Crusades, Moors & Age of Exploration

Lisbon, Portugal

Stop #33 (the final stop):

Lisbon sits on seven hills, and no matter where you go in Lisbon, you always feel like you are walking up one of them! To get a feel for the streets, take a look at the photos of the streetcars. I don’t know what they have for engines, but they must pack some serious power to navigate the hilly narrow streets.

The city is just north of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) and has several distinct neighborhoods. We spent time in the following ones (and probably others but didn’t know what they were called):

  • Alfama is the old Moorish quarter. It has some of the oldest buildings because it survived a major earthquake in 1755. This is where the Sé (the cathedral) and the Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle) are located.
  • Baixa (Lower Town). The very large square, Praça do Comércio is one of Europe’s largest riverside squares— in the photos, is a yellow (perhaps ochre) and white large square building with a gigantic square and monuments. Baixa sits between this square and Praça Dom Pedro IV, a smaller square.
  • Bairro Alto (Upper Neighborhood). We went to a bar and restaurant in this area, which is had hills (of course) and 18th-century streets with lots of bars and restaurants.
  • Alcântara and Belém. The old port district. Belém is the Portuguese word for Bethlehem. It was from here that the country’s great explorers set out during the period of the discoveries. The Manueline buildings in this part of town make it obvious that they came home with many riches.

Highlights:

  • Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle) was constructed by the Moors, but it refortified previous forts built by the Romans and Visigoths. Dom Afonso Henriques, mentioned in the Guimaraes portfolio, drive the Moors from Lisbon in. The views from the castle were some of the best in town.
  • Elevador de Santa Justa. This is a tourist attraction built in 1902 by Raul Mésnier, who studied under Gustave Eiffel. You will see the steel tower in pictures below.
  • This is another name for Lisbon’s main square described above. It is the same as the Praça Dom Pedro IV. There are ornate sculptures/statues throughout the square.
  • Torre de Belém. The building shown with a reflection in my photos below including balconies and turrets is Belém completed in 1520 to defend the port entrance. It is dedicated to St. Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon.
  • Padrão dos Descobrimentos. The white Monument of the Discoveries in photos below was made in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. From this site, Vasco da Gama left for India. Prince Henry is first figure on the monument, nearest to the water. Behind him are the Portuguese explorers of Brazil and Asia.

Porto, Portugal

Stop #29:

Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city.  There is a famous expression in Porto: “Coimbra sings, Braga Portugal’s second-largest city, with a population of roughly 280,000, considers itself the north’s capital and, more contentiously, the country’s economic center. Locals support this claim with the maxim: “Coimbra sings, Braga prays, Lisbon shows off, and Porto works.”

From Porto, Douro wine was mixed with brandy to preserve it during the journey and improve it over time.  Today we enjoy it at Port wine.

Aveiro, Portugal

Stop #30:

When your guide book tells you that you will visit the “Venice of Portugal”, it is pretty hard for that town to live up to your expectations.  So, to get to the point immediately, this wasn’t Venice.

Aveiro is a sea town and sits on the Ria de Aveiro, with a large shallow lagoon close to town.  Both salt and kelp are taken from the lagoon and sold in what seems like every shop in town. There are boats in town called moliceiros, which are kelp boat, that ride in the town’s canals.  The older part of town has sidewalks and squares with traditional Portuguese hand-laid pavement in fancy patterns.

Nazaré (Nazare), Portugal

Stop #32:

Nazaré has become synonymous with surfing and big waves.  They are the biggest waves in the world.  The town isn’t the quaint Portuguese fishing village it once was.  But it is still beautiful with cliffs and sand that stretches for miles.  The town of white buildings and tile roofs buts up against the cliffs.

The photos below show the point where many surfing photos are taken.  I took photos of a couple of original photos taken when the waves were at their highest, more than 50 feet high.  In 2011, surfer Garrett McNamara of Hawaii surfed a record-breaking 78 foot wave at Nazaré.

Guimarães, Portugal

Stop #28:

One of my favorite cities on this trip was medieval Guimarães.  We stayed at an old monastery converted into a hotel.  In the fact, the history of the monastery is described below.

