From Madrid to Toledo

Toledo Cathedral, Toledo Spain

Toledo Cathedral, Toledo Spain

We have left Madrid and taken a 30 minute train ride to Toledo Spain. Some of you, who have been following the blog for a while might remember that the plan was to walk the Via la Plata, a medieval camino route from Seville to Santiago de Compostela. We had walked the Camino Francis about 18 months ago, and really enjoyed our time in Spain and walking. The Via la Plata is a different route, much further between towns meaning longer walking stages, fewer travellers or pilgrims on the road, and not as well accommodated. We found we were not really enjoying ourselves. We do understand that the idea behind a camino, and we don’t expect to enjoy everyday, but still, this is our journey and so we have left he Via la Plata route, and are no longer walking north towards Santiago de Compostela. We are taking sometime off the camino path, and we are going to get a little rest, travel by train and visit some of the world heritage sites in Spain. That is what brought us to Toledo, and this great Cathedral, more about it tomorrow.

 

Spring on the Via la Plata

Rain on the Via la Plata; Spring on the Via la Plata

Rain on the Via la Plata; Spring on the Via la Plata

While it has been raining for days along the Via la Plata we have managed to be indoors when the showers hit. Not so yesterday!

It was not a heavy cold rain, like we are used to back home, but a light rain, on and off during the day. On the plus side, the trails were not too messy, and we no longer wonder why we are carrying our ponchos (they add considerable weight for one piece of clothing)

We passed the Prosperpina Reservoir not far from Merida and I noticed the raindrops on the lake. How lovely and peaceful it seemed to me, it really speaks to the walk through the Spanish countryside that we have been experiencing.

Red Poppy and Raindrops

Red Poppy

Red Poppy and Raindrops 

It rained enough today to pull on the poncho’s, a soft gentle rain that is good for the ground and the flowers. I needed to get down in the grass along the side of the road, to get close enough to the poppy I wanted to show the raindrops, and then wait for that perfect moment when she was standing still to get this shot.

I love seeing the beautiful red poppies blowing in the breeze beside the road.

The timing for our walk through Spain, and the Via la Plata has been perfect for spring flowers.

Hopefully we have more sunshine and less rain tomorrow.

Walking the Via la Plata; Spring 2014

Walking the Via la Plata, Spring 2014

March 2014

If you have been following the blog, you will know that we have been walking the Via la Plata in Spain. For those of you who might not be familiar with the walk, it is a route follows the Christian pilgrimage route from Cadiz to Santiago de Compostela. Prior to the Christians using these road, Moor and Romans built and used the road to transport commodities and move armies. Continue reading

Walking with the Romans: Part 2

Roman Bridge over the River Guadiana. Merida Sapin

Roman Bridge over the River Guadiana. Merida Sapin

Merida is not a large place, with a population of around 64,000 people. A pleasant place, it is not different from many other Spanish towns, with friendly people, many bars and restaurants with one exception, that being that as being one of the Roman Empires capitals in the Iberian Peninsula it is home to some of the best preserved Roman Ruins in Europe. As a result in 1993 it was established as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.The town was founded in 25 BC, with the name of Emerita Augusta which means discharged soldiers – of the army of Augustus, who founded the city; the current name Mérida was derive from this, changed and altered by its conquest by the Muslims and other down through history. Its main purpose for all these conquers was to protect a bridge over the River Guadiana.

The path of the Camino Pilgrim will take you over this bridge with 64 granite arches that remain intact and in use to this day as a pedestrian walkway and is one of the longest Roman bridges remaining in existence.  At the end of this bridge stands the Alcazaba a fortress that was initially built by the Romans, but later occupied by the Moors. Over it main gate you will find a reference dedicating it to Allah.

from the Alcazaba in Merida Spain.

from the Alcazaba in Merida Spain.

In more recent history it was taken and occupied by Napoleon, and both opposing side of the Spanish Civil Wars, such was its strategic importance. Further into the town you will find sitting side by side, a Roman Forum and Theatre. The former similar to that found in Italica, was use for gladiator fights and as you proceeds down the stairs into the ring it offers life-size mock ups of the different types of gladiators, their specific armour and who they would normally fight. However of the two the theatre is the most spectacular. While breathtaking as a tourist attraction, it is still used for plays and festivals by the local population.

Roman Forum, Merida Spain

Roman Forum, Merida Spain

Roman Amphitheater, Merida Spain

Roman Amphitheater, Merida Spain

Equally as spectacular is the Temple of Diana. Surprisingly this building is surrounded by a simple fence low fence to protect it from errant tourists, is located close to the centre of town on one of Merida many pedestrian walkways, such that hundreds of working Spaniards walk by it ever day on the way to and from work.

Temple Diana, Merida Spain

Temple Diana, Merida Spain

more great stories and architecture tomorrow….

Text by W.E.Foreman Photos by JMeyersForeman

Almendralejo: Church of Our Lady of Purification

Almendralejo: Church of Our Lady of Purification

Almendralejo: Church of Our Lady of Purification 

After finishing the day’s walk along the Via la Plata, our usual routine is to have a shower, wash our walking cloths and have a short nap. Then once cleaned up and rested we will have a walk around the town checking out the sights and the cafe’s.  Just a couple of days ago were in Almendralejo when we came across the Church of our Lady of Purification.

We were in awe of the stunning fresco’s in the Gothic Church. As there were parishioners seated in prayer and the priest was walking to the alter it was obvious that the Service was just about to begin. While this maybe a historic site to see, study and enjoy, it is also a Holy site for many, and a place of worship for the congregation. We sat quietly near the door for a few minutes, soaking up the beauty around us, I click of a few photos as discreetly as possible just prior to the Service beginning and we quietly left.

This is one of many moments that I wish we spoke more than what I call “restaurant” Spanish! I would have loved to stay until after the Service to talk to the Priest, to learn more about this history of the church and ask for permission to photograph the lovely frescos at a time that was not so busy.

Almendralejo: Church of Our Lady of Purification

Almendralejo: Church of Our Lady of Purification

Walking through wine country along the Via la Plata, Spain

new vineyards in Extremadura Spain, along the Via la Plata

new vineyards in Extremadura Spain, along the Via la Plata

We had another day of walking while a harsh cold wind blew in our face! But the country side is beautiful.

Continue reading

On the Road to Almedralejo Spain;

I have to admit that today was not very inspiring, 17.2 k of dirt road, 13k backpack, 10 C, and a 20k wind blowing in our face all day. The road was mostly flat, we could see for miles, and then….

walking the Via la Plata on our way to Almedralejo Spain we encountered goat herders at work

walking the Via la Plata on our way to Almedralejo Spain we encountered goat herders at work  

the goat herders, their dogs, and the goats came up the small hill. The goats hesitated a moment when they saw us. We stopped so as not to scare them, and the goat herder spoke, waved his stick, and the goats moved forward….

Surrounded by goats

Surrounded by goats 

the next thing we knew they were walking around us, as if we were not there…

off they go, goats and goat herders walking down the road

off they go, goats and goat herders walking down the road 

and they were on their way.

One of the things I love most about the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in general, and the Via la Plata specifically is that it brings us close to experiencing Spain, the Spanish people and their way of living that most tourists don’t experience.

 

Zafra Spain, Rest days on the Via la Plata

Plaza Grande, Zafra Spain

Plaza Grande, Zafra Spain 

Plaza Grande, Zafra Spain

Plaza Grande, Zafra Spain

We took a couple of days off from walking the Via la Plata. A lovely little town of about 15,00o people. Staying in a hotel on the Plaza Grande, shown in the image. I have read that the whole town centre is whitewashed and the facades cannot be changed, so it looks like it did in the 15th century, the streets are cobblestone, some inlaid with lovely patterns, others in simpler square shapes. In Zafra, there are two main plazas with arcades, called the Plaza Grande and the Plaza Chica.

The Plaza Grande is surrounded by a colonnaded area, over which there are houses with coats of arms and artistic lattices, metal balconies where geraniums were growing and blooming. Here in the late afternoon and early evening families gathered, friends visited, and kids played, it was a great place to sit and have a glass of wine and watch the world.

We are back on the road again. More stories from our Camino to Santiago from the Via la Plata as we travel through the countryside.

Walking with the Romans; Part 1

When we think of Roman Architecture, we think of Italy and Rome, where significant structures still exist that forge the link between the past and present, the Colosseum, Pantheon, The Column of Marcus Aurelius, and The Appian Way, just to name a few. However the Roman Empire covered an immense geographical area, such that many significant lesser know, but equally impressive structures can be found in other countries. Spain is one such place. Ruled by Rome for a number of centuries, Spain was a source on great wealth for the Empire and produced some of it’s immortalized leaders and emperors (Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius). It is here that we find the Via the Plata (silver route), an ancient pilgrim journey,which is part of the El Camino de Santiago, that two thousand years ago served as the main thoroughfare for the transport of mineral wealth (silver) from the far north of Spain to Seville, from where it was shipped to Rome.

Appropriately, Seville will serve as the starting point for our walk, as we retrace the steps north that many Roman once took and now modern pilgrims take, on the road to Santiago de Compostela. In a small lively square in Seville, know as the Alameda de Hercules, you will find two ancient columns.

Columns of Hercules and Julius Caesar in Seville Spain

Columns of Hercules and Julius Caesar in Seville Spain

Atop the columns sit carved statues of  Julius Cesar and Hercules, who, according to legend, are the two founding fathers of Seville. Dating from the 2nd century, these to columns are the oldest monuments in Seville. In many respects, the Alameda, has the air of a Roman Circus, a neighbourhood with many bars and terraces where you can enjoy coffee, evening tapas and beer, or late night drinks. The area has a certain bohemian air,  where every Sunday morning, an open market is held that ironically sells antiques and second-hand goods on the promenade.

Moving north and not far from Seville can be found the small village of Santiponce. Here lie the ruins go the ancient Roman city of Italica. Founded in 206 BC by the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, and was the birthplace of the Emperor Trajan. It grew to become the third largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population that exceeded 8,000.

Beginning in 1781 Italica became a major archaeological site and is under continuous excavation. Here are photo’s of a few artifacts hat have been discover thus far. A section of one of many Roman roads that have been uncovered that await the same rejuvenation.

Roman Road at Italica

Roman Road at Italica

Here thousands of  years ago Roman legions were stationed in this area to protect Roman interests and the western frontiers of the Roman Empire.

As well a number of home have been uncovered, many with rooms which have beautiful mosaic floors still intact, some of which have undergone remedial work. However, given they are 2000 years old, they are still intricately beautiful in their art and workmanship.  Most famous are the floor from the Diose y Astros which literally translated means “Gods and Starts”

Dioses y Gods; Mosiac floor at Italica, Santiponce Spain

Dioses y Gods; Mosaic floor at Italica, Santiponce Spain

The Amphitheatre, which is still in need of significant restoration, is estimated to have held 25,000 spectators.

Amphitheatre Italica, Santiponce Spain

Amphitheatre Italica, Santiponce Spain

Amphitheatre passage way;  Italica, Santiponce Spain

Amphitheatre passage way; Italica, Santiponce Spain

It is not hard to imagine gladiators, standing and waiting in the passage way waiting for their call to enter the ring.

We are looking forward to visiting more Roman Ruins as we head north, toward Meride and Salamanca.

Guest Post by W.E.Foreman