A trip through time from Ávila to Extremadura: Sierra de Gredos, Monfragüe’s National Park and Mérida

Bea Palop
Bea Palop

If for the title you think that in Nattule we have created a time machine, I am sorry to communicate that, it’s still impossible. But there’s hope, there are ways to travel to the past without TARDIS of Doctor Who.

Since glacial times, the geography of Spain has been transformed in such a way that today we can enjoy landscapes as impressive and brimming with nature as the Sierra de Gredos (Ávila) and the Monfragüe National Park (Extremadura), and landscapes that take you to another time like the Roman city of Mérida (Extremadura).

Three places that will make you fall in love with its own charms and landscapes. From here, we recommend that you prepare well your camera because you do not want to forget a single image of this trip.

SIERRA DE GREDOS 

To the south of Ávila, nature gave the province an impressive geographical relief of sierra in which most of its summits are between 2,300 – 2,500 meters. So it is not surprising that the highest peak of the Autonomous Community of Castilla y León and the Central System is precisely here: the Almanzor (2,592 meters high).

As a curiosity, there is a legend about the name of this wonderful mountain. Almanzor (Al-Mansur) is the spanish name of a famous Muslim warrior of the X century who did not lose any battle against the Catholics. Returning from a battle, he went to rest at the Circo de Gredos, located just in front of this peak. At that time there was a myth about that mountain that said that from there came some extraordinary sounds from the water between its rocks. As the warrior did not hear them, the shepherds, for fear that he would react badly, said his name aloud echoing in the mountain, and he was so fascinated that he decided that this mountain would have his name (if the legend is true, of course, those shepherds deserve an applause).

In general, the Sierra de Gredos is a mountain range that has a landscape from north to south very different. On its north face is a landscape of very mountainous and rocky mountain range, decorated in gray and white when the winter falls. The famous philosopher Miguel de Unamuno described it as the ‘Stony Heart of Spain’, and a single image is enough to give him all the reason.

The Tormes River, which starts in Navarredonda de Gredos, also passes through this area and appears as a trail of crystal clear water and infuses life and movement into the landscape. Right in front of his birth, is located the Gredos Parador, which was the first to open in Spain (1928). A good photo session there is necessary.

In this northern part, there’s one of the most beautiful and important enclaves of the Regional Park of the Sierra de Gredos; the Circus of Gredos. It is a glacial cirque, which has the peak of Almanzor to its east. And to the northwest, in the lowest part of this glacial cirque, is the Great Lake of Gredos. Of course, we can not forget the fauna that in this Regional Park inhabits like the mountain goat, the salamander of the Almanzor or the common toad of Gredos.

On the other hand, if we go to the south, we discover lands full of hillsides and lush vegetation. There is the Tiétar Valley, a place with less altitude and is a break from so much mountain. The river that gives its name to the valley, is born in Rozas de Puerto Real and flows into the Tagus River, right at our next stop; the National Park of Monfragüe.

NATIONAL PARK OF MONFRAGÜE

As Turismo Extremadura says in its official page about the Park: ‘The National Park of Monfragüe is an obligatory point of reference, both of ornithology and of the Mediterranean flora’. And the statement is true. In this Park you will find the best sample of Mediterranean forest and scrub in the world. It is the Iberian landscape par excellence and that is why it is possible to inhabit in it a fauna and flora so varied.

Since 1979 it was declared a Natural Park, in 1988 a Special Bird Protection Zone (SPA), in 2003 a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and the most recent, in 2007 it was declared a National Park. The beauty of this park lies not only in the landscape, but in the fauna itself, especially the birds of prey that can be seen quite easily flying over the sky during your visit as griffon vultures, black vultures or imperial eagles among many more birds. And if you love birds, the International Ornithological Tourism Fair (FIO), which is always held at the end of February in Villarreal de San Carlos within the Park, is an indispensable fair for you.

The most visited site by tourists is the Gypsy Falls, at the foot of the Tagus River. A perfect place to see the griffon vulture, which also has its own legend. You know what we like about a good legend. Imagine, a bandit, the bravest and most feared of the place, hid among its rocks. Until one day, when he was chased by the Guardia Civil, he jumped from the end of the other side of the river to the highest rock in front, crossing the river Tagus with a single jump. Such was the impact of one of the guards that remained of stone and we can observe it looking towards the Salto del Gitano. Hence the literal name.

Then, if you want to see a more lush landscape full of vegetation, the Dehesa is an area that you have to visit. It is located in the Biosphere Reserve of the Park, and there you can see horses, bulls, goats and the endemic of the country, the Iberian pig. One of the most beautiful things and to appreciate of this Dehesa, is the reddish color of the cork oaks after their uncorking when it gets dark. The image that surrounds the whole place seems to come out of a tale.

But for fairytale places, we have Merida. Our last stop in this journey through time, which we have contemplated through nature, for now, to contemplate it from the vestiges of the Roman city of Merida.

MERIDA

As soon as you arrive in Merida (or Augusta Emerita) you wonder if you’ve gone too far and ended up in Italy. That’s because everywhere you look there’s a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire reminding you that the foundations of that time have no point of comparison with those we use now. Your building 400 years from now is probably no longer there, but the 16-15 B.C. Roman Theatre of Merida is still standing.

But not only will you see traces of the Roman Empire here, but you will also see monuments of Visigothic, Arabic and Christian culture that continue with us until you reach the modern buildings we know today. If the above we have seen in nature has been a journey back in time before man laid his first stone; the city of Merida reminds you of the many visitors who contributed their grain of sand to the Peninsula.

There is a lot to see in Mérida if you love history and architecture: the aforementioned Roman Theatre, the Amphitheatre, the Aqueduct of Miracles, the Roman Circus, the Temple of Diana, the Arab Alcazaba, the Roman Bridge, the Arch of Trajan or the House of Mitreo are just some of the examples you will see as you move around the city. With this information, it’s no surprise that the capital of Extremadura is a World Heritage Site, is it?

Of all the monuments to be seen in the city, there are two essential ones that must be seen before leaving the city, either for their greatness or for their fame: the Roman Theatre and the Amphitheatre.

The Roman Theatre is one of the best preserved buildings in Merida, and one of the most spectacular. It was built between 16 and 15 B.C. sponsored by the consul of Marco Vipsanio Agripa. It had the capacity to hold 6,000 spectators in its stands. The overall appearance shows the greatness of which the Romans were proud. Some scenes of the typical Roman way of life were represented there.

But for the spectators, the real fun came from the Amphitheater or the Circus. A spectacle was not a good spectacle if there was no blood involved. These Romans are crazy’ I imagine telling Obelix as he did so many times in his comics. The Amphitheatre was built in 8 B.C., and nowadays it is the most visited place by tourists. This is where the ferocious battles between gladiators, between animals and even representations of ancient wars took place.

Both, if not all, deserve to be visited with a professional guide so as not to miss any detail of what your eyes are seeing. Each corner has a story, and Mérida has many stories from different periods. Would you like to discover them?

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