History of Caceres

Mother Earth Travel > Spain > Caceres > History

Some 25,000 years ago, the plateau on which Cáceres is situated (459m above sea level), was already inhabited.

Palaeolithic Age
Humans were already here in the Palaeolithic period and they left us an indelible mark as proof of their existence in the Cuevas de Maltravieso (Maltravieso Caves), where a number of very peculiar cave paintings have been found. Peculiar because in the 130m cave, the only prints are of hands, and all have their little finger missing. In addition, artefacts from the Neolithic period, such as pottery and tools, have been found.

The Romans
Before the Roman Empire, the Celts had but a brief intrusion into the area if compared to the Romans, who settled the city three times. The first settlement, built on the old Celtiberian hill fort, was called Castra Servilia. In 78BC, what was a winter encampment for Roman legions was named after its founder, Cecilio Metelo, Castra Caecilia. This lasted 45 years, and with the arrival of the proconsul Cayo Norbano Flaco, (34BC) the place was renamed Norba Caesarina.

Unfortunately, the Almohads later used the remnants of these Roman buildings in their own buildings so that today, little remains of the Roman constructions. Only in the Arco del Cristo can vestiges of two big stone ashlars that were used by the Romans in their fortifications be found.

Barbarians and Visigoths
Like when the Roman Empire settled in the city, the arrival of the Barbarians also brought on a period of destruction and decline. In Norba Caesarina, it was no different, and what with fighting between the Visigoths themselves (Leovigildo and his son Hermenegildo), the area saw itself sink into decline and decay thereby making it all the easier for the Moors to invade (711).

The Arabs
Like in many other populated areas, the alternating of power between Arab and Christians was frequently repeated. The Muslim domination of Cáceres remained firm until the 12th century, when Gerardo Sempavor (1166) succeeded in snatching control from the Muslims. Subsequently lost again shortly afterwards, the city was retaken by Fernando II of León in the name of the Christians in 1169. In any case, the Almoravids wanted Cáceres for its strategic location and Abú Ya'qub regained the city in the name of Islam in 1173.

It was during this period that Cáceres, known at this time as Hinz Qazris, and with subsequent Almohads, that elements of what we admire today began to appear. Thus the town was adequately fortified on the Roman remains (wall) and the following were built: the towers of Bujaco, of Yerba, and of Horno and the cistern at Veletas Palace. A further 50 years elapsed before Alfonso IX de León could reconquer the city for the Christians, on 23 April 1229, on San Jorge (St. George's) Day.

13th, 14th and 15th Centuries
This is when the splendour of the period began to take hold, what in time, would become the groundwork for the Monumental City that is so admired today. The city started to cluster along the parishes of Santa María and San Mateo. From another direction, to the west of the city, the Jewish population settled around the synagogue. Then, at the end of the 13th century, aristocratic families, primarily from Galicia, Castile and Leon started to arrive and build their houses and palaces.

In addition, outside the Almohad wall, at the start of the 14th century, the population started to concentrate around the churches of Santiago (de los Caballeros) and San Juan, which produceed a shift in all commercial matters from Plaza de Santa María to Plaza Mayor. Some examples of former prosperity include the Hernando de Ovando Palace, Mayoralgo Palace, Golfines de Abajo Palace, Casa de los Becerra and Veletas Palace, among others.

In the war of succession of the crown of Castile, the surrounding area of the very noble and very loyal city changed. Not supporting the cause of Isabel of Castile meant that the queen destroyed almost all the battlements of the noble families' palaces. The result was that all the palaces were then of the same height; the only one that managed to survive this act of arrogance was the Torre de las Cigüeñas (Cáceres-Ovando Palace), thanks to the support its owner, Captain Diego de Cáceres, gave to the temperamental queen.

16th and 17th Centuries
During the Reconquest and the discovery of the New World, the buildings in Cáceres were improved and became more and more ostentatious. Many city nobles tried their luck in the conquest of the Americas, together with the famous discoverers from Extremadura: Pizarro, Almagro, Cortés. Such was the case for Francisco de Godoy y Aldana, (Godoy Palace), the Pereros lineage (Casa de los Pereros) and Fray Nicolás de Ovando (Casa de los Ovando), who was at the forefront of one of the more serious attempts at colonization of the new lands.

The crisis of the following century, on the other hand, (during the end of the reign of the Austrias), slowed down progress and the only architecture that went ahead were reforms on existing buildings, those of a religious nature (San Francisco Monastery) and those built in the 18th century (Nuestra Señora de la Montaña and Iglesia de San Francisco Javier).

18th, 19th and 20th Centuries
At the end of the 18th century, the Real Audiencia de Extremadura (Extremadura Royal Courts) were established in Cáceres, with the aim of ending the high incidence of pillage and other crimes. It was not until 1833 that the city became the capital of the province, robbing Plasencia of that privilege. From then on, the population and economy grew (thanks to the economic gains from the Aldea Moret phosphate mines) and the city embarked upon an ambitious expansion plan outside the city wall, with beautiful works like Paseo de Cánovas.

The Civil War and the subsequent period halted this process, until 1986, when the city was declared of cultural heritage by Unesco. Today, Cáceres is a city with an important university, headquarters to many official organisations of the Community and the second most populated city in the province of Extremadura with over 84,300 inhabitants, most of whom work in the service sector.