The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a 2012 European Capital of Culture.  You will see a picture below with the words “aqui nasceu Portugal”, which means “ Portugal was born here”.  Actually, Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, was born here.  He eventually brought together lands between the Minho and Douro rivers.  From Guimaeres, Afonso Henriques eventually took back Lisbon from the Moors in 1147.  While the city was the first capital of Portugal, power eventually moved to Coimbra and later to Lisbon.

Highlights:

  • Castelo de Guimarães – Alfonso Henriques was born in this castle (lots of photos of the ruins below).
  • Paço dos Duques de Bragança (Palace of the Dukes of Bragança). The Paço dos Duques de Bragança is a 15th-century palace that once belonged to the dukes of Bragança but which is now the official regional seat of Portugal’s president. These are the photos below with the tapestries and heavy wood furniture with porcelain and paintings.
  • Pousada de Guimarães, Santa Marinha – We stayed at this pousada (former monastery) from the 12th-century.  It was originally founded by the wife of Dom Afonso Henriques to honor the patron saint of pregnant women. Our room was a former monk cell.  We enjoyed the gardens on a sunny and warm February day.  The views were also pretty extraordinary.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Pinhão, Portugal

Stop #27:

In Pinhão, we stopped at the local train station to take photos of the 25 large azulejo panels depicting scenes from Douro rural life.  While Portugals buildings are often covered in these tiles, the scenes that were included at the train station tell a story about every day live in the Douro Valley, which is full of vineyards growing grapes for port wines.

The wines from the Douro region (Douro River means River of Gold) is transported to Porto for export.  We also spent some time driving through the Douro Valley through the wine quintas (estates) in the valley.  The patterns of grape vines and stepped designs of the hills made for interesting photos of the landscape.

Douro grows several varieties of grapes for wines.  Reds are usually made from a blend of the native grape, Touriga Nacional. Whites are dry, have a pale-yellow color.  Famous wines from Douro include the  “Douro Boys”— Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, Quinta do Vale Meão, Quinta do Crasto, and Nieport.  To be callsed “Port”, it must be produced in Douro under strict regulations.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Stop #26:

Santiago de Compostela, Spain is the main attraction along the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, the camino francés, which crosses the Pyrenees from France and heads west across northern Spain.  The city’s Cathedral is very impressive, although it was under construction/renovation when we visited.  Santiago de Compostela has more than 4.5 million visitors per year, and even more during Holy Years.

Highlights:

  • Casco Antiguo is the old section of town with stone-paved narrow streets.  There are many convents and churches.
  • Cathedral. Parts of the Cathedral date to the late 1100s.  An old Romanesque sculpture, the Pórtico de la Gloria is the original entrance with three arches having figures from the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment, and purgatory. Because of the renovations, we didn’t get to see this entrance.  St. James is the figure on the altar, and it is when his birthday falls on a Sunday that there are “Holy Years”.  The crypt under the altar has Saint James’ remains.
  • Hostal dos Reis Católicos (Hostel of the Catholic Monarchs). Next to the Cathedral is the Hostel, which was built in 1499 by Ferdinand and Isabella to house the pilgrims who slept on Santiago’s streets every night. It is the oldest hostel in the world.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Lugo, Spain

Stop 25:

Lugo is Galicia’s oldest provincial capital most noted for its 1.5 mil) Roman wall with 71 towers.  The walls are 33-49 feet high. The third century walls are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Cathedral in the background of the cover photo is a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, baroque, and neoclassical styles and was built in the early 1100s.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Oviedo, Spain

Stop 24:

Oviedo is the capital city of Galicia.  We didn’t spend a lot of time here.  We built way too much into our interary to take full advantage of this city.  But honestly, other cities in the area were drawing us in.  And again, the highlights here are mostly churches.  We were exhausted from all the churches at this point, and the ones we had already seen were gorgeous, grand, hundreds of years old, and very interesting.

