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Extremadura: Cáceres and Mérida

24 Jan 2016

I just arrived back from a weekend IES Abroad trip to Cáceres and Mérida and boy, I’m absolutely exhausted. We left Madrid at 7:30 AM on Friday morning (note: that’s about an hour before the sun rises here) and drove to a parador, a government-run hotel in an old medieval castle, for a large breakfast. The amount of food I ate was definitely an American-sized, but I ate a nice mix of jamón, bread, yogurt, and some more jamón. After our breakfast we headed back into our bus to start a walk/hike tracing the path that Carlos V took prior to his death.

After he abdicated his many thrones across Europe, Carlos V began a pilgrimage of sorts to decide where to stay prior to his death. He was afflicted with gout, gota in Spanish, a disease described to me by my host family asa disease “de los ricos” as it’s caused by abnormally high levels of uric acid (which can easily be produced by high intake of meats and seafood). He was an extremely religious man and ultimately chose to reside at the Monasterio de Yuste. While we did not walk the whole path that he followed while ill (he was carried the entire time!), we walked through countryside and towns to reach a point at the bottom of a hill on which the monastery is situated. 

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Bowdoin Swimming and Diving's number one fan.

After our visit, we headed to Cáceres for a walking tour of the old town, a walled city with Roman roots and most strongly an Arabic influence on its architecture. The old town was absolutely beautiful, even in the foggy weather we were met with. I made sure to spend some time exploring with friends later on Friday and on Saturday to find the best views of the city from the many towers and churches within the walls.

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A foggy view of the Plaza Mayor in Cacéres. The edge of the old town can be seen on the right.

On the following morning, we drove out to Mérida, a smaller town also in Extremadura that has an unbelievably well-preserved Roman amphitheater and theater. We were treated to warm weather and blue skies, though I got quite a number of comments from Spaniards for being in no more than a tank top and a vest. I guess going to school in Maine really gives you a new perspective on what warm and cold weather really are!

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The Roman amphitheater of Mérida.

The amphitheater in Mérida was originally stratified into three different levels for audience members. While all shows (usually gladiator-type shows) were free for all thanks to the sponsoring of shows by wealthy politicians garnering support, audience members were most definitely separated by social class. 

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Zoha, Josh, Evan, and I on the floor of the amphitheater.

As you can see above, the amphitheater isn’t completely flat. The portion sunk into the ground (only partially excavated) had multiple functions during Roman times. Primarily, it was used as some kind of backstage storage area. During shows, ramps could be put up starting in the lower area allowing chariots or gladiators to “magically” emerge from the ground. In other shows, it was flooded and used for mini naval battles. I got the feeling that amphitheaters and their shows were very similar to modern day WWE – not entirely a show, but not entirely a fighting match either.

Right next to the amphitheater is the Roman theater of Mérida where theatrical shows of all kinds were performed (and still are occasionally today!). Like the amphitheater, it’s separated into different seating areas, though only certain levels of seating still exist today. The theater was only excavated in the early 20th century and was originally thought of as the “Seven Chairs” for the seven above-ground portions of the remaining upper bleachers.

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Not a stock photo: a view of the top of the backdrop of the Roman theater.

We rounded out our Saturday with trips to Arabic baths in Cáceres for some relaxing time. I couldn’t take photos inside, as it was strictly for relaxation purposes and smartphones would ruin the experience! There were three pools to relax in: one with cold water, one with lukewarm water, and one with hot water. I’m sure there’s a proper order in which you visit the pools, but I went cold à lukewarm à hot before having a 15 minute massage and then getting back in the hot pool. The baths were definitely a needed experience after all of our tours!

We drove back to Madrid this morning and now I’m busily preparing my backpack and notebooks for classes. We start tomorrow, but I won’t have my first class until 3:00 PM! Due to my hour and a half long commute, I’ll probably be out of my apartment by 1:00 PM, but it’s nice to have the whole of Monday morning free, especially if I’ll be traveling until late on Sunday nights on weekends to come! 

After two weeks of nonstop vacation, I think I’m actually ready to start school tomorrow. Check back in a week or so for my first thoughts on my classes! 

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