Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Things to do in Trujillo

Francisco Pizarro, who waged war on the Inca to win Peru for Spain, was born in Trujillo, the illegitimate son of a nobleman. A bronze statue of him astride a fiery steed, ready for battle (done by two American sculptors in the 1930s), dominates the pretty Plaza Mayor in the heart of the Casco V Viejo (Old Town). Trujillo's two other famous sons were Diego Garcia de Paredes, who founded another Trujillo in Venezuela, and Francisco de Orellana, the first European to explore the Amazon.

The Casco Viejo, perched on a granite hill above the modern district, is full of grand 16th-century mansions financed with wealth brought back from the new territories. Of particular interest is the Palacio de la Conquista, built by Pizarro's half-brother Hernando; it still contains busts of the explorer's family.

Check with the Oficina de Turismo for opening date. The 13th-century Iglesia de Santa Marta holds the tombs of some of the town's most prominent nobles, including Garcia de Paredes, and is also noted for its 15th to 16th-century Gothic altar; the church is open daily. Towering over everything is the impressive Moorish built Castillo de Trujilloa walk up to its ramparts at sunset gives a spectacular view over the town's rooftops. Open daily. No admission charge.

The people of Trujillo live much as they always has, tending sheep and goats and doing wash by hand. In the evening, the main square is an evocative place to sit and sip a glass of sherry before going on to dine at one of the town's several good restaurants.

Merida things to do

Founded by the Romans in 25 BC as Emerita Augusta, a colony for the emeriti (veterans) of the fifth and tenth Roman legions, Merida quickly grew to be the Spanish Rome, capital of the vast and powerful province of Lusitania. The Roman ruins are among the best in Iberia, with top honors going to the Teatro romano, a Roman theater built with seating for 6,000 by Agrippa, son in law of Emperor Augustus, shortly after the city's founding. In summer, classical plays and flamenco dances are performed here. Nearby is an anfiteatro romano, a Roman amphitheater that held 14,000 spectators.

The National Museum of Roman Art Merida

There's ample parking near the entrance. The Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, in a building forming part of the theater complex, not only is acknowledged to be the finest repository of Roman artifacts in Spain, but also has drawn kudos for its design. It incorporates a Roman road, discovered when the museum was being built in the early 1980s, and contains a superb collection of statues, glassware, pottery, coins, and mosaics.

It's closed Sunday afternoons and Mondays; admission charge. Two Roman houses near the theaters have been excavated, revealing an intricate water system and some fine mosaics. They're open daily, and charge admission. Other Roman remains include an exquisite Templo de Diana (Temple of Diana); the circus, used for chariot racing; the wellpreserved Arco de Trajano (Trajan's Arch); the Acueducto de Milagros (Milagros Aqueduct), the better preserved of two that served the city; and the 60-arch Roman bridge across the Guadiana, the longest bridge ever built in Spain. Information on the ruins is available at the Oficina de Turismo, located at the entrance to the anfiteatro romano. Closed weekend afternoons.

Merida's past as a Moorish fiefdom is best seen in the Alcazaba, a castle built during the 9th century using a Roman wall as part of its foundation. Inside this fortress, note the cistern, a fine example of sophisticated Moorish engineeringits construction assured the Moors a constant supply of water from the Guadiana. Hours are the same as for the Roman amphitheater; admission included in amphitheater ticket.

One last sight not to be missed in Merida is the Hornito de Santa Eulalia, a 17th century shrine in front of the church of the same name. The shrine is dedicated to a young girl who, according to local legend, was baked in an horno (oven) in the 4th century for spitting in the eye of a pagan official of the Emperor Diocletian rather than renounce Christianity.

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