Highlights:

  • San Julian de los Prados, a re-Romanesque shrine – This is the oldest church in the city.  We didn’t make it in time to see the well-preserved frescoes and a Greek lettered cross on the inside.
  • Cathedral of San Salvador – Oviedo’s Gothic cathedral was built between the 14th and the 16th centuries.  Inside is a Holy Chamber built to hide the treasures of Christian Spain during the struggle with the Moors.  Again, we didn’t spend time here, so we missed this.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Santander, Spain

Stop #23:

Santander sits on the Bay of Biscay, with lots of beaches.  A relatively modern city, much of Santander’s old town was destroyed by fire in 1941.  We drove through the city without time to stop and take in some of the pretty beaches.  I must admit that it feels like a cruise ship town, which is enough to make me want to steer clear.  This probably would have been my parents’ favorite stop with its casino, Gran Casino del Sardinero. It is the white building surrounded by sycamore trees.

Bilbao, Spain

Stop 22:

I understand that Bilbao changed quite a bit once Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim was built. And Norman Foster’s subway system only made the city that much more modern (and what a subway system it is!). What was once a major industrial city, Bilbao is the main city of the Basque Country within Spain. It has about 1 million residents.

Highlights:

  • Guggenheim, click here for portfolio.
  • Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) or Siete Calles (Seven Streets)- this is the Right Bank neighborhood that has lots of bars and restaurants.
  • Left Bank, which has the Ensanche neighborhood and the Gran Vía, with lots of stores (including El Corte Ingles where I had to buy extra memory cards because I ran out of camera storage!).
  • Metro Bilbao – I swear this is the nicest Metro system I’ve ever seen. It was amazing!
  • Ayuntamiento (City Hall) by Joaquín de Rucoba built in 1892.
  • Alhóndiga Bilbao. This former municipal wine-storage facility used to store Rioja is now a civic center with shops, cafés, restaurants, and nightlife. We visited at night and thought it was pretty neat all lit up.
  • Bilbao to Santander train station.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain)

Stop #21:

This portfolio is all dedicated to the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao. I’m not a big fan of modern art, but this crazy structure is something I can appreciate.  A glass, steel, iron, and stone building in the site of Bilbao’s steel and shipping port.  The titanium on the outside of the building reflects all kinds of shadows and colors.  The inside of the building makes it confusing to know how to get from one landing to the next…a fun house for adults.  The entry fee was pretty high to see modern art that I just don’t understand, but it was well worth the price to see this unique architecture.  To see the rest of Bilbao, click here.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Burgos, Spain

Stop #20:

Just when you think you’ve seen enough churches to last you a lifetime, you stumble upon a town called Burgos, with one of the craziest churches you have ever seen.  It was stunning!

This small city has some of Spain’s most outstanding Medieval architecture. This is also the city of El Cid, the part-historical, part-mythical hero of the Christian Reconquest of Spain.

The big highlight, you guessed it, is the city’s cathedral.  History tells us that local burghers lynched their civil governor in 1869 for trying to take an inventory of all of the artwork in the Cathedral because the parishoners were afraid there was a plot to steal the artwork.  Construction began in 1221 and was complete by the middle of the 14th century.  The tomb of El Cid is in the hexagonal Condestable Chapel. along with his wife, Ximena.

We also hiked to the top of the city near the Caballeros castle (which we didn’t have time to visit) to get panoramic city views.  The black poplars on the Espolon also look interesting this time of year.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Segovia, Spain

Stop #19:

In the middle of the plains, Segovia pops out the middle of nowhere with yellow orange stone buildings and Roman and medieval monuments.  Segovia has a long history with Romans, Moors, and Christians all living here.  Isabella the Catholic (married to Ferdinand of Aragón), was crowned queen of Castile here.

Segovia’s castle (the Alcázar) was a really cool place.  Basking in sun when we arrived, the sky was quickly cloudy and I missed a few good photos from the roof of the castle.  But just before leaving, the sun popped out and the nice people at the castle let us climb back up the tower to get a couple photos (and then my camera battery died because there is so much to photograph in this city).

