Campiña Sur at its best: Virgen del Ara Hermitage & La Jayona

Sara Rodriguez Romo | Live the World

November 23, 2022

When visiting the Campiña Sur of Extremadura, there are some places you cannot miss, such as Llerena, Regina, Casas de Reina… but also two other unique spots: the Virgen del Ara Hermitage (with its rich frescoes) and an astonishing mine of La Jayona. Both places are linked by an easy path that I advise you to walk in order to appreciate the wildness of this area of Extremadura, where not so long ago howled the wolves in its well-preserved landscape. All that you can find within the frame of Sierra la Jayona, a mountain that hides two treasures: the Extremadurian Sixtine Hermitage and a stunning open-air iron mine.

Virgen del Ara Hermitage

Built in the 15th century, it is known as the Extremadurian Sixtine Hermitage because of the quality of the frescoes and “trompe l’oeil” that fills its interior ceiling and walls. Walking into this chapel means getting lost inside a universe of colours and figures. Every scene depicts a passage from the Old Testament, from Adam and Eve on. The artists came from the nearby School of Llerena, linked to the great painter Zurbarán. The outside style is known as “Mudejar”, a mix between Christian and Muslim art, very suitable for an area where these two cultures lived together. 

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

This chapel is so much more than it looks like because it has very rich traditions. For instance, its name (Our Lady of the Altar) tells us that it was probably built over a Roman temple, where people used to make a pilgrimage. This part has been preserved: when you visit this building, you can still see the bodegas, the stables, the house of the hermit. 

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

Women used to go there to pray for a boyfriend. In fact, if you look closer, you will see holes in the walls. This is where they used to insert their offerings to St. Anthony, who is also present. The saint holds in his hand a figure of Jesus. The statue of Jesus used to just sit in his hand, but eventually, it had to be nailed to it: women used to steal it and keep it until they got their lover! Another technique was to throw little stones to his navel or hang an image of the saint upside down on a pit until they were successful. And, despite all these offences against its figure, the poor saint never retaliated!

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

La Jayona mine

When you exit the chapel, immediately to the left, you see a path. Take it, and you will find yourself on the way to the abandoned iron mine of La Jayona. Actually, in this area, there are many routes, all very easy because of the smooth modulation of the landscape. As for La Jayona mine, it was already exploited in Roman times, but the part we visit was mainly utilized during the first years of the 20th century. The iron was so abundant that it was kept open-air. 

© Flickr / José María González-Serna

Nowadays, it has been rewarded as a Natural Monument, one of the very few mines that are actually touristic. It really deserves it: it is a labyrinth of tunnels and pits, divided by rock columns, that go three levels under the surface. It is a bit claustrophobic if you ask me, but undoubtedly stunning, with light coming inside everywhere, through holes and the menacing, vertical rock right in front of the visitor, dominant, almost threatening. You will also feel a bit of vertigo when looking down, to the void, with the mine going 120 meters down the pure rock. 

© Flickr / Guillermo Varela

The rock and the vegetation growing everywhere, taking over the abandoned mine, will make you feel in a parallel universe.  

© Wikimedia Commons / Kani

Extremadura has a lot to offer, and this southern part, the Campiña Sur, has always been special. Usually out of the touristic routes, because it is so difficult to reach, it well deserves a visit to discover all the treasures this small area hides. For instance, you can explore Llerena (the city of the three religions), Regina (a Roman city abandoned in the middle of the countryside), Casas de Reina (a huge Muslim fortress overlooking all the plain), and of course, Virgen del Ara Hermitage & La Jayona.

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