The Romanesque Route through Extremadura
Due to the fact that the Extremaduran region, especially the southern part, was in the hands of the Muslims, the European artistic and cultural influences, together with the Romanesque art, arrived in the region very late. Thus, while in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries the religious and civil buildings in this style proliferated in the north of the Peninsula and in a great part of Castille Leon, in the Medieval Extremadura the Romanesque did not leave its traces until the turn of the 13th century and even later. For this reason in most of the preserved works we can see an evident Gothic-styled influence, which was in fashion in this century in Europe.
The Extremaduran Region was the border between Leon
kingdoms and the area dominated by the Muslims, this dominion
lasted until about the middle of the 13th century. The repopulation
of these areas was carried out in no hurry, as a result of this
most religious buildings were built using the previous Moslem
buildings, mosques, fortress, etc.
These are centuries of dominion and of parcelling out the lands between the new and the old owners of this area, most of this land being entrusted to Military Orders, which totally dominated this region, such as the “Temple”, “Alcántara”, “Santiago” Orders, etc.
It was they who truly controlled and introduced artistic and cultural movement almost always coming from the north of the Peninsula.
It is not strange that the centres of population of some importance in the north of the Extremaduran region have some of the best examples of the Romanesque and the Proto-gothic art. Among all the towns we have to point out Plasencia, although we find good examples in other towns such as Trujillo, Alcántara or Alburquerque.
The Romanesque statuary also has some examples of great historic-artistic interest, outstanding being the Virgin of “Guadalupe”, from the 12th century, and the Virgin “del Sagrario”, which is in Plasencia Cathedral.
We start our route in Plasencia, the town founded by king Alfonso VIII in 1186 and as it is situated in the north of the Extremaduran region, we can see Romanesque influences in many of its primitive religious and civil buildings.
Among all the Romanesque woks that we can see in
Plasencia, outstanding is its “Catedral Vieja” (Old
Cathedral) complex, a work of art belonging to the transitional
period between the Romanesque and the Gothic period, with a beautiful
and nostalgic main front , where the incomplete scene of the Annunciation
to the Virgin Mary is represented. The Romanesque cathedral, with
three naves, was started in the 13th century by Gil de Cislar.
In the Saint Paul Chapel or Chapter House, also attributed to Gil de Cislar, we can see elements of Romanesque and Gothic style, it is worthy of mentioning the sculpture of theVirgin “ del Perdón” with the child in her arms from the 13th century, which is in its interior. The High Altarpiece houses the image of the Virgin “del Sagrario” made of wood, which dates back to the 13th century. In its Cathedral Museum interesting religious Romanesque pieces are exhibited.
Besides this Cathedral, Plasencia also has some civil buildings such as the Palace of “los Monroy” or “ las Dos Torres” , which owns a beautiful façade Romanesque in style, built in the 13th century by D. Nuño Pérez de Monroy. Personages such as Fernando el Católico and San Pedro de Alcántara lodged in this palace.
In the “Iglesia del Salvador”(Salvador Church), located in the square of the same name, we can see some Romanesque characteristics belonging to the 13th century, it has an admirable whole architectonic exterior.
From Plasencia, and not very far, we can head for the Sierra de Gata to see some examples of the Romanesque style in the heart of the sierra, particularly in Hoyos, where we can see the beautiful façade of its Late-Romanesque church. The “Santa María” Church, in Jaraíz de la Vera, is one of the oldest and most interesting buildings in La Vera.
Its façade, called the Façade, has
a lancet arch and archivolts and it is a very good example of
the influence that the Romanesque style had in this building,
built during the 14th and 15th centuries.
From Plasencia we will head towards Alcántara passing through Coria, located next to the river Alagón. This town was conquered by Alfonso 8th in 1142 and it had a primitive Cathedral from the 13th century, although nowadays there are not any vestiges from it.
In Alcántara we will find a beautiful example of this artistic style in its Parish Church “Ntra. Sra. de Almocóvar”, built on an ancient Moorish mosque. It has got some beautiful Proto- Gothic façades in the best Late-Extremaduran style, especially the façade at the bottom of the church. Further south and bordering on the neighbouring region of Portugal we find Alburquerque, conquered in 1166 at the time of the king Fernado II. It was the centre of D. Alonso Téllez de Meneses’s dominion, married to Doña María Páez de Rivera, a natural daughter of the King of Portugal.
In Alburquerque, among all its buildings is the
outstanding fortress, started in 1314. In the interior of the
castle, on the north side, we can see “Santa María
del Castillo” church, with a rectangular plan and three
naves, in Late-Romanesque and Gothic style.
From Alburquerque we will continue our journey towards Mérida, reconquered by king Alfonso IX in the 13th century. It houses the Saint Eulalia Basilica, a religious building where several artistic styles converge. It owns a beautiful Romanesque-styled Epistle door, together with its semi-cylindrical apses. Before reaching Trujillo, we will pass through Medellín, on the banks of the river Guadiana, Hernán Cortés’s fatherland. It belonged to Muslims and it was conquered by the “santiaguista” master Pedro Yáñez in 1243. In two of its temples, we can still see interesting examples of Romanesque art on their façades and apses; the “Santiago” Church, built in the 13th century and almost destroyed during the Independence War, and the “San Martín” Parish Church, a Historical Monument of Cultural Interest, built in the second half of the 13th century.
At present, together with Plasencia, Trujillo is, without doubt, the Extremaduran centre of population which has the best artistic examples from this period, where the Romanesque or Proto-Gothic styles predominate. This town , definitely conquered in 1232 by King Fernando III, owns religious buildings of great historic-artistic value, we talk about the “Santiago” Church and the “Santa María” Church. The “Santiago Church”, situated next to the town gateway of the same name, still keeps a semi-cylindrical apse and the tower, the design of which tells us the period they are from, around the 13th century.
In its interior the Romanesque image of the Virgin
of “Ntra. Sra. de la Coronada” is worshiped. Long
time ago this image was in the hermitage of the same name, which
has a Proto-Gothic apse. Gil de Cuéllar participate in
the construction of this hermitage in 1274. We will find the best
Romanesque example in the Church located in one of the highest
places in Trujillo, the “Santa María Church”,
outstanding its beatiful Romanesque faÇade, especially
its rebuilt Late-Romanesque tower. The interior of this temple
also shows Romanesque-styled influences in many of its corners.
Jaraíz de la Vera