Highlights:

  • Acueducto Romano. Segovia’s Roman aqueduct is one of the greatest surviving examples of Roman engineering. The granite blocks have no mortar holding them together, but the aqueduct has been standing since the end of the 1st century AD.
  • Alcázar. While it dates from Roman times, the castle was expanded in the 14th century and remodeled in the 15th century.  After a fire in 1862, it was remodeled.  As mentioned above, we had to climb the narrow spiral staircase in the tower twice to get pictures of sunny Segovia!  I also got plenty of pictures of the throne room, the chapel, and the bedroom used by Ferdinand and Isabella.
  • Cathedral. Begun in 1525 and completed 65 years later, Segovia’s Gothic cathedral replaced an older cathedral that was destroyed in a battle.   I got some photos of this church at night, but it wasn’t easy.  The church is not lit up (at least the evening I was there).  Thanks to a tripod, a great sensor on my camera, extended shutter release, and a forced ISO200 that left the shutter open for about 30 seconds, I got a few photos of the Cathedral looking like it was lit by bright floodlights!
  • Plaza Mayor. Next to the cathedral is the Plaza Mayor, which probably is bustling in the summer but wasn’t too busy in February!

We stayed at the Eurostars Convento Capuchinos, which combined modern furnishings with the old structure of the Oblatas Convent, making it the city’s first five-star hotel.  It was really amazing inside.  The original building consisted of a church, a convent and the founders’ residence. The church has been converted into a gourmet restaurant, and the other two areas house the rooms and the hotel’s common services.

We ate at Mesón de José María. This mesón (or traditional tavern-restaurant) had several traditional Castilian specialties.  I ate Cochinillo which a lady at the bar recommended to me (it is a suckling pig!).  I felt bad eating it.  It tasted more like chicken than pork.  Randy had venison, which was actually really good.  I probably won’t eat either of these dishes any time soon.  Catholic guilt.  Bambi and Babe were all I could think about after that meal.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Avila, Spain

Stop #18:

Ávila’s walls are still intact from the Middle Ages. Begun in 1090, shortly after the town was reclaimed from the Moors, the walls were completed in only nine years, but it took 1,900 men!

The walls have nine gates and 88 round towers.  We took the advice of several travel books and crossed the Adaja Riverto see the walls from a great vantage point.

Ávila is most famous because of a saint named St. Teresa, who was born here in 1515.  Many of the photos below are from her chapel and church.  She was born into a noble family of Jewish origin, but later converted to Catholocism.  We bought some of the yemas (candied egg yolks) made famous by St. Teresa for my mother.  She’ll have to let us know how they were.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Madrid, Spain

Stop #17:

While I like Madrid, I prefer to be driving through all the beautiful smaller cities throughout Spain.  I visited Madrid when I was in my 20s, and it looks much the same.  The weather wasn’t the greatest on this visit, but luckily the Prado can keep one entertained for quite  long time.  We also spent quite  bit of time in the Palace.

You have to see google “Interior Madrid Palace” because you won’t believe the inside of the palace.  Photography is not allowed, so I cooperated with the rules.  But I would have had a field day in there if I could have.  See the porcelain room and dining room for the highlights.

The last picture is a photo of my brochure from the Prado.  You’ll recognize some paintings or at least some artists for sure.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Toledo, Spain

Stop #16:

We started our trip to Toledo in Castile– La Mancha, the land of Don Quixote.  You will see the windmills in the photos below.  In Toledo, everything seems to be about El Greco’s paintings.  But driving into Toledo is a wonderful experience, with views of the walls, fortress, churches visible for miles.

Toledo sits on a rocky mount with steep hills, and is surrounded on three sides by the Tagus River. The original Alcázar dates from 192 BC and was built by the Romans.  It has been updated since then by the Visigoths and the Moors.

Highlights include:

  • Alcázar- with four columns and visible in many photos below.
  • Cathedral – Most of the building dates to the early 15th century; it features a depiction of Mary presenting her robe to Ildefonsus, Toledo’s patron saint, archbishop of the city in the 7th century. This Cathedral was inspired by Chartres and other Gothic cathedrals in France.  In the middle of the ambulatory is an exemplary baroque “illusionism” by Narciso Tomé known as the Transparente, a blend of painting, stucco, and sculpture. The Cathedral has several El Grecos.
  • Puente de Alcántara. Roman in origin, this is the city’s oldest bridge. Next to it is a heavily restored castle built after the Christian capture of 1085 . We took many photos from the other side of this bridge.
  • Puente de San Martín. This pedestrian bridge on the western side of Toledo is where we took some of the night photos.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Alhambra (Granada, Spain)

Stop 15:

Fodor’s says that Alhambra is Spain’s most popular attraction. It has three main parts: the Alcazaba, the Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces), and the Generalife, or ancient summer palace. We didn’t spend any time in Generalife, but we did spend a good bit of time in the Palaces and Alcazaba.

