While history continued on its way and the city beyond the walls fell into pace with modern life, the world within Cáceres’ walls was wonderfully frozen in time. Its admirable architectural layout was declared World Heritage in 1986.
Almost without noticing, the dark cloak of night falls over Plaza Mayor. It is diluted by the shining of the night lights and the cheerful hustle and bustle. The daily coming and going of this rectangular space, surrounded by white façades supported by arches, including that of the town hall, will now be replaced by nocturnal delight. In the end, nothing seems so important while time goes by serenely in any of the pavement cafés. And, nevertheless, how impressive is the presence of the Tower of Bujaco, with its imposing battlements and the perennial memory of the old walled city, entire and eternal, is still there. In Cáceres, the emotion of history is an experience that is both real and magical.
The Plaza Mayor is bordered by the beautiful realism of the wall’s towers, which the Arabs erected on top of Roman ashlars. Thus began the dancing of the times, the mixing of the centuries, resulting in the flow of pure and fabulous enchantment. The sensation was already sensed in the interpretation centre inside the same Tower of Bujaco, whose battlements overlook the profiles of towers from different periods and inspirations. It was already felt in the day stroll within the city walls, and we will want to experience it again now that walled Cáceres is shining in the night. Up the stairs, to enter the spell and reality once again through the Arch of La Estrella, which in the 18th century replaced the old Puerta Nueva (New Gate). Hiding in the shadow of the night and of time are the Roman stones that fortified the Colonia Norbensis Caesarina, founded by the consul Lucius Cornelius Balbus in the year 25 BC.
The walls erected by the Almohads in the 12th century were made of adobe and are largely still standing. The story of the time of Islamic splendour is explicit in the round tower, joined to the Palace of Carvajal, or in the cistern of the old Alcázar, now part of the Casa de las Veletas. Tangible scenes from disappeared worlds. The spell is multiplied by the details. The walk now enters the lanes, under the subdued light of the street-lamps and the seductive dazzling of the façades and palaces. Everything learned in the day stroll is now floating in the mystery of the semi-darkness. Those moments of a new beginning after the Reconquest in the 13th century, when the city was resettled by people from Galicia, Asturias and León, who would become lords of the city recaptured for Christendom, and their fortified mansions would wonderfully reflect their power. What were actually palaces, touched up and nuanced by the Gothic, Renaissance and even baroque and neoclassical styles, would in time become icons and charisma of monumental and timeless Cáceres. The towers of some of these noble buildings, like bastions of high-ranking lineage, still remain. However, there tops were demolished by order of Isabella the Catholic, who, during her stay in the city, put an end to the continuous clashes between the local nobles and wanted their homes not to be like forts. Therefore, many of them left behind their defensive austerity and were adorned in harmony with the trends down through the centuries. They thereby became the palaces that now display their amassed elegance around the Con-cathedral of Santa María, with the Gothic bearing of its granite masonry, and the square of the same name. The large mansions do not back off from the church’s solemn presence, and there is the Gothic and Renaissance eloquence of the Palace of Mayoralgo, with the tasteful details of its Mudejar interior courtyard; or the aforementioned Palace of Carvajal, whose Renaissance courtyard still has a hundred-year-old fig tree; or the character of the bolstered arch in the façade of the Episcopal Palace. The details and coats of arms become more emphatic in the night, when the stream of light from the lamps lengthens their shadow and their depth. Illuminated by the sun or by artificial light, the very recognisable scene featuring the Palace of Los Golfines de Abajo wins over all impressions: the very real ones contained in its architecture, which combines the aspects of 15thcentury fort and 16th-century palace, and the imagined ones regarding affairs of life and power suggested by its upright tower. Already inspiring fantasy was the fact of finding out, for example, that such a great mansion was the residence of the Catholic Monarchs, who decided to exempt Captain Diego de Cáceres Ovando, a royal paladin, from the prohibition to erect towers. And there it is today, in the small square of San Pablo, the palace of this renowned noble, proudly embracing the elegant Tower of Las Cigüeñas. Such ostentation of titles and watchtowers reverberates in the silence of the night, and it is as if the night illumination had the compulsory task of emphasising it even more. Façades with a name, always sonorous surnames, hard walls, and nevertheless Cáceres’ old town is still accessible, welcoming, intimate. And the fact is that the narrow streets protect the air and the passage, the façades of the palaces can actually be taken in with a single look, the stone masonry ends up becoming familiar. Perhaps it is also the comprehensible simplicity that, apart from the details of the windows and coats of arms, makes the palaces stand out. Perhaps it is the southern warmth, which slips in at every corner. Therefore, the palatial homes bordering the Plaza de San Mateo do not become overwhelming. Ornamenting this harmony is the Palace of Los Paredes Saavedra, the Palace of Lorenzo de Ulloa “el Rico” or the aforementioned Casa de las Veletas, with its baroque façade and the pinnacles alluded to in its name. Once again, the aristocratic mansions turn their emphatic designs towards the church after which the square is called, which occupies the site of the former principal mosque and dominates the square with its sober Gothic style. Other details border architectural reality and its spell in the nearby Church of San Francisco Javier: its baroque façade escorted by two white towers, which are reminiscent in some aspects of the nearby Portuguese churches. Other stories speak of the narrow streets in the San Antonio neighbourhood, which was the location of the Jewish Quarter until 1478. Other times are recreated by the Church of Santiago, outside the city walls, founded in the 12th century by the Fratres de Cáceres, the forerunners of the Order of St. James. The echo of the centuries can also be heard beyond the city walls.
Outside the fort is where the noble Francisco Godoy Aldana had to build his palace, with a tower and beautiful corner window, in the 16th century with the riches he brought back from America, where he had accompanied Francisco Pizarro in his campaigns. Outside the fortified enclosure, the life of nocturnal soirée continues in Plaza Mayor, while the word within the walls sleeps among lights and semi-darkness, housing the reality of its architectural wonder and all the imaginable scenes between the lines of history. In the same square you can likewise glimpse its days from the past, when it was filled with the murmur of celebrations, markets and processions. Very intense and inescapable in Cáceres is this gift of historical cities: walking through the centuries and, for that very reason, living the present with all the more determination.