We arrive at the town of Llerena, in lower Extremadura. It was a clean and icy day, like the rest of those who wandered around it. My companion told me that in Llerena there was a zurbarán gigantic in a church, and that’s where I went. He also knew that it was the homeland of García López de Cárdenas, the officer who, during Coronado’s expedition in 1540, discovered the Colorado Canyon. My surprise was that it did not have a statue, and when I asked, they told me that it is neither there nor expected. Anyway.
Of course, he was not the only great man linked to Llerena: the chronicler of Peru, Pedro Cieza de León, and José de Hermosilla were born here, who designed the General and Passion Hospital, which now houses the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid. And I am not forgetting Luis Zapata de Chaves, author of Various history, a collection of sayings and anecdotes from the 16th century written from 1583 to 1592. I entered the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where the baroque parish of Nuestra Señora de la Granada is located, inside which was the object of my desire. And indeed, a colossal crucified Christ, in twilight, painted in 1627 by Francisco de Zurbarán, who had a study in the town. After being overwhelmed by the painting, we enjoyed another surprise, a size of St Geronimo, Delicately made, the work of Juan Bautista Vázquez el Viejo.
We went out into the icy air of Llerena. The town is very bearable, “secluded”, which was said before. You can have some churros for breakfast (“syringes”, they call them here) or, if you have a steel stomach, some crumbs with chorizo or a toast atomic butter colorá. If it is time for lunch, there are plenty of tables where you can enjoy the delicacies of the Iberian pig. Dessert can be provided at the Santa Clara convent (Calle de la Corredera, 19), where they took me to buy some exquisite “nun’s hearts”, the kind of sweets that need a couple of days of swimming to disappear. Already put to visit the nuns, do not miss the magnificent carving Penitent Saint Jerome, by Juan Martínez Montañés, and various frescoes from the 16th century. And if you don’t give them yuyu, the Inquisition also had its headquarters nearby, in the Zapata palace (Luis Zapata de Chaves street). They weren’t exactly giving sweets there.
A Roman theater in the pasture
There are more treasures that await in the surroundings. We went out to the roads of the province of Badajoz. About 10 kilometers to the south we find a surprise, although it should not be so much, since it is about the ineffable Romans. In the middle of a frigid countryside we come across the wonderful Regina Roman Theater, which remained in use until the 4th century with a capacity for 1,000 spectators. The place is spectacular, and I can imagine the actors with their prossopon, the masks used for the functions, and the god Dionysus and his maenads dancing through the pasture, the theater’s primary source. However, I also verify that his isolation makes him the object of plunder. It should be controlled more.
Next, let’s go south: all of Baja Extremadura is filled with castles, not in vain it was an area of influence of the Order of Santiago, and one of the most significant is the Alcazaba de Reina, a few kilometers southeast of Llerena, in the defensive line of Sierra Morena. It stands powerful on a hill taken from the Almohads, with its 14 albarran towers, and warning the infidel that we have come this far and, if there is a problem, the knights of Santiago are specialized in distributing tow.
We continue moving on lonely roads towards the deep Sierra Morena. My comrade tells me that we are going to see the “Extremaduran Sistine Chapel”, and I look at him ojiplático. We reached a hermitage, Our Lady of Ara, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you walk in. Inside, a true symphony of drawing and color: raised on a Roman temple, we find a Gothic-Mudejar style with a wonderful panel and, from the base to the ceilings, different levels of geometric and figurative paintings, depending on the age. Frescoes, tempera, oil paintings … a pictorial storm that dazzles and moves.
The last leg of our journey awaits us, in the northern foothills of Sierra Morena. Here and there we can distinguish the geodesic vertices with which all of Spain was marked, monoliths built in high places by means of which, thanks to trigonometry, the height of any point can be calculated. There are more than 11,000 on the Peninsula. And very close is the La Jayona mine (to visit it you must request a prior appointment at the Fuente del Arco Town Hall; 667 75 66 00). When we arrive, I scan the sky, limpid, icy, with vultures and short-toed eagles floating in the currents. The perspective is memorable, valleys, mountains, pastures, and the mine, a gigantic scar that, of course, the Romans already exploited, is presented as a descent into Hades itself. The karst landscape is hallucinogenic; 11 levels with veins of iron, calcite, siderite, hematite, goethite, limonite. The different wells have names as suggestive as El Monstruo or Ya Te Lo Decía, until everything finds its zenith in the colossal Hall of the Dolls, a cave full of stalactites. Unforgettable.
To finish, a meat-based meal in Cazalla de la Sierra, but first, a stop at its charterhouse: 600 years old contemplate us, surrounded by holm oaks, cork oaks and olive trees (lacartujadecazalla.com). Obviously, we get contemplative, and my colleague suggests that the best way to honor the Cazalla Charterhouse is a toast with a shot of ditto. Well, look, there are indisputable things.
Ignacio del Valle is the author of the novel ‘Coronado’ (published by Edhasa, 2019).
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.