Alhambra’s history dates to 1238.  The palace has all of the beautiful arches and patterns in the photos below.  The geometric patterns are mostly made of ceramic and stucco.  Because the Alhambra was not kept up over the ceturies, it began to decay until the Duke of Wellington came to escape the Peninsular War. In 1829, Washington Irving arrived and wrote Tales of the Alhambra in 1832.  Restoration has continued since then.

Alcazaba’s tower (from which you see city views in the photos) is called Torre de la Vela (Watchtower).  I made a couple of panoramas from multiple pictures to try to capture the full view from the tower

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

 

Granada, Spain

Stop #14:

The Alhambra and the tomb of Catholic Monarchs are the biggest attractions of Granada.  I have reserved the Alhambra photos for a separate portfolio and it will be obvious why.  The place is one of Spain’s most visited attractions.

We stayed very close to the Alhambra at a B&B called Casa Morisca.  The owner/architect converted a 15th-century building into a hotel.  Per Fodor’s, Casa Morisca is named after the term that was given to the Muslims who stayed on in Granada after the city came under Catholic rule in the late-1400’ s. Many of these “moriscos” were artisans who decorated houses using materials and designs traditional to their culture, such as arches and wooden ceilings. This hotel offers exactly those materials.

Highlights:

  • Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) – This is one of the main reasons Granada is visited.  Catholic Monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragón are buried at this shrine. The Gothic style chapel is pictured below.  I vistied at night, so you won’t see lots of color in the stained glass windows.  The Chapel is next door to the Cathedral, which I visted the next morning.  Ferdinand and Isabella lay beside one another in the crypt.  The altarpiece has 34 carved panels depicting religious and historical scenes, including one scene where the keys to Granada are handed over by the Moors.
  • Cathedral – Carlos V commissioned the cathedral in 1521 because he considered the Royal Chapel “too small for so much glory”.  Originally planned to house his grandparents, their crypt remains today int eh Capilla Real.   The bright pictures of a large cathedral below are this building.  I was most impressed by the ceiling!
  • Night shots of every day street life.  I tried to get some photos of the meats hanging from rafters, desserts on display everywhere, beautiful colorful lights, old bridges, and town fortress walls.
  • Sierra Nevadas – driving into Granada, which is at the base of the mountains, you have great views of the range.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Mezquita (Cordoba, Spain)

Stop 13:

The Mezquita (Mosque) was built between the 8th and 10th centuries.  On the outside, you see a stone building with little color, but enter inside and you have colorful Spanish Islamic arches that make you feel as though the building doesn’t end for miles.  It has 850 columns of jasper, marble, granite, and onyx. Although the Mezquita is a Cathedral and has been since 1236, it is today a beautiful blend of Islamic art and Christian motif. When he Mezquita was a mosque in the mid-800s, it was a Muslim pilgrimmage site second in importance to Mecca because it held an original copy of the Koran and a bone from the arm of the prophet Mohammed.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Córdoba, Spain

Stop 12:

Highlights:

