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Llerena – Hidden in Extremadura

After its conquest by Christian troops of Fernando III, around 1240, the Moorish city of Elerina was renamed the city of Lerena. The city soon became the headquarters of the Order of St. Jacob the Sword, often referred to as the Order of Santiago. The High Court and the Treasury of the Order of Santiago moved to Lleren, and in 1493 the last Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, Alfonso de Cardenas, died and was placed in the Iral Parish de Santiago. The Order was originally accused of relocating territory ravaged by war with Muslims, and in the late 15th century their efforts resulted in a population of 3,300 and a thriving agrarian community compared to just over 3,000 today.

Meanwhile, in 1478, Lleren also became the main center of Santo Ofifio, or the Inquisition. One of the famous sons of the Inquisition, Inquisitor Pedro Alvarez de Paredes, became famous for his ability to demand confessions and falsify evidence, and for the fact that the accused proclaimed false decisions of the Tribunal: “You will be released if you confess.” He was transferred to Evora in 1541 to hone his talents on Portuguese heretics. The Inquisition maintained a presence in Lleren until the city was occupied by Napoleon’s troops in the early 19th century.

Not surprisingly, Llerena is a deeply religious city with four large churches and one monastery serving a reduced population. Most of the impetus for the construction of these buildings came from the knights. Such influence of the Mujahideen imagined that cult buildings as well as other monuments such as the courtyard of the High Inquisition, the palace of the bishop, Casas Mastrales, the house of the great masters of the Order of Santiago and the city of Hall and Palacio de Luis Zapata, overlooking the magnificent space Master of the Plaza, it all combines elements of Mudejar with the newly arrived Gothic fashion of Extremadura. The result was an unusual combination of wooden roofs with exposed masonry, fixed on pointed arches, vaults of fire and stone ashlars with ornate balconies and windows.

Unlike Cáceres in the north of Extremadura, who managed to preserve the Renaissance and Merida in central Extremadura with a Roman heritage, Lleren still looks outward, apart from the proliferation of cars, the town of the Middle Ages, full of gloomy, dark, beautiful caused the grim presence of the Inquisition and intensified now along the narrow, shaded streets and, over a long period of siesta, real estate that is not often the case in the city. It is impossible to say that the residents feel that way. On the contrary, they like strangers. A visit to the tourist information office, located in the Palazzo de Donna Mariana, a beautiful example of architecture typical of the city, shows both the architectural style with a decorated courtyard, columns, porticos, and interior wood paneling, as well as attitude of the people. The charming young lady apologized for not practicing English very often, and then prepared information about the city, the surrounding area and the province, all in perfect English.

To truly feel like a town, you can safely wander the streets. You sometimes go out in small squares with the inevitable church, and sometimes at one of the two surviving gates through the city walls, Puerto de Montemalin in 1577 with a fresco of the Conception of Inmaculada or earlier Moorish, Puerto de Villagarsia with its wide stairs. leading to the main entrance for formal ceremonies, with a smaller arch to one side and a “z” entrance built to deter unwanted visitors. Dark stripes, as soon as the eyes get used to the darkness, provide liquid refreshment and bowls of locally cooked full, sweet, pickled olives.

Relief from the sun can be found in Plaza Mayor. On two sides the colonnade walk, built in the 15th century, provides a deep shadow, immersed in what was the aforementioned Palacio de Luis Zapata, a pair of bars that also serve food, but only when the sun has set after 20.30 pm.

Having studied the city itself, which has no evidence of any history before the Moors, it was time to look for the Romans. A trip from Llerena by sign for the Roman ruins to Fuente del Arco. You will soon leave the city behind and appear straight into agriculture. After 8 kilometers you will reach the junction to Fuente del Arco, ignore it, continue, do not follow the signs for the ruins, you will be on the streets hopelessly confused. Another kilometer is a good junction with the road to your left, which goes another kilometer to the ruins with signposts. This huge site has not yet been excavated. We know that this is a potentially huge venue because the only building that houses the theater will house 1,000 people, and the Romans sought to build their own theaters to serve a third of the population in a single performance. In size, though not in decorativeness, it rivals that of Merida. It is likely that this is the site of a Roman settlement known as Regina, and that within three hundred years between the departing and arriving Moors, the center of the population moved 8 miles on the road to a faster hamlet, which the Moors then called Elerina. There are indications that the low hill on which Lleren sits was once a fortified Iron Age settlement. In any case, the location of Regina does indicate that the Romans felt unrestrained here, as it is located on a fairly flat plain with a high, in Roman times, unprotected ridge behind.

On this ridge, overlooking the Roman site, is another Moorish hill with an interesting fortification on top of the village of Rhine. Unlike Llerena, this tiny village, clogged with a small gap under the castle, has not changed since the time of Mauritius. Contact the tourist office in Lleren for the duration of the castle. In March 2009, it was closed for major repairs. Finally, a few more miles along the road is the abandoned iron mine of Mina de la Hayona. Iron ore was mined from this mine before the arrival of the Romans and they quickly realized its importance. Worked continuously until the 20th century, the mines are now a national monument and open to visitors. Excursions are conducted and organized through the tourist office in Lleren. Tel. 924 870 551.

The rural path to Llerena creates a confused anticipation of the future. Leave a recently completed car called the “Autovia de la Plata” that takes you from Seville to Merida, a few miles to Monesterio, at the junction indicating Palar. Go to Palare and then follow the signs of Lleren. The winding road will take you through the fertile valleys, which were first cultivated during the Roman and Mauritian occupation, and then at the will of the Santiago knights. Plump merino sheep and dark gray Iberian pigs quietly dedicate themselves among the fruit trees. Fields burst with vegetables of all kinds. A rough hunting country divides the valleys. In these areas, game birds explode from roadside vegetation and disappear into the thickets. There are pheasant and grouse and, a culinary delight if available, red partridge. On the hills, crops and domesticated animals in the valleys there is so much play that you think there is a place here, hopefully where food is important and lovingly ready to extract every last piece of fun. And it proves it. The Mirador’s restaurant has a menu filled with local delicacies, juicy lamb, crispy piglets and plump partridge cooked with sage, as well as sweet pastries made at the convent nearby. If your dinner is not to your liking, leave the car in Zafra and take the direct Roman road southeast to Llerena.