Despite its unofficial ‘most overlooked Spanish region’ status, Extremadura is home to numerous historical sights and boasts three World Heritage Sites: the Old Town of Cáceres, the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, and the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe.

 If you’re a culture and history buff who has yet to visit western Spain, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Extremadura are three compelling reasons to explore this often forgotten part of the country.

 This article includes a general overview, curiosities, highlights, and practical info to help you plan your trip to the World Heritage Sites in Extremadura.

People from different cultures settled in the trade route city of Cáceres (Roman, Moorish, Jewish, and Christian), each leaving their own mark in the city centre’s architecture. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, the Old Town of Cáceres displays a unique mix of Roman, Islamic, Gothic and Italian Renaissance architectural styles. The walled ensemble makes for a delightful stroll along picturesque streets featuring grand palaces, fortified houses, and towers, opening up to charming squares with imposing churches and other noteworthy religious buildings.

Old Town of Cáceres

Did you know? The Old Town of Cáceres features in a number of films and TV series, the most internationally famous being Game of Thrones. In GoT’s seventh season, Cáceres’ city centre becomes the King’s Landing, with scenes filmed in Arco de la Estrella, Plaza de Santa María, Cuesta de la Compañía and Plaza de las Veletas. Cáceres also appears in GoT’s prequel House of the Dragon.

Highlights in the Old Town of Cáceres include

Arco de la Estrella: an arch acting as the main way into the walled ensemble.

Muralla: the city walls.

Torre de Bujaco: a twelfth-century flanking tower offering the best views of the main square.

Iglesia concatedral de Santa María: Cáceres’ most relevant church, offering fantastic views from its bell tower.

Plaza de San Jorge: a charming square dominated by a Baroque church.

Judería Vieja: the Old Jewish Quarter, featuring humble, pretty whitewashed houses.

Casa Mudéjar: a fourteenth-century Mudejar-style building.

Plaza de las Veletas: a small square located in the highest point within the old town, home to the local city museum, which houses a well-preserved cistern.

Parador de Cáceres: two separate palaces make up the current four-star hotel –Casa de Ovando-Mogollón, Perero y Paredes, and Palacio de los Marqueses de Torreorgaz.

Torre de Bujaco, Cáceres
Iglesia concatedral de Santa María, Cáceres

Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida​

Founded as Augusta Emerita in 25 BCE on the banks of the river Guadiana, Extremadura’s capital was the most important city in the Iberian Roman province of Lusitania. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida comprises 22 excellently preserved remains ranging from public buildings, to private architecture, religious buildings and engineering works.

Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida

Did you know? Strictly speaking, the term ‘Vía de la Plata’ (widely used to refer to the modern tourist itinerary running from Seville to Gijón) only refers to the stretch of the historical Roman Road running from Emerita Augusta (Mérida) to Asturica Augusta (Astorga).

Highlights in the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida include

Teatro Romano: a splendid Roman Theatre and Mérida’s top tourist attraction. It’s the main venue of an acclaimed International Classic Theatre Festival taking place every summer and regularly hosts musical and other events.

Anfiteatro Romano: a Roman Amphitheatre. Today, a gladiator battle is reenacted there during a week-long late spring festival. It also hosts an early hours Way of the Cross procession during Easter.

Puente Romano: a large stone bridge over the river Guadiana. Built in the first century BCE, it remained open to road traffic until the early nineties.

Templo de Diana: an imperial cult temple sitting atop a granite podium in a central square. An adjoining Renaissance palace-turned interpretation sheds light on the origins and history of this misnamed monument.

Casa del Mitreo: a great example of a Roman house, representing the daily life of a well-to-do Roman family. This grand private residence, where rooms were organised around three courtyards, displays one of Mérida’s best Roman mosaics.

Acueductos: three aqueducts conducted water to former Emerita Augusta, the remains of two of them being located in Mérida’s city centre – Acueducto de los Milagros and Acueducto de San Lázaro.

Alcazaba: the oldest surviving Moorish fortress in Spain, dating from 835 CE and featuring numerous historical remains such as part of the old Roman road, the original Roman city walls, a house, and a cistern.

Aljibe: an outstanding Moorish cistern inside the fortress. Collecting water filtrating from the nearby river, this cistern points towards Mecca and a mosque and a watchtower were built on top.

Basílica de Santa Eulalia: a Visigoth basilica depicting Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque elements, featuring an interesting underground crypt with tombs from different historical periods.

Teatro Romano, Mérida
Acueducto de los Milagros, Mérida

Real Monasterio de Santa María de Guadalupe​

​Guadalupe is a large village in the southeastern area of Cáceres province and one of Extremadura’s main travel destinations. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, its Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe is an important centre of pilgrimage drawing visitors from all over the world and displays a fascinating mix of Gothic, Mudejar, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical styles.

Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe

Historical fact: beyond its religious role, the monastery became an important centre of medical research with several hospitals, and also played a significant role in Spanish history. It was here that Christopher Columbus asked the King and Queen at the time for financial support to fund his American expedition.

Highlights in the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe include

​Mudéjar cloister: a superb fourteenth-century cloister decorated with large paintings depicting battles, royal scenes and historical figures.

Museums: three museums line the cloister gallery, where you’ll see vestments and accessories (Museo de bordados), historical books and manuscripts (Museo de libros miniados), and religious paintings and sculptures (Museo de pinturas y esculturas).

Sacristy: a lavishly-decorated sacristy made up of three different spaces (an entrance hall, the main sacristy room, and a chapel) containing some oustanding paintings by Extremadura artist Francisco de Zurbarán.

Relicario: an octagonal, profusely ornamented Baroque building holding numerous relics and a collection of treasure.

Camarín: an octagonal chamber containing the statue of the Virgin.

Mudéjar cloister, Guadalupe
Guadalupe Monastery

Map of the 3 UNESCO world heritage sites in Extremadura

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Irene Corchado Resmella

Irene Corchado Resmella

Hi! I’m Irene (/ee-REH-neh/). Long since settled in the UK, I explore my Spanish home region of Extremadura with an inquisitive mind, a sharp eye, and the duality that comes with being both a local and a visitor. Then I write about it here to help you discover this beautiful yet overlooked part of Spain. If you have any questions after reading this article, submit a comment below! Read more about me.

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