Valencia de Alcántara was once a significant city. Kings from all over the centuries were here: it controlled the access to Portugal. It is also at the border between the provinces of Badajoz and Cáceres. However, when the European Union opened the frontiers, its decadence started. Nowadays, only 5,000 souls live here, but in the summer, the people that left come back, and for a couple of months, Valencia de Alcántara recovers its past joyfulness! Nevertheless, the town is still a beauty and is well worth a day of sightseeing, no matter the season.
While walking by its streets, you get the feeling of a decadent old city. Here and there, signs of a glorious past can be spotted: a castle with a chopped tower, a church where a king was married, houses with enormous coats of arms. Further away in time, Roman footprints: an aqueduct, a bridge, a fountain. And, of course, its very sign of identity: its 41 dolmens, huge stones put together without any cement some 5,000 years ago.
Valencia de Alcántara was probably Celtic already. There is a controversy about whether it was also Roman or not. Well, as I said, there is a Roman aqueduct, a bridge, and a fountain. Let’s assume that the Romans would not build all of those for anybody! It was also Moorish, and a very important city at this time: it had at least two mosques. One was turned into the Church of Rocamador (yes, like the French Rocamadour, their knights were here as well), and the other is today the proud town hall. Have a peek inside: there is a cool medieval armor at the bottom of the beautiful stairs. At the Rocamador church, the greater Portuguese king of all times married the daughter of the Catholic Kings. The visit inside is, again, a must: it was built very 'fancy' to celebrate this event, and the greatest artists of the time participated in it!
Back outside, you are situated next to the Gothic / Jewish neighborhood. It is quite well preserved: it has over 250 doors crowned by Gothic arches. Walk inside its narrow streets, get lost - you will feel transported to another time! Also, between humbler houses, you will find around 100 noble mansions, with their huge coats of arms standing proudly in their most likely about to fall walls, signs of past glory. If you are lucky, you may run into the ancient synagogue. After the Jewish people were expelled, the cruel villagers turned it into a pigs’ slaughterhouse - the pig is the most impure animal for the Jewish.
Being at the border, the castle has suffered a lot: its central tower was chopped after they lost a battle. Also, if you look closely, you will see an ancient path leading to an entrance, with a broken arch at its end. Down the road, a Roman bridge can be seen still in perfect shape.
If you have some strength after pacing the Gothic / Jewish neighborhood up and down, you still have many routes around the town, which are absolutely delightful. Very well signalized, you can walk them following earth paths while enjoying the majestic nature of the Taejo International Park. In La Zafra, you will see some dolmens on your way, in Camino de las Aguas, a Roman aqueduct. Though it suffered a very bad restoration (it used to have 18 arches and now only 3), it is still somewhat shocking to be walking in the middle of nowhere and just run into such a magnificent construction.
The best season to visit Valencia de Alcántara is spring: there are flowers everywhere, and it has already lovely weather. May 15th is a very special date: it is San Isidro, the day of the town’s patron. And of course, we are after all in Extremadura, so do not dare to leave town without having some Iberian jamón. Also, go for tapas: ask for a beer, and you will get one for free! Besides, beers are very cheap here. Some places sell some artisan ales that are truly yummy!
See? I think I just proved that, even if it is not a very touristic place anymore, you can have an enjoyable day visiting Valencia de Alcántara!
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