  • The Roman Walls surrounding Cordoba were built after the Romans captured the city in 206 BC.  The walls are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site designating the town’s historic center.
  • Mezquita (Mosque) – see this portfolio here.  The Mezquita is Córdoba’s mosque that was converted to a Cathedral in the 13th century.  It is so beautiful that it required its own portfolio.
  • Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Fortress of the Christian Monarchs). Built by Alfonso XI in 1328, the Alcázar is a Mudejar-style palace with splendid gardens. (The original Moorish Alcázar stood beside the Mezquita, on the site of the present Bishop’s Palace.).  The Christopher Columbus statues and pools and fountains were located here.
  • The Caliphal Baths are Arab baths located in the Cordoba’s historic center and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Photos are below.
  • Madinat Al-Zahra (Medina Azahara). This building no longer exists in full form.  It is basically some ruins currently being restored and excavated and a museum. Abd ar-Rahman III built this massive building in the foothills of the Sierra Morena by for his favorite concubine, az-Zahra (the Flower) starting in 936 and continuing for 25 years. In 1013, it was sacked and destroyed by Berber mercenaries and wasn’t rediscovered until 1944.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Seville, Spain

Stop 10:

Seville was amazing. I had no idea how much I would see there. In fact, the Alcazar is so incredible that I have separated the pictures into a separate portfolio from the rest of Seville. A compact city, Seville  appears to be a bigger city than it is. In the Centro, around the cathedral, are the Alcazar and the Plaza Nueva, the launching point for most of the places we visited.

Highlights:

  • Alcazar (which means fortress). Within the Alcazar is the Plaza del Triunfo, where there is an entrance to the Mudejar palace, the official residence of the king and queen when they’re in town. It was built by Pedro I (1350– 69) on the site of Seville’s former Moorish Alcázar. No photographs were allowed, but I must admit that it was one of the most beautifully decorated palaces I’ve ever seen (after the palace in Madrid). It was especially unique with all of the Moorish geometric patterns in each of the rooms.
  • Plaza Nueva – the main shopping and dining areas
  • Seville’s Cathedral is the largest and highest cathedral in Spain, the largest Gothic building in the world, and the world’s third-largest church, after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. What started as a mosque in 1171 was converted to a Christian Cathedral in 1248. The Cathedral was rebuilt in 1401. On one side of the Cathedral is a monument to Christopher Columbus with his coffin held by the four kings representing the medieval kingdoms of Spain: Castile, León, Aragón, and Navarra. Columbus’s son Fernando Colón is also buried here (see photos with translation: “ To Castile and León, Columbus gave a new world”). The opposite side has a Silver Altar.
  • El Arenal, which is the Maestranza bullring.
  • Plaza de Espana – a half-moon shaped set of buildings built for the 1929 World’s Fair. Azulejo pictures represent the provinces of Spain. The four bridges symbolize the medieval kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.
  • While we had hoped to visit Triana, known for traditional habitat for sailors, bullfighters, and flamenco artists, we just couldn’t fit it in.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Alcazar (Seville, Spain)

Stop 11:

You will see photos of the following:

  • Plaza del Triunfo
  • Mudejar palace, the official residence of the king and queen when they’re in town, built by Pedro I (1350– 69) on the site of Seville’s former Moorish alcázar (fortress). We were not allowed to take photographs, but I will say that it was unbelievably beautiful with all of the Moorish geometric patterns on the walls.
  • Puerta del León (Lion’s Gate) – I have one photo at night and another in the day below.
  • Patio del León (Courtyard of the Lion– while under renovation, I saw the lions and can imagine how beautiful it is without scaffolding!
  • Sala de Justicia (Hall of Justice) – 14th-century
  • Patio del Yeso (Courtyard of Plaster), which remains from the original 12th-century Almohad Alcázar.
  • The gardens were also nice, until we couldn’t figure out the path to get out of the maze.

I thank Randy for being able to look at a map once and know exactly how to navigate somewhere he has never been (a gift I definitely do not have…see Caceres blog)…he got me to the one spot where I wanted to get a photo before the crowds arrived. It is the spot below with the long narrow reflecting pool and the gorgeous arches surrounding the courtyard. This is one of my favorite spots from the whole trip, and one that captures the beauty of the Alcazar.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Merida, Spain

Stop #9:

Mérida was one of the biggest surprises of this trip.  I never imagined that I’d be walking through Roman ruins of this magnitude in the middle of Spain!

Mérida was founded by the Romans in 25 BC and called Augusta Emerita.  It was the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania and located on the banks of the Río Guadiana.  At Merida, major Roman roads from León to Seville and Toledo to Lisbon crossed. The Roman ruins are definitely the highlight of this town.

