© istock/Rudolf Ernst
© istock/Rudolf Ernst

Llerena, the little Athens of Extremadura

3 minutes to read

There is a place in Extremadura, not very touristic for the outsider, that I consider fascinating: Llerena. Its bright architecture conceals a dark past - it used to be one of the Holy Inquisition headquarters. However, once upon a time, it was an idyllic place where Muslims, Jewish people and Christians lived together in peace and harmony. This union worked so well that the city became super-rich and was actually called “the little Athens of Extremadura”. Curious to find out more? Let’s go!

History and architecture

Llerena is located south-east from Badajoz, not far away from Andalucía, and only 8 km away from the Roman city of Regina. It was an important place already in Medieval times. At first, it was Moorish, but then Llerena was conquered by the Christians, who brought many people from the north of Spain in order to populate its rich lands. Some were Jewish families, and together with the remaining Muslims, the city prospered. All in all, things were going just great. A school of translators of great importance, like the one in Toledo, was founded. They dealt with the papers of the Catholic Kings, for instance. Their members spoke the languages of the three main religions: Muslim, Jewish, Christian. 

© iStock / Rudolf Ernst
© iStock / Rudolf Ernst

Some important folks arrived at the same time, such as the grand Masters of military orders, who decided to settle here. They would not lodge anywhere, so they brought in great artists in order to build great palaces for them… and a great church! You would think you are in Venice or Padova by seeing the logia in the church of Our Lady of the Grenade. From this privileged position, these important people could witness the trials against witches, Jews... punished by the Holy Inquisition. 

© Sara Rodríguez Romo
© Sara Rodríguez Romo

Even the great Spanish painter Zurbarán, born nearby, lived here, and you can admire his crucified Christ on the main altar. You can also see his statue right in front of the church. Behind, standing proud is the emblematic Renaissance tower. 

Church Our Lady of the Grenade, Llerena
Church Our Lady of the Grenade, Llerena
© Sara Rodríguez Romo
© Sara Rodríguez Romo

However, in 1492, the Catholic Kings decided that they wanted a Christian country, free of Jewish people and Muslims. Nevertheless, many of those in Llerena decided to stay and convert. For example, if you visit the chapel of Saint Catalina, you will realize that it is actually the ancient synagogue. It was important to show that Christianity had won the war, so up to eight convents were built in Llerena. They are a beautiful surprise to discover while pacing the small streets around the main square...

© Sara Rodríguez Romo
© Sara Rodríguez Romo

Still, the church was always suspicious of the converts - people do not change their religion so easily! They did not like either how the old Christians were still friends with them - people do not stop being friends so easily, either! For instance, one of the first to be convicted was a guy who built himself the most beautiful chapel in the main church, Luis Zapata’s chapel. They took it away from him, and it was sold in an auction. His crime was being too friendly to Jewish people. 

The Holy Inquisition

So, the Holy Inquisition decided that Llerena needed their constant presence there. They ended up occupying a beautiful Renaissance palace, the current Palace of Justice

Palace of Justice, Llerena
Palace of Justice, Llerena
Calle Luis Zapata de Chaves, 1, 06900 Llerena, Badajoz, España

Until 1834, when the Holy Inquisition was abolished, many people were convicted in Llerena. However, it was never as bloody as in the rest of Europe. Here, the rich people had to pay a lot of money and make tons of repentance, and the poor were shaved and had to walk outside in public disgrace. 

© Sara Rodríguez Romo
© Sara Rodríguez Romo

Also, in the 19th century, many of these religious buildings were disentailed. Some others were destroyed by the French. And just like that, slowly, Llerena lost importance and fell into oblivion. It became a forgotten gem, looking forward to blossom again and show the world its beauty. So… are you one of those who would like to discover the little Athens of Extremadura?


The author

Sara Rodriguez Romo

Sara Rodriguez Romo

I live between Salamanca, in Spain, and Marvão, in Portugal. A passionate traveller, I have visited over 30 countries in four continents. Currently I am doing a PhD in Greek Mythology and working with horses, doing rides in the nature.

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