Perched strategically on the border of Portugal, Badajoz was condemned to be a gruesome battleground in which Wellington's Siege of 1812 changed Britain's view of its own military behaviour forever.
The legendary site of one of history's great battles, Badajoz glowers down the 60-foot wall at the crossroads of a major river and a strategic highway between Portugal and Spain. This bastion city blocked Arthur Wellesley's (later the Duke of Wellington) access to Napoleon's armies.
Badajoz, Spain Map
In the great armed European conflict of the late 18th and early 19th century, Badajoz was a must win if the fortunes of that horrific dictator were to be reversed.
The battle was stupendous, thousands of British soldiers were lost but the conquered city remains to this day a testimony to the beginning of the end for that famous Corsican.
Below, you can see how strategic Badajoz' location was at that time.
The Siege of Badajoz
In March of 1812, Arthur Wellesley with 25,000 men arrived at the base of the gigantic walls of Badajoz to defeat Philippon, the French General who with his 4700 men was charged with defending the city. The siege was working well but when word came that Marshall Soult was marching to help Philippon, Wellington knew his time had run out.
Fortunately, he had his veteran regiments and the legendary Green Jackets, the riflemen made famous by Sharpe. Against all odds and with forlorn hope, on the night of 6 April 1812, the British troops climbed over their own dead and savagely breached the walls absorbing 2000 casualties.
The triumph of victory was followed by a level of misbehaviour by the British that is still a legend in the histories of looting and rape. It took nearly 3 days to restore order and the children of the children of the city's population still shudder on the anniversary of that event.
It would forever be an event that Wellington regretted and a stain on the record of British judgment and fairness.
Below is the BBC documentary that explains well the Battle showing in today's Badajoz the significant points of interest. A good video to watch before you visit.
Standing at the foot of the walls in the 21st century, it's almost impossible to imagine the ferocity of the British climbing enormous ladders under the constant fire of the French.
As more and more of the British soldiers died, the anger of the regiments at the pointlessness of the continued French resistance led inevitably to the savage reprisals that followed.
65 % of the French soldiers were killed and 5 British Generals also met their end. As with most military victories, it was a human tragedy especially for the blameless citizens of Badajoz.
Today, the city remains with its massive walls protected by the Guadiana and Rivilla Rivers. As intimidating a site as it was so long ago but now, inside the walls exists a modern, very walkable city that is worth a visit even if you care nothing for the crushing impact of wars on the history of Portugal and Spain.
In fact, we went back a second time to try to see the modern city without the smoke of history and it revealed itself as well worth the second effort. Museums, parks, restaurants and visual memories of the Moorish centuries were really worthwhile.
The Tourism Center has all the information and the pride that the staff had in their city was really rewarding.
What to See in Badajoz
Badajoz must be in your travel list when you visit Spain. Its museums, courtyards and memories going back before Roman times are all displayed in its architecture and the objects in its museums. Neighbouring towns are well worth visiting and discovering the exquisite restaurant such as Merida.
1. The Alcazaba. Given its geography and history, the Alcazaba is the most prominent structure in Badajoz and it is a testament to the Moorish influence having been built in by Ibn Marwan in the 9th century. This was also the official residence of the rulers of the Taifa of Badajoz in the 11th and the 12th centuries after which they were expelled.
Fortified by Yaqub Yusuf in 1169, it became the most important fort on the Portuguese border in the 17th and 18th centuries and the staging point of other Portuguese invasions. The Fortress now houses the Badajoz Provincial Archaeological Museum.
Before you read on, watch this video so you have a vivid picture of the city. Although in Spanish, the video shows most of the things worth seeing in the city. Besides, it's your start at familiarizing yourself with Spanish.
2. Badajoz Cathedral. With gothic, Rennaissance and Platersque windows, its origin dating to 1238 is a Mosque.
3. The Congressional Palace. Dating back to 1852, designed by the architects Lucia Cano and Jose Selgas, this is now the seat of the City Hall.
4. Vauban Military Fort. Built in the 17th century to defend the city from attacks from the northwest and southeast all other directions having natural defines provided by the Guadiana and Rivilla.
5. Puerta Palmas. Two cylindrical towers acting as an entrance point to the city. Built in 1551, the towers are decorated with medallions of Emperor Charles V.
6. Jardines de la Galera. Dating back to the 10th century, the gardens are full of Moorish features including ponds and rare plants.
7. Sta. Ana Monastery. A heritage of cultural interest, it is still the quarters of the nuns of the Order of St. Clare. Founded in 1518 by Leonor de Vega Y Figueroa, the first abbess of the monastery.
8. The Giralda. Not to be missed is the replica of the one in Seville. Built in 1930 by a local businessman and until recently the headquarters of Telefonica, this is now proposed to become the regional cultural centre.
The Museums of Badajoz
The first time we visited Badajoz, it was drizzling so we mainly stayed inside some of its great museums. We really enjoyed the Provincial Archaeological Museum which is right on the Fortress.
This elegant stone and brick building, the 16th century palace of the Dukes of Feria, has a terraced facade and the interior with its Mudejar brick arches lends itself so well to the displayed artifacts. The Roman mosaics are worth a visit by themselves.
Other museums worth checking out:
When to Visit Badajoz
Most people visit Spain in the later Spring and Summer and have memories of massive heat, dry winds and formidable crowding in the tourist areas and the highways.
But from December to April, southern Spain, Extremadura and Andalucia are completely different. It's sweater weather but it's almost ideal for sitting outside and seeing the people who actually live in the region rather than the cheap flight yahoos who ravage the visual beauty of this most remarkable collection of so much of history.
Interesting Facts About Badajoz
Learn more about Badajoz: