Alcántara and its Roman bridge

Alcántara is a municipality, in the province of Cáceres, Autonomous Community of Extremadura (Spain). It is located on the left bank of the Tagus River, at its confluence with the Alagón River, near Portugal. At one time it was the capital of the historic region of the Land of Alcántara, but currently it is part of the Tajo-Salor Commonwealth.

Its modern name comes from the Arabic term Al Qantarat, which means “The Bridge” due to the Roman bridge located in its vicinity, as it was founded in the time of Emperor Trajan and the Visigoths called it Oliba.

The town is known for the Order of Alcántara, the Puente de Alcántara and the Bronze de Alcántara, as well as for being the birthplace of Pedro de Alcántara.

Tourism and main attractions

The Alcántara Bridge built over the Tagus River between 104 and 106 AD by an order of the Roman emperor Trajan in 98.

The Alcántara Bridge has suffered more damage from war than from the elements over the years. The Moors destroyed one of the smallest arches in 1214 although this was rebuilt centuries later, in 1543, with stone taken from the original quarries. The second arch on the northwest side was then later destroyed in 1760 by the Spanish to stop the Portuguese advancing and was repaired in 1762 by Charles III, only to be blown up again in 1809 by Wellington’s forces attempting to stop the French. Temporary repairs were made in 1819, but much of the bridge was destroyed yet again in 1836 by the Carlists. The bridge was rebuilt in 1860 using mortared masonry. And following completion of the José María de Oriol Dam, which allowed for the draining of the Tagus riverbed, the main pillars were completely repaired in 1969.

The bridge originally measured 190 m in length, which today is reduced to 181.7 m. The clear spans of the six arches from the right to the left riverside are 13.6 m , 23.4 m, 28.8 m, 27.4 m, 21.9 m and 13.8 m.

Parish Church of Santa María de Almocóvar, in the center of the current old town, in what was the first medieval suburb. It is a late Romanesque building, built on an old mosque, which after the conquest had been dedicated to Christian worship. The works began in 1254, at the initiative of the Master García Fernández.

Outside you can see three interesting Romanesque facades, the main one, to the west, one of the most outstanding examples of Extremaduran Romanesque. In the 16th century some chapels were built, including the main chapel.

The interior has a single nave, a ribbed ceiling with abundant ribs, and houses important artistic pieces: the tomb of Commander Antonio Bravo de Jerez, made by Lucas Mitata; five tables by Luis de Morales; a recumbent Christ, attributed to Martínez Montañés; the tomb of Maestre Yáñez de la Barbuda; and the font where San Pedro de Alcántara was baptized.

San Benito de Alcántara monastery. After the Christian conquest of Alcántara in 1213, the city was given to the military Order of Calatrava four years later. In 1218, they in turn ceded it to the order of San Julián de Pereiro, which changed its name to that of the military Order of Alcántara. In 1488, the order’s council decided to build a new monastery in the city. Construction began in 1505 and lasted for most of the 16th century. The order’s main architect, Pedro de Ybarra, worked on the design.

In 1706, it was sacked during the War of Spanish Succession, and it was damaged by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In 1835, it was abandoned and began to fall into ruin. Later it was acquired by Hidroeléctrica Española, which restored it and occupied the structure until 1966. In 1985 it went to the Fundación San Benito de Alcántara.

Other religious monuments of the town are:

Church of the Incarnation, also called the ‘Ancient Incarnation’, from the 15th century, although from that time only the façade, the window and the ribbed vaults are preserved. It was built within the old alcazár, and was the parish of the walled town.

Convent of Sancti Spirit. Next to the old parish of the Incarnation, it was the convent inhabited by the Commendatory Nuns of the Order of Alcántara; It’s in ruins.

Chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, from the 18th century, belonged to the convent of the Tertiary Franciscans.

Capilla de la Soledad, in the Jewish quarter, was built in the 14th century and reformed in the 18th century. It is thought that until 1492 it was used as a synagogue.

Chapel of San Antón, from the 13th century. It was part of an old Franciscan infirmary.

Capilla de la Piedad, part of the Hospital de la Piedad, built in the 16th century; it is now integrated into the Municipal Library.

Hermitage of Nuestra Señora de las Angustias, in the historic center. It is privately owned.

Ermita de la Encarnación, sometimes known as the ‘Encarnación Nueva’, is next to the Plaza de la Corredera; It is from the late 16th century, and was heavily remodeled in the 17th century.

Convent of San Bartolomé, built in 1478 to the northeast of the town, outside the walls. Between 1493 and 1835 it was a Franciscan convent, and in 1496 a flour factory was installed there. It is currently being rehabilitated to use it as a tourist inn.

Hermitage of Nuestra Señora de los Hitos, three km southeast, beyond the cemetery. It already existed in the 14th century. After being destroyed in the War of the Spanish Succession, it was rebuilt in 1768.

Church of Santiago, from the 16th-17th centuries; it fell in ruins in the War of the Spanish Succession, and there are no traces left.

The José María Oriol-Alcántara II reservoir

The José María Oriol-Alcántara II reservoir, better known as the Alcántara reservoir, is an artificial reservoir produced by the Iberdrola dam of the same name, located in the riverbed of the Tagus river.

The dam, completed in 1969, although inaugurated later, is named, on the one hand, by José María de Oriol y Urquijo, then president of the company that built this work, Hidroeléctrica Española, currently Iberdrola, owner of the facility. On the other hand, it completes its name with that of Alcántara II, because the dam is located in the said town of Cáceres. It is commonly cited as Alcántara Dam or Alcántara Reservoir, but there is another supply dam in the same municipality that is called Alcántara I Dam.

How to get to?

From Mérida 1 hr 25 min (127 km) via A-66 and EX-207

From Cáceres 58 min (69.7 km) via EX-207

From Badajoz 1 hr 27 min (114 km) via EX-110 and EX-302

From Plasencia 1 hr 18 min (111 km) via EX-A1 and EX-117

From Madrid 3 hr 29 min (340 km) via A-5 and EX-A1

Main information

Area: 552 sq. km (municipality)

Coordinates: 39°43′07″N 6°53′02″W

Population: 1411

Languages: Spanish

Currency: Euro

Visa: Schengen

Time: Central European UTC +1

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