Only 30 years ago, if you asked anybody in Extremadura, they would have told you that Badajoz was, how can I say it nicely, not the most beautiful city on earth. However, the last works in the old town, together with some amazing archaeological finds, have turned the city center of Badajoz into a swan - pardon the metaphor. Plus, some of its festivities are really popular nowadays- a characteristic example would be the Carnival (the second-best in Spain) and the Palomos gay pride festival. Let me walk you through its streets!
The Alcazaba -the Arabic castle- is obviously the first stop. This area has become a great spot to lay on the grass under the palm trees while admiring the Arabic architecture, which was recently revealed. It can be found on the hill called “Cerro de la Muela.” At the very entrance, after going under a couple of horseshoe arches that will make you feel like in the Alhambra, you will find a fascinating museum.
Outside, if you walk around the city walls, you can admire the Guadiana, one of the most important rivers in Spain. It runs under three bridges. The most beautiful one is the bridge of Palmas, an XVIth century masterpiece with 32 arches. It connects the suburbs to one of the most impressive gates of the city: the Puerta of Palmas, also dating to the XVIth century. All around the old town, you can find defensive walls and forts, all of them very well restored.
Back to the city center, the cathedral is also of interest: it took 500 years to build it, so its style(s) is quite unique. Nearby, the Plaza Alta (literally, the high square), right next to the Alcazaba, it is the perfect spot to eat or sip a glass of wine while admiring colorful walls and the Arabic tower of Espantaperros.
If you like to party, Carnival is the perfect time to come to Badajoz. It is the second biggest in Spain, and it just gets crazy. A huge parade, contests of made-up songs (chirigotas) mocking the reality, and overall party, party, party characterize this carnival. The same thing happens on Saint John's day (June 24th). And of course, the gay pride festival, the spring festival… well, actually there are a lot of good times to visit Badajoz!
For decades, the old city area of Badajoz was a forbidden area for tourists. It was a shady neighborhood. Everything looked old and about to fall. It was an unknown area for the archaeologists, too, and hence the very past of Badajoz was not very clear. Then, somebody decided that things had to change. They cleaned the area from drug-addicts and thieves and started to dig and restore. And oh wonder, the biggest Arabic castle of Europe came out to the surface.
Badajoz had lacked big monuments, and finally, we learned why. It was not because it had not been important but because it had been in so many wars that everything was destroyed or buried under the ground. A lot of valuable information was acquired. Some pre-Roman and Roman remains have come to surface. We know for sure that the current Badajoz was founded in 875 ADE by Ibn Marwan, a rebel that decided to create his own kingdom. The Arabic castle is so big that the excavations are not over yet, so who knows what else might come out?
Finally, I cannot help but talk about Manuel Godoy, the Prime Minister of Spain, at the time of Napoleon. His story looks like it came straight out of a movie. He was in the royal guard of the kings in Madrid. One day, the horses of the royal carriage got scared and went out of control. Godoy, quite heroically, I must say, was able to stop them. From there, he became very good friends with the kings (some rumors even say lover of the queen!) and, eventually, was named the Prime Minister. Of course, Napoleon took advantage of the poor peasant turned into a critical politician in Spain and managed to invade the whole country. The people of Madrid knew about this and wanted to kill him for letting the French in. He had to escape from the palace rolled inside a Persian carpet! I know it sounds like a movie, right? The only good thing he achieved was to conquer Olivenza, next to Badajoz, which until then had been under the Portuguese. Well, something is something!
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