Alcántara is located in Extremadura, at the border between Spain and Portugal. It guards the Roman bridge that gave it its name (Al-Qantarat, its Arabian name, meaning literally “the bridge”). For centuries this town hosted the Military Order of Alcántara. This Order was very important because they conquered a lot of territories from the Moorish. To show how rich they were, they built many monuments. Nowadays we can visit them, but some are not what they used to be. Why? Because the French destroyed them during the Independence War. Maybe this is the reason why people have almost forgotten about this town. However, it is reliving now. Monuments are being restored, while a great Theatre Festival brings thousands of tourists every summer. Even its traditional recipes have been recovered! Let us find out more about the fascinating city of Alcántara!
Alcántara used to be so important that a huge bridge was built in Roman times to cross the Tagus river right in this spot. By the way, the Tagus is the longest river in Spain. Because of that, every winter, the bridge would disappear underneath it and then reappear in spring. Mind you, despite being the oldest patrimony item of Alcántara, it is the best-preserved! At its entrance, it still has a Roman temple, which can also be found in excellent shape.
Inside the town, you may find the church of Santa María de Almocóvar. Its strange name descends from a Moorish word. It was built over the ancient mosque. It is one of the few Romanesque churches in Extremadura. Santa María de Almocóvar is only one of the dozen of religious buildings that you can find in Alcántara - a proof of its glorious past.
Around Corredera Square, you will find the palaces of the noblest families of Extremadura. Some were conquerors, and some were wise writers. Not far away from here, the Conventual of San Benito hosted the Order of Alcántara. The gallery of Charles V is a beauty. Here, the French destroyed all the books where the monks had copied all their wisdom throughout the centuries. All the books? No! There is one that survived: a recipe book.
Here is the story: the French General that destroyed Alcántara was married to a woman that was very fond of cooking. The monks for Alcántara were known for their culinary skills. So the General took the book to France and guess what! Our hepagrás became their foie-gras. Yes: the most known “French” dish comes actually from our humble Alcántara. If you go to Alcántara, you absolutely have to eat there. It is impossible to taste all the variety of local dishes. Still, you should try at least the “kingly cod,” the pheasant, the Alcántara partridge, and of course, the “mormenteras,” an ancient Moorish dessert.
If you happen to pass by in August, do not miss the Festival of Classic Theatre. It is held at the San Benito Convent, and it brings the most famous Spanish actors to Alcántara to perform in ancient Greek and Roman plays.
Alcántara, like most of Extremadura’s cities, is not very touristic. The reason for this is beyond my knowledge! It has everything you can wish for in a town: great buildings, history, gastronomy, culture… If you do not believe me, plan a visit to Alcántara and check for yourself!
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