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Caceres, recognised by Unesco in 1986 as a city of cultural heritage, has managed not only to preserve its marvellous old quarter, but has also adapted to modern times and grown through the development of new districts. Its origins date back to prehistoric times; Cuevas de Maltravieso (Maltravieso Caves), in the outskirts of the city,
whose drawings hail from the Late Paleolithic period, are the largest and most important proof of this. Today, the city can be divided into four important areas: the old quarter, the Jewish quarter, the centre and outer suburbs.
The Old Quarter
The honorary title, bestowed by Unesco, is well deserved by the historic part of Caceres, which transports you back to the Early Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In actual fact, you could talk about the area in terms of a small city which maintains ancestral homes and palaces in a good state of repair and are today used as public and
private institutions, restaurants, shops and residences.
The main building is a church, Iglesia de Santa María, Romanesque in style, but tending towards the Gothic period. Opposite is the Episcopal Palace. All of the monuments comprising the old quarter are a mélange of cultures which can be traced to their historical origins. Essentially, the remnants stem from Medieval times, with some
Roman elements still present; there are also vestiges of Arabic art, like the cistern at Veletas Palace, and traces of the Jewish community that used to live here.
In the 13th century, Caceres was reconquered by the Christians. At that time, the Plaza Mayor was being used as a marketplace by craftsmen. Today it is a meeting point for young people in the evenings and at weekends. Here you find the Town Hall and the emblematic monument of Torre de Bujaco, where, according to legend, 40 Christian
men were executed by Arab troops. A few feet away is Arco de la Estrella, portico of the magnificent Monumental City, where you'll find lovely hideaways and select restaurants.
The Jewish Quarter
From the 13th to 15th centuries, there were two Jewish quarters, la Judería Vieja (now known as Barrio de San Antonio) whose synagogue was situated in the sanctuary of this saint, and la Judería Nueva, created in 1478, which today comprises the following streets: Pintores, Moret, Cruz and Panera. The synagogue was in the Palacio de la
Isla. You can now find many small shops, bars and restaurants here.
In 1479, there were close to 130 Jewish families in the city, a significant proportion of the total population which was only 2,000 people. The Jews in Caceres were merchants, cobblers, jubeteros or doctors by profession, to name a few. After the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, the Judería Vieja changed its name to the San Antonio Abad
or de la Quebrada (broken), due to the type of floor, surrounded by low walls that highlight the unevenness.
The heart of central area runs from Plaza San Juan to the streets bordering on Cruz de los Caídos. In this area you find the city's main shops, banks and institutions. Paseo de Canovas is the nerve centre of the city, and ministerial offices are close by, along with the Extremadura Assembly and the banks' head offices.
Cruz de los Caídos is another very central point; it leads to roads out of the city and the majority of buses pass by here. From this area, the city has grown outwards towards Los Fratres, Cabezarrubia 2 and el Parque del Príncipe.
Over the last decade, the construction boom has meant the emergence of new urban developments in all surrounding areas. In the North, the first suburb was Los Castellanos, later joined by Cabezarrubia 2, La Sierrilla, R-66 and currently el Vivero. Closeby, Parque del Príncipe, one of the city's main parks, is surrounded by a large urban
development that is constantly growing.
Towards the road to Madrid, there is a new suburb called La Mejostilla, which has involved several stages of construction. From here, the suburbs of Los Frates and Nuevo Caceres have been built up around the roads to Badajoz and Mérida in the south of Extremadura. A few miles further out, near the golf club, in the open countryside,
some new houses have been built for those who enjoy living in a more peaceful area.
History of Caceres
Some 25,000 years ago, the plateau on which Cáceres is situated (459m above sea level), was already inhabited.
Humans were already here in the Palaeolithic period and they left us an indelible mark as proof of their existence in the Cuevas de Maltravieso (Maltravieso Caves), where a number of very peculiar cave paintings have been found. Peculiar because in the 130m cave, the only prints are of hands, and all have their little finger missing. In
addition, artefacts from the Neolithic period, such as pottery and tools, have been found.
Before the Roman Empire, the Celts had but a brief intrusion into the area if compared to the Romans, who settled the city three times. The first settlement, built on the old Celtiberian hill fort, was called Castra Servilia. In 78BC, what was a winter encampment for Roman legions was named after its founder, Cecilio Metelo, Castra
Caecilia. This lasted 45 years, and with the arrival of the proconsul Cayo Norbano Flaco, (34BC) the place was renamed Norba Caesarina.
