WITHIN A MEDIEVAL WALLED CITY
I leave Madrid early morning to visit the city of Ávila and Segovia, half-a-day for each of them. These two cities were mentioned in a lot of guidebooks as “highly recommended tour”, so I told myself “Well, let’s have a look then!”. For this one-day trip, I am using the services of Julia Travel agency in Madrid, because I haven’t had enough time to prepare myself a tour route to follow.
When we arrived in Ávila, we head to the Romanesque Basilica de los Hermanos Santos Martires, Vicente, Sabina y Cristeta, more simply called Basilica of San Vicente. We visit then the building with Jorge, our guide for the day.
The church is built of sandstone, extracted of La Colilla. It would be the work of Fruchal Giral, the architect who introduced the Gothic style architecture from France in Spain. According to legend, the Christian martyrs Vicente, Sabina and Cristeta were persecuted during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian; their bodies were buried in the rock on which was later built a basilica. In 1062, their relics were transported to the monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza in Burgos, but in 1175, they were handed back to their original location in Ávila and the construction of a new basilica began there. The construction was constantly slowed or stopped, and could not be completed until the 14th century, thanks to the support of Alfonso X of Castile and Sancho IV of Castile.
Inside, the main attraction is the cenotaph of Hermanos Santos Martires made of polychrome stone, one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture. Upon exit of the Basilica, we find ourselves face to face with one of the nine gates of the city, San Vicente, and the famous Walls of Ávila, perfectly preserved Roman military enclosure surrounding the ancient part of the city.
The Gate of San Vicente has the same structure as the Alcázar, one of the other gates. The restorations of San Vicente were more discreet, giving the gate a more authentic look and conforms to its original appearance. We do not know precisely the chronology of the construction of the wall. Nowadays, it is 2’516 meters long and consists of 2,500 slots, 88 towers and 9 gates. The average height of the walls is 12 meters and its average thickness is 3 meters, which ensured the city an important protection against any invader.
The site is surrounded by rocky escarpments and slope of the valley of the river Adaja, without embankments or buttresses. Although the whole enclosure is covered by a walkway, only parts located near the Gate of the Alcázar and the Harina del Peso (accessible by stone stairs) can be visited by tourists. So we go through this immense stone gate and head to the Plaza Mayor (main square) through some pedestrian streets.
Also known as the “market place”, it welcomes some of them several times a week, but unfortunately not during our visit. The square is not very busy, probably because it is still early and that the few restaurants and shops around are just about to open, but we are just passing by anyway. Indeed, we head to the Convent of St. Teresa of Ávila. Before arriving there, we pass El Torreón de los Guzmanes, a tower of Spanish Renaissance style.
A few minutes later, here we are at the aforementioned convent. Inaugurated in 1636, it was built on the site of the birthplace of St. Teresa of Avila by the architect Fray Alonso de San José. Our guide then explains some of the history of the Holy woman and the building itseft. The beautiful baroque facade of is the first element we can observe and one can see on it the coat of arms of St. Teresa’s family.
The interior in a Latin cross shape is equally beautiful. It includes paintings of the