Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

Secrets of the Iberian Peninsula

Southern Spain and PortugalThe Iberian peninsula holds many secrets for the overland traveler. As our group soon discovered, it is a land of contrasts.  The bustle of Lisbon and modern architecture of Madrid are worlds apart from a vast countryside with isolated towns that were connected by dirt roads and stage coaches just a half century ago. Nor has the pace of modernization erased the legacy of successive civilizations. Within Mérida’s medieval walls a 21st-century cityscape of late-model cars and smartly dressed citizens coexists with extensive Roman ruins reminiscent of Ephesus. The architectural delights of southern Portugal and Spain also bear witness to the juxtaposition of Moorish, Judaic and Christian communities that alternatively competed, coexisted and confronted one another over the centuries.​