Extremadura is a region of western Spain situated along the border of Portugal. It is sandwiched between the regions of Castile and Leon, Andalusia, and Castile-La Mancha. Most of Extremadura has a warm Mediterranean climate, though temperatures are somewhat cooler in the northern section. The region is mostly rural and lightly populated, and the largest city has only about 150,000 residents.
Extremadura was part of the Roman province of Lusitania, which was conquered during the Punic Wars. The small modern city of Merida was then the provincial capital, and many Roman ruins can still be seen there. Merida has more Roman ruins than any other city in Spain, and these ruins have been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There is a triumphal arch built by the Emperor Trajan, an amphitheatre constructed in 8 BC, a temple to the goddess Diana, and many other extant ruins from the Roman Imperial era.
Another World Heritage Site is the city of Caceres. The Moors conquered the area in the 700s, and Caceres still holds many examples of Moorish architecture, along with Roman, Gothic and Renaissance building styles.
A third World Heritage Site stands in Guadalupe. Here a statue of the Virgin Mary was discovered in the 1200s, apparently after being hidden from the Moors for centuries. A chapel and monastery were established at the site, dedicated to Santa Maria de Guadalupe.
Many Spanish conquistadores and explorers were born in the Extremadura region, including Pizarro, Cortes, de Vaca, de Soto, and Balboa. Several of the towns have statues or monuments dedicated to their sons who explored the Americas.
Extremadura is also known for its natural beauty. There are two Natural Parks here, in Monfrague and Cornalvo. Bird watching is great here, and there are huge populations of black storks, cranes, vultures and imperial eagles, along with bustards and Montague’s harriers. The parks hold an abundant variety of wildlife typical of Mediterranean forests.
The cuisine of Extremadura is definitely worth sampling. It is a very rural region, so much of the food has a very rustic quality. One of the local specialties is migas, a dish of egg or chorizo sausage topped with breadcrumbs. Fried lamb is also popular, but the most distinctive local dish is jamon iberico, made from the wild, acorn-fed pigs that live in the area.