Unfortunately, the Almohads later used the remnants of these Roman buildings in their own buildings so that today, little remains of the Roman constructions. Only in the Arco del Cristo can vestiges of two big stone ashlars that were used by the Romans in their fortifications be found.
Barbarians and Visigoths
Like when the Roman Empire settled in the city, the arrival of the Barbarians also brought on a period of destruction and decline. In Norba Caesarina, it was no different, and what with fighting between the Visigoths themselves (Leovigildo and his son Hermenegildo), the area saw itself sink into decline and decay thereby making it all the
easier for the Moors to invade (711).
Like in many other populated areas, the alternating of power between Arab and Christians was frequently repeated. The Muslim domination of Cáceres remained firm until the 12th century, when Gerardo Sempavor (1166) succeeded in snatching control from the Muslims. Subsequently lost again shortly afterwards, the city was retaken by Fernando
II of León in the name of the Christians in 1169. In any case, the Almoravids wanted Cáceres for its strategic location and Abú Ya'qub regained the city in the name of Islam in 1173.
It was during this period that Cáceres, known at this time as Hinz Qazris, and with subsequent Almohads, that elements of what we admire today began to appear. Thus the town was adequately fortified on the Roman remains (wall) and the following were built: the towers of Bujaco, of Yerba, and of Horno and the cistern at Veletas Palace.
A further 50 years elapsed before Alfonso IX de León could reconquer the city for the Christians, on 23 April 1229, on San Jorge (St. George's) Day.
13th, 14th and 15th Centuries
This is when the splendour of the period began to take hold, what in time, would become the groundwork for the Monumental City that is so admired today. The city started to cluster along the parishes of Santa María and San Mateo. From another direction, to the west of the city, the Jewish population settled around the synagogue. Then, at
the end of the 13th century, aristocratic families, primarily from Galicia, Castile and Leon started to arrive and build their houses and palaces.
In addition, outside the Almohad wall, at the start of the 14th century, the population started to concentrate around the churches of Santiago (de los Caballeros) and San Juan, which produceed a shift in all commercial matters from Plaza de Santa María to Plaza Mayor. Some examples of former prosperity include the Hernando de Ovando
Palace, Mayoralgo Palace, Golfines de Abajo Palace, Casa de los Becerra and Veletas Palace, among others.
In the war of succession of the crown of Castile, the surrounding area of the very noble and very loyal city changed. Not supporting the cause of Isabel of Castile meant that the queen destroyed almost all the battlements of the noble families' palaces. The result was that all the palaces were then of the same height; the only one that
managed to survive this act of arrogance was the Torre de las Cigüeñas (Cáceres-Ovando Palace), thanks to the support its owner, Captain Diego de Cáceres, gave to the temperamental queen.
16th and 17th Centuries
During the Reconquest and the discovery of the New World, the buildings in Cáceres were improved and became more and more ostentatious. Many city nobles tried their luck in the conquest of the Americas, together with the famous discoverers from Extremadura: Pizarro, Almagro, Cortés. Such was the case for Francisco de Godoy y Aldana,
(Godoy Palace), the Pereros lineage (Casa de los Pereros) and Fray Nicolás de Ovando (Casa de los Ovando), who was at the forefront of one of the more serious attempts at colonization of the new lands.
The crisis of the following century, on the other hand, (during the end of the reign of the Austrias), slowed down progress and the only architecture that went ahead were reforms on existing buildings, those of a religious nature (San Francisco Monastery) and those built in the 18th century (Nuestra Señora de la Montaña and Iglesia
de San Francisco Javier).
18th, 19th and 20th Centuries
At the end of the 18th century, the Real Audiencia de Extremadura (Extremadura Royal Courts) were established in Cáceres, with the aim of ending the high incidence of pillage and other crimes. It was not until 1833 that the city became the capital of the province, robbing Plasencia of that privilege. From then on, the population and
economy grew (thanks to the economic gains from the Aldea Moret phosphate mines) and the city embarked upon an ambitious expansion plan outside the city wall, with beautiful works like Paseo de Cánovas.
The Civil War and the subsequent period halted this process, until 1986, when the city was declared of cultural heritage by Unesco. Today, Cáceres is a city with an important university, headquarters to many official organisations of the Community and the second most populated city in the province of Extremadura with over 84,300
inhabitants, most of whom work in the service sector.
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