Extremadura is one of 17 autonomous regions in Spain. Extremadura’s size is comparable to Switzerland, but, with around 1,2 million inhabitants, the population is much lower. About 30% of the territory consists of fields with cork oaks and holm oaks, so-called dehesas, which are used for small-scale livestock farming. For centuries cows, bulls, goats, sheep, and pigs have grazed these fields. The rest of the territory consists of mountains, steppes, (artificial) lakes and residential areas.
Already before the start of the Christian Era, the Romans were active in Extremadura. Their most important city in the area was Mérida, the capital of Hispania Lusitania. Mérida still contains many Roman buildings as a memory of this age. In the seventh century, the area was conquered by the Visigoths. In this period, christianity spread throughout Spain. In the seventh century, the area was again conquered by the Moors. From all these periods, historical remains are present in Extremadura, even though much has been destroyed because of continuous warfare. In the thirteenth century, Extremadura was recaptured by the Christians during the so-called Reconquista.
Extremadura has played its greatest role in history during the conquest of South and Middle America by the Conquistadores. Many of the most important Conquistadores originated from Extremadura. They chose a different life, driven by poverty. Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru, is honoured with a statue on the Plaza Mayor of Trujillo. The name of Francisco Orellana lives on in the Embalse de Orellana and the Canal de Orellana, the most important supply route for water to the rural areas in Extremadura. Many American cities still carry names of cities and villages in Extremadura, such as Trujillo, Medellin, Mérida and Alberquerque.
Extremadura’s population largely consists of agrarians. Over the years, they have developed a way of working that is tenable in the climatological circumstances of the environment. Extensive live-stock farming and agriculture is still normal in large areas of Extremadura. There are no problems with bio-industry here. Traditionally, farmers led their cattle via special roads, the via pecuaria, to the lands that contained the most food at that specific moment. They would be away from home for months at a time for this. This does not happen anymore, but the regular relocation of cattle to give the soil a chance to recover is still very common. Meeting a farmer with his cattle on the road is a relatively common occurrance here.
Even though many people believe the interior of Spain to be bone-dry, this is not the case at all. Extremadura has its periods of rainfall too. The dehesas are covered with a magnificent flower carpet in years of rainfall. There are rivers and streams everywhere. The charcas, drinking pools for cattle, are filled with water. The soil is also rich with water. Many of the water sources give enough water every day to irrigate the vegetable gardens and to provide water for the inhabitants. Because of the huge amounts of water in Extremadura, ex-general Franco has ordered enormous drainage-basins to be constructed to satisfy the need for water in other parts of Spain. These lakes provide drinking water and irrigate the fields.
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