Taking the E-90 (A-5 and A-66) from Madrid we arrive at Zafra, in the south of Badajoz, a landscape of holm oaks, cork oaks and patches of gall oak: we have already landed in the middle of the territory of the military orders. These border lands were owned by the Order of Santiago (Calera de Leon, Montemolin, Segura de Leon, Llerena, Fuentes de Leon…) or by the Templars (Jerez de los Caballeros, Fregenal de la Sierra, Alconchel, Burguillos…), who helped the Hispanic kings to conquer territory from the Moors and, later, to secure it.

We advance to Monesterio, where the Sierra de Tentudia is already visible, and, a little further on, we have Calera de León, where one of our objectives is located: the monastery of Nuestra Señora de Tentudia. In the 13th century, the Santiago master Pelay Perez Correa, a warrior monk, led the last great battle of Sierra Morena, and in the face of a more numerous enemy he was managing to turn the clash around, but night fell and he needed more time to defeat the unfaithful, so he raised his face to heaven and prayed: “Have your day.” The Virgin Mary, who, as we know, always acts on her behalf, delayed sunset and gave her the hours she needed. We already have a beautiful legend, and in commemoration our master built a small hermitage, from which the monastery developed.

The Gothic-Mudejar complex, located at the highest point in the province of Badajoz (1,104 meters), has, among other things, a beautiful and rare main ceramic altarpiece, commissioned in 1518 in the workshop of Niculoso Francisco Pisano. And our hero, Pelay Perez Correa, has his tomb in the monastery, since he died in February 1275, “of great age, very enlightened by the great things he did in war and peace.”

By car it doesn’t take long to reach Calera de Leon itself, where another jewel awaits us: the Santiaguista Convent. The need for the Order of Santiago to have a more accessible and sheltered place than the monastery gave rise to this complex of church, cloister and monastic dependencies, all covered by a splendid star-shaped ribbed vault. It dates from the 16th century, and served as a residence and college for the knights who inhabited the area, whose hierarchy was divided into freires (marriageable knights), narrow knights (with a vow of chastity) and religious, all under the authority of the master. One of my favorite places was a viewpoint, with a gallery of 22 arches, overlooking the Mother House, the Tentudia monastery. You can also enjoy, in one of the rooms,


We continue our journey. We continue in the lands of the Order of Santiago (remember some of its honorary members: Velazquez, Quevedo, Cortes, Pizarro, Gravina, Calderon de la Barca…). No more than half an hour by car to the west, Segura de Leon awaits, where another colossus awaits: the castle of the same name. A 13th century fortress where our master Pelay Perez resided, at some point, a huge, enraged leviathan, with a canvas that gradually adapts to the features of the terrain, with cylindrical, semi-cylindrical and prismatic towers. It was built by the last master of the Order of Santiago, Don Alonso de Cardenas, grandfather of Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, the first European to see the Colorado canyon. We couldn’t visit it because it was closed, but it’s worth going to just to see its wrinkled mass, its threatening presence.

We kept advancing and, at some point, we crossed the invisible border that separated the Templars from the Knights of Santiago. The next town, Fregenal de la Sierra, is already a Templar possession. There we have a 13th century castle with seven towers. As a particularity, I find a little sign that says not to disturb the storks during the visit (something difficult, since their nests are in places that are impossible to get close to). Surprisingly, inside the fortress awaits a large bullring, built in the 18th century. I walk the walkways of the walls, the tower of Homage, the one of the Polvorin, I approach the defensive loopholes. I remember the trial that the King of France Felipe IV the Handsome organized against the Templars, accusing them of having sexual relations with each other, they denied Christ three times and worshiped the Devil and urinated on crucifixes (actually, he needed to rob them of their enormous wealth). The result was that, after the liquidation of the Order of the Temple, in Spain the Knights of Santiago increased their possessions in Extremadura at their expense, and almost four fifths of what is today the province of Badajoz remained under their jurisdiction. We had a drink in the main square of Fregenal and headed for the last part of the route: Jerez de los Caballeros. and almost four fifths of what is today the province of Badajoz remained under its jurisdiction. We had a drink in the main square of Fregenal and headed for the last part of the route: Jerez de los Caballeros. and almost four fifths of what is today the province of Badajoz remained under its jurisdiction. We had a drink in the main square of Fregenal and headed for the last part of the route: Jerez de los Caballeros.

The bloody tower

Templar castle of Jerez de los Caballeros. In the first place, the Church of the Incarnation. Alamy Stock Photo

As if it didn’t already have enough decorations, Jerez de los Caballeros is the homeland of two of the greatest conquerors beyond the seas: Vasco Nunez de Balboa and Hernando de Soto. Only with this information, I already entered the population impressed, but this is the beginning of the experience. In Jerez everything breathes Temple, and its epitome is the fortress, where it is said that the last knights took refuge when they were going to be arrested. Of course, they didn’t even think of giving up, so they had their throats cut in the Tower of Homage, popularly known as the Bloody Tower. The profile of the Extremaduran town has more towers, although less violent: those of the four churches that stand out among the horizon of low roofs. The very spectacular one of San Bartolome, that of San Miguel Arcangel, that of Santa Maria de la Reincarnacion and that of Santa Catalina, all with their particular charms. And finally, I have to talk about the glorious gastronomy.

We return to Monesterio. The ham, the loin, the goat and sheep cheese are unavoidable purchases. On a terrace they served us the miraculous fruits of the Dehesa: fried guarrito, morcón, slices of ham, and for dessert, the sweetest ganotes, dripping with honey, all washed down with ice cold beer. Dante imagined hell well, but failed in Heaven. If he had taken a walk in this area, he would have more than made up for it.

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