The modern city lies southwest of the barrio antiguo, Cáceres Viejo, which is enclosed by massive ramparts. The heart of the Old City lies between Plaza de Santa María and, a few blocks to the south, Plaza San Mateo. Plaza de Santa María is an irregularly shaped, rather elongated square. On each of its sides are the honey-brown facades of buildings once inhabited by the local nobility. On a casual stroll through the city's cobblestone streets, your attention will surely be drawn to the walls that enclose the old upper town. These are a mixture of Roman and Arab engineering, and they are outstandingly preserved. About 30 towers remain from the city's medieval walls, all of them heavily restored. Originally much taller, the towers reflected the pride and independence of their builders; when Queen Isabella took control, however, she ordered them cut down to size. The largest tower is at Plaza del General Mola. Beside it stands El Arco de la Estrella (The Arch of the Star), constructed by Manuel Churriguera in the 18th century. To its right you'll see the Torre del Horno, a mud-brick adobe structure left from the Moorish occupation.
On the far side of Plaza de Santa María rises the Catedral de Santa María, basically Gothic in style although many Renaissance embellishments have been added. Completed sometime in the 1500s, this is the cathedral of Cáceres and contains the remains of many conquistadors. It has three Gothic aisles of almost equal height and a carved retablo at the high altar dating from the 16th century. (Insert coins to light it up.)
La Casa de los Toledo-Montezuma was built by Juan Cano de Saavedra with money from the dowry of his wife, the daughter of Montezuma. The house is set into the northern corner of the medieval ramparts, about a block to the north of Plaza de Santa María. It is now a public-records office.
Plaza Mayor is remarkably free from most of the blemishes and scars that city planning and overregulation have made so common in other historically important sites. Passing through El Arco de la Estrella (The Arch of the Star), you will catch the most advantageous angle at which to view Catedral de Santa María.
Some of the most appealing shops in Cáceres are on the streets radiating from the Plaza Mayor, with a particularly good selection of artifacts along either side of Calle Pintores.
Cuesta de la Compañía leads to Plaza San Mateo and the 14th-century Iglesia de San Mateo, which has a Plateresque portal and a rather plain nave -- except for the Plateresque tombs, which add a decorative touch.
Two adjoining plazuelas near here embody the flavor of old Cáceres. The first of them, Plaza de las Veletas, on the site of the old Alcázar, has Casa de las Veletas (Weather Vane House; tel. 92-701-08-77), which houses a provincial archaeological museum with priceless prehistoric and Roman pieces, along with a famous alijibe (Arab well). Its baroque facade, ancient Moorish cistern, five naves with horseshoe arches, and patio and paneling from the 17th century have been preserved. The museum displays Celtic and Visigothic remains, Roman and Gothic artifacts, and a numismatic collection. Admission is free. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 2:30pm and 4 to 7pm; on Sunday, 10am to 2:30pm. At the second plazuela, San Pablo, sits Casa de las Cigüeñas (House of the Storks), the only palace whose tower remains intact despite the order by Queen Isabella at the turn of the 15th century to reduce the height of all such strategic locations for military reasons. The building now serves as a military headquarters and is not open to the public.
You'll probably notice lots of storks nesting on the rooftops and bell towers in town. This is a revealing sign of how Cáceres has managed to preserve not only its landmarks but also an environmentally sound balance between people and nature.
The Church of Santiago was begun in the 12th century and restored in the 16th century. It has a reredos carved in 1557 by Alonso de Berruguete and a 15th-century figure of Christ. The church is outside the ramparts, about a block to the north of Arco de Socorro. To reach it, exit the gate, enter Plaza Socorro, and then walk down Calle Godoy. It is on your right.
If you want to see a more modern face of the region, and shop for housewares and fashion while you're at it, drive 15 minutes west of the town center to the Centro Comercial Ruta de la Plata, Carretera Portugal, where you'll find a scattering of boutiques, plus a number of simple snack bars and cafes.
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