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Extremadura boasts its own Stonehenge

The emergence of the dolmen from the depths of the Valdecañas reservoir in August has triggered an influx of tourists.
The emergence of the dolmen from the depths of the Valdecañas reservoir in August has triggered an influx of tourists. / MIGUEL ÁNGEL MARCOS
  • August's drought has uncovered the dolmen in a reservoir near Cáceres, but the daily avalanche of tourists is putting the megalithic monument at risk

A stone circle dating back thousands of years, which recently emerged from the depths of a drought-hit reservoir, has helped to put two villages in the region of Extremadura on the map. Over the last few weeks, Peraleda de la Mata and El Gordo in the province of Cáceres, close to the border with Toledo, have received an influx of tourists asking after this archaeological treasure.

The 'Dolmen de Guadalperal', as this megalithic monument which dates back to between the second and third millennium B.C. is now known, has become the tourist attraction of the late summer.

The dolmen's climb to fame follows its unexpected appearance in August, when the reservoir almost completely dried up. The group of stones had been submerged there since 1963, when the Valdecañas dam was built, flooding an area of great archaeological value.

For the first time in two decades, the water level has dropped far enough to leave the dolmen in full view. Formed by 140 stones standing in a circle, the monument has been compared to the famous Stonehenge in the south of England.

The surfacing of this 5000-year-old wonder has sparked a debate. Some are in favour of leaving the monument in its current location until the rain once again floods the site. Others say that the drought gives them the chance to relocate the stones to a conditioned site which could be visited by members of the public, and where the stones could be carefully studied by historians, geologists and archaeologists.

It will fall on the Ministry of Culture, whose employees are already studying the case, to make the decision, before the autumn rains seal the monument's fate.

In the meantime, the site continues to attract tourists, showing the enormous potential of the Guadalperal dolmen for the region. This adds weight to the argument for removing the stones from the bed of the reservoir.

One association, Raíces de Peraleda, is convinced that the dolmen could become a new tourist attraction for the area if it were moved to an accessible site, in the vicinity of Peraleda de la Mata or El Gordo, with boards informing visitors of the monument's precedence and history.

The head of the association, Ángel Castaño, says that the monument should be removed because of its historical interest, so that its condition does not deteriorate.

"Something similar to what happened to the Talavera la Vieja columns, which were found next to the Tajo river and which now attract numerous visitors to the nearby towns, could be done with the dolmen. We have a lot of heritage to show, but we are not organised. We also have the Archaeological Museum of Navalmoral de la Mata and the Belvís de Monroy castle; the dolmen would add to the list," said Castaño.

In response to the visits of hundreds of people who arrive every day to see, photograph and touch the monument, Raíces de Peraleda has requested that the institutions monitor the dolmen to avoid damage being done and to control access.

Meanwhile Pedro Isabel Gómez, a river tourism guide, has converted his fishing boat and makes regular trips taking tourists across the water left in the reservoir to visit the dolmen. He has not stopped since the first news of the stones' appearance triggered an avalanche of visitors.

The arrival of tourists has also started to benefit the small businesses in the surrounding area, whose owners are, of course, on the side of the bid to keep the stones on dry ground.