Mérida to Cáceres

We decided to continue as far as Cáceres, some 74 km to the north of Mérida, spending the nights in Aljucén, Alcuésar and Aldea de Cano.

About 5 km north of Merida, we passed around the Proserpina dam – El Embalse de Proserpina.  It was built in the early days of Mérida, to supply water to the city across aqueducts.  The aqueducts have long been in ruins, but the reservoir, with its 12m retaining wall, still exists.

El Embalse de Proserpina

At one point on the route, we saw in the distance the couple with the cart.  She was strapped in and hauling, while he was ahead, walking with a perceptible limp.  A little later we passed them: they were sitting some distance from the path.

Aljucén is a very small village with one bar and a rather strange Casa Rural – Termas Aqua Libera, at which we turned out to be the only guests.  From the street, there was nothing unusual about the place, but once across the threshold, one was transported to Roman times.  It seemed to be quite an authentic copy of a Roman villa, and we were shown where we could select from a choice of Roman togas to wear, if we were interested in dressing the part.  We respectfully declined the opportunity.

When we went out some time later, there seemed to be a party going on, with several couples dressed in Roman gear, with lots of flashing legs and thighs.  But when we returned a couple of hours later, all was quiet, much to Lotta’s relief and my disappointment; I had never before been to a Roman orgy and I still haven’t.  One can but live in hope… 🙂

The highlight of the next day was our encounter with the pigs, black pigs, hundreds of them, in a huge open range paddock: the black pigs that produce the famous pata negra ham.  The black Iberian pig, or cerdo negro, are apparently the only pigs that naturally seek out and eat mainly acorns.


But like most pigs, they are very curious, and want to smell you and perhaps taste the salt on your legs.  Now I was brought up with pigs, so nothing new there, but I suspect that Lotta would have preferred to have seen them from the other side of a fence.  She was quite happy to eventually cross a cattle grid and leave that massive paddock.

The place where we stayed in Alcuésar was also quite strange.  I had only vague instructions that led us nowhere, so we stopped in a bar to ask directions.  After another caña, the very helpful barman drew us a simple map on a serviette: it turned out that we had been quite close, but not close enough.

But when we found the street and the right block, we could not see a door.  I asked an old toothless man if he knew where the entrance was and he immediately scuttled up a side-street and rang a door bell, signalling that we had arrived.  An elderly aristocratic-looking lady answered the door, hustled us in and in a whirlwind of introductions and instructions, swept us in and out of rooms, up stairs, down steps and along corridors until we were in a small apartment that was ours for the night.  I was quite disorientated.

Thankfully our exit was close by, via a side door of the house, which it turned out occupied an entire block of the town.  It must have been a rich family that built the house and perhaps the aristocratic lady was a descendant.  We never did see her again.

We managed to navigate our way from the apartment into the town and back again, without once getting lost.  And when we returned, who did we see watching television as we passed a large room that served as a lounge?  The couple with the cart!

Somewhere in the house was the little apartment

Between Alcuésar and Aldea de Cano, we came across several Roman milestones.  A Roman mile was the distance that a legion would march 1000 paces, a pace being each time the left foot struck the ground.  It was the origin of the English mile, and each Roman milestone had its distance from Rome engraved on it.

A typical Roman miöestone

Prior to Aldea de Cano, we passed through an extensive area with bridges and stepping stones, even though the ground was bone dry.  Apparently, it was a swamp when it rained.

Dry, but sometimes  not so…


When we arrived in Aldea de Cano, there was a sign on the door of our Casa Rural to say that our hostess would not be there until two hours later.  So, we settled ourselves down in the sun, outside a nearby bar, and quenched our thirst and ate some tapas.  We were soon joined by an old farmer, who obviously already had had a few drinks. He was delightful company.  At one stage, he disappeared and emerged with some more beers for us, and later I reciprocated.

In the meantime, we had been joined by a little kitten.  It watched us, but never got close.  When I tried to stroke it, it quickly retreated.  The farmer said that it was a street cat and he wanted one for his farm, to keep the vermin under control.  He tried to tempt it to come close, but to no avail.

The rodent hunter

That night we finally met the ‘strange couple with the cart’.  I had arranged for the owner to serve us dinner, and when we sat down, the couple emerged from a nearby room.  It turned out they were indeed German, quite shy, but passionate about hiking.  He was a web developer, quite a ‘geek’ and I don’t recall what she did.  They did not live together, but were ‘married’ in their passion for hiking.  I rather liked them.

The next morning, we left early and stopped at a bar on the edge of the village.  And who came in, just as we were about to leave?  Nope, wrong this time.  The old farmer, he of the kitten, arrived to have his early morning drinks with his mates, before setting off to his land.   I’ll never forget how his face lit up when he saw us and I am sure that mine was a mirror image.  We chatted for a few minutes before we had to set out.  The memory of the old farmer is ingrained in my memory.

The path to Cáceres was long, but uneventful, and eventually we wended our way through the industrial suburbs and the centre of the city, and finally up the steep hill to the Plaza Mayor and the old city.  Our hotel was just off the Plaza Mayor.

