk about as they strolled through the lavish gardens partaking of beautiful food and wine throughout the evening? What a sophisticated society reigned here, only to be lost from memory and buried from sight by the shifting earth for nearly 160 centuries. It chills me to think of the knowledge, beauty, and incredibly advanced lifestyles that can be lost, sometimes forever, with the fall of a government.

Lay Day in Merida

Actual Distance Walked= 8.99 Miles / 14.5 Kilometers

Accommodations= Hostal Senero. 16 Euro per person, per night, in a double or triple room with an en-suite bathroom.

There is a new Albergue near the river. 12 places, 5 Euro per person. We chose to stay in a hostal because we were staying 2 nights.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Zafra is a beautiful little town located at the base of the Sierra de Castellar mountains. It was once home to 3 very large convents built in the 16th Century. I think it would not have been a bad choice for a woman to live as a nun in former times. It was safe, serene, and relatively secure. You were spared a life of poverty and endless childbearing, with a chance to get an education above what most women could hope for. You even got the chance to live your faith by helping the community in some orders.

The Castle dominates the skyline, and beneath it spill the streets of the old town in a jumble. They are narrow and cobbled, bordered by white washed houses. Many of the iron balconies are already overflowing with flowers, some so thick that they create a screen. Palms sway above the rooftops and trees with brilliant pink blossoms are tucked into corners.  You wind down these pleasant streets and suddenly you are in the multi-arcaded Plaza Grande. In the 1400’s this was a marketplace, built to provide shade from the relentless sunshine. Zafra has been an important market town since those days because of the quality of it’s local goods and handicrafts. But tonight it was a great place to have dinner and a glass of wine, watching the crowds of people stroll, shop, laugh, eat and socialize. It was a bit like being back in Sevilla on this warm evening.

At our Albergue we Judy began talking to a man in the courtyard. She stopped and said, “Do you speak English?” He immediately replied, “And Australian too!” She asked, “Alan?”, to which he replied “Judy?” Amazingly, they had been conversing on a Camino forum  at home in Australia but had never met each other, and tonight he was our room mate.  Fancy that! It’s another Camino miracle. We so enjoyed our evening together at the Plaza Grande. He is a kind and intelligent man with mischief in his eyes and a contagious smile. He has walked many Caminos, and it seems to be his passion. It is wonderful to be around someone so filled with good cheer, the spirit of the Camino shining through.

Rest Day to explore Zafra. Distance walked 5.27 miles / 8.5 Kilometers

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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