Highlights:

  • Templo de Diana is the oldest of Mérida’s Roman buildings.
  • Mérida’s Roman teatro (theater) and anfiteatro (amphitheater) are must sees.  The theater is well preserved and seats 6,000 people (and is still used today for special events).  The amphitheater, which holds 15,000 spectators, opened in 8 BC for gladiatorial contests.
  • Basílica de Santa Eulalia is a church that honors a child martyr Eulalia, who was burned alive in AD304 for spitting in the face of a Roman magistrate.
  • Alcazaba Árabe (fortress) was built by the Romans and strengthened by the Visigoths and Moors.  From the fortress walls are views of the Roman bridge.
  • Circo (circus) is where chariot races were held.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Caceres, Spain

Stop #8:

Caceres was a highlight for me.  I immediately fell in love with all the old buildings in the square…well after a little mishap.

OK, I’m not always the best navigator, but this was the worst I’ve ever done.  Especially when my offline map on Google Maps switched to pedestrian maps instead of driving maps with no advance warning.  I should have known something was wrong when we were driving down the narrowest street I’ve ever seen.  I cautiously said, “Google is telling us to go left…err, go straight, no make a right…now a quick left…”.  Then Randy said, “are you sure we are supposed to be driving on this street?”  That is when we arrived at the highlight of Caceres…the Plaza Mayor…for pedestrians only.  It was so beautiful, but cars were NOT ALLOWED anywhere near here!!!  Oh god, we had to do a U-turn on a street the size of a postage stamp.  Then there were signs I didn’t see the first time we went down this little alleyway … all in Spanish telling us that cameras were monitoring our every move and that we can’t drive anywhere near here because this is for pedestrians only!!! Oh God, I swear I just followed the damned navigation software.  Can’t Google get their algorithms correct?

After getting out of that hairy situation, we arrived at the parking garage near the hotel and walked to the hotel.  I started breathing again a half hour later.

I couldn’t believe how old this place looked.  And I don’t mean 1600s old like I’m used to seeing in the American historical cities around Boston, but really old because Caceres was founded by the Romans in 25 BC!!!  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the blend of Roman, Moorish, Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture.  The pictures speak for themselves…the town is amazingly beautiful!

We stayed in Plaza Mayor, yes the square that inaugurated our visit. Just beyond Plaza Mayor was one of the best-preserved medieval neighborhoods in Spain…the Ciudad Monumental (monumental city or old town, also called the casco antiguo or Cáceres Viejo).  When people tell you to visit in the off-season, they mean it.  You have the place to yourself.  If you are looking to meet a lot of locals, you’ll want to visit somewhere else.  But if you want to see one of the most stunning cities in Spain and not have a lot of people in loud colored clothing ruining your photos, this timing is ideal.

Finally, there is that pronunciation issue with this town’s name (Kuh-THE-Rus)…makes me a little self-conscious to say it this way, so I just say Kuh-Sa-Rus.

Highlights of Caceres:

  • The Museo de Cáceres is located in Casa de las Veletas (House of the Weather Vanes), a 12th-century Moorish mansion that is now used as the city’s museum. This was a perfect place when it started drizzling outside.  We saw archaeological ehibits from the Paleolithic through the Visigothic periods, contemporary art (which isn’t my favorite), and a famous El Greco. The museum even had a Moorish cistern— the aljibe.
  • The only palace open to the public is the Palacio de Carvajal.  There isn’t that much to see, but it is representative of other palaces with arched doorways, a tower, and the interior has been restored with 16th century furnishings.
  • Santa María de Gracia Cathedral is a Gothic church built the 16th century.  We climbed the tower for great city views.  I also stitched together a panorama of the city with multiple shots and really liked the final product.
  • San Francisco Javier Church is an 18th century Baroque church which offered us another chance to climb the tower for great views of the city (and storks!).

Anyone curious about the story of the hoods an masks in some of the photos should read about Holy Week in Caceres…https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Week_in_Spain.  The participants disguise themselves with a penitential robe or tunic and a hood with conical tip. The robes were used in the medieval period for penitents, who could demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.