In Extremadura, very close to Plasencia, and just five minutes away from the motorway, there is a peculiar spot, worth a stop while driving: it's Cáparra. The route is very well signalized and goes through beautiful, endless fields. The cows grazing there, the only inhabitants of this land, will raise their heads in surprise for the visitor. And yet, despite being in such an empty place, suddenly a city appears in front of you- an unlikely place, a whole Roman city, abandoned for 1,000 years!
You can park your car right outside. What surprises the visitor is that there's no entrance fee! This is amazing, for a place that has a museum and a whole itinerary established, to absolutely guide you through. You can visit the amphitheater, which is one of the five in Lusitania, a huge Roman province. Next to it, a stone grave, a lonely testimony of the three necropoleis that used to exist in the area. A few meters further, the path will lead you to the ancient entrance of Cáparra. Two round towers used to protect it. They looked surprisingly like the typical middle ages' gates. The inhabitants of the nearby village destroyed them in the XVIIIth century:
The big arch was destroyed so they could build a chapel out of it, but the stones were so big and heavy that they had to be left there...Wikipedia
At the very center of the city stands a unique arch in Spain. It has four fronts, it still measures almost nine meters, and it keeps inscriptions and some images carved in stone. It used to mark the crossroads between the two most important streets of Cáparra. Surprisingly enough, it has survived 1,000 years of abandonment, and proudly stands still. Around it, the visitor can spot the remains of three temples, some big thermae, and ruins of many, many tabernae (small shops) that reveal the prosperity of the city.
Cáparra grew important because the Vía de la Plata crossed it (literally, the Silver’s way). This very, very ancient path linked the south of Spain with the north. Now, a motorway with the same name has covered almost entirely the Roman road. At some points you can still see the old road: a good sample of it can be found in Cáparra. As a matter of fact, the pilgrims heading by foot to Santiago de Compostela from the south, still use the Vía de la Plata. And of course, Cáparra has become a mandatory stop for them.
The indigenous people before the Romans (a long, long time ago) used this route to move around their cattle: the animals would spend the winter in the south, away from the snow of the north. In summer they would go up to the north, where the meadows were still green. This custom has not been lost. To this day, Spain keeps a huge web of paths to link very distant cities, for the farmers to be able to move the cattle. This includes the very city center of Madrid. Once a year the sheep will go through Gran Via, the iconic street of Madrid, stopping the traffic. Nobody can complain about it: they are allowed to do so by a very ancient law!
The old Roman city is only one of the many places the travelers can visit while driving through Extremadura. The government has made an effort to signalize the cultural heritage of the nearby roads properly. For instance, from North to South you can visit Roman thermae, a medieval village with its castle, etc. Actually, there are so many things to see and visit that it would be hard to leave this wonderful land!
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