The old city from the Plaza Mayor



The weather was starting to get quite cold overnight and we were not equipped for late autumn in Northern Spain.  To come, there would have been the historic cities of Salamanca and Zamora, but they would have to wait for another day.  So, we headed to Madrid, and eventually back to Uruguay.


When I first started walking to Santiago de Compostela, I was aware of the legend of Saint James, one of Jesus’s disciples; of his preaching in north-western Iberia; of his eventual return to Jerusalem, his arrest and beheading; of his two faithful followers taking his body to Galicia, and his interment there.  But to me, it was just a legend, an interesting tale, but bearing little relevance to any historic events.  To me, Galicia seemed a long way from Jerusalem.

But until I went there, I had not realized how developed and sophisticated was that part of Europe in that era, with its nearly 1000 km of straight paved road, running from south to north, allowing the rapid movement of armies and the transportation of gold, silver, other minerals and crops to the waiting ships in the south, and on to Rome.  I had seen Roman ruins in Astorga in the north and Sevilla in the south, but walking on the former Roman road for day after day, and seeing the remains of the Roman city of Mérida, caused me to change my view: perhaps there was some credence in the legend of Saint James.

We walked across the Puente Romano on a beautiful early autumn afternoon, past the Muslim fort, and up the hill to the old town.  I had reserved the same hotel, where two years previously I had become stuck in the elevator, and was eventually hauled up and out by the owner.  It was no surprise that he had no hesitation in remembering me, when we checked in.  And he assured me that he had had no further problems with the elevator since my incident, but just in case, he gave us a room on the ground floor.

The modern city of Mérida has been built on top of the walled Roman city of Augusta Emerita, originally founded in 25 BC, in the reign of Augustus.  Hence the origin of the name.

A model of Mérida, as it was in Roman times

The original Roman street and block layout has been maintained, and there are several places in the city where one can see the original street surface.

A section of an original Roman street

Mérida had an impressive amphitheatre and an adjoining theatre, the latter which has been partially restored and is still used for productions.

The amphitheatre
The stage of the theatre
And the restored seating

Throughout the city there are several other impressive Roman remains, including Trajan’s arch, the Temple of Diana, the aqueducts, and outside the original walls, the well-preserved circus used for chariot racing.

Trajan’s archTrajan’s arch
Temple of Diana
The remains of one of the aqueducts that carried water to the city, seen just after sunrise
The Mérida circus (photo from internet)

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Visigoths replaced the Romans, and they in their turn were conquered, in the 8th century,  by the Muslims from North Africa.  The Islamic control of Mérida lasted until the 13th century, when they were defeated by the Christians.  At Granada, in 1492, the last resistance of the Muslims in Spain was eliminated.

The Alcazaba, the Muslim fort, as seen from an island in the river
The western wall of the Alcazaba, as seen from the Puente Romano

In the legends of Saint James, there is no mention of the route he may have taken on his return to Jerusalem, but it is likely that such a traveller from North-western Iberia would have passed through Mérida on the way south, to continue by boat to the Eastern Mediterranean.

I remain to be convinced that the legends of Saint James are anything other than legends, but I need no convincing that Mérida is a most interesting city.

Zafra to Mérida

8-10 October, 2015

Once outside Zafra, the route climbed steadily to a ridge overlooking Los Santos de Maimona.  From the summit, one could see the plain stretching to distant mountains.  Mérida lies 65 km to the north of Zafra and takes three days of walking, spending the nights in Villafranca de Los Barros and Torremejía.  Once again, between the overnight villages, there was nothing but occasional farmland and bush.

Looking down on Los Santos de Maimona

The land was parched.  It looked as if it had not seen rain for a long time.  At one time, after Santos de Maimona, we came across of a flock of sheep.  The shepherd walked ahead, seemingly oblivious of what was following him.  Four sheep dogs raced around, rounding up the stragglers and keeping the flock moving in the general direction of their master.  It was not the first time that I have witnessed the shepherd-to-dog relationship, and I have never ceased to be impressed.

The shepherd leaving, the flocking following

From Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejía the path was straight, following the old Roman road.  There is absolutely no shade, just grape vines and occasional olive groves as far as the eye can see.  In one part, the road was being resurfaced, and for several kilometres we had to trudge through a thick layer of uncompressed dust.

A repaired through the vines

On a long straight path, with no bordering trees or bushes, one’s progress across the landscape is barely perceptible.  The goal is there on the horizon, but on the horizon is where it seems to remain.

In the distance Torremejía


But eventually one arrives.

Grapes on their way to being pressed
The recently renovated Iglesia Parroquial in Torremejía

The next day was relatively easy and, in the early afternoon, we arrived at the Puente Romano, that leads across the river Guadiana to Mérida.

At 790 m, it is the longest surviving Roman bridge.

The Puente Romano over the river Guadiana, with its 60 surviving spans


The restored and pedestrianized Puente Romano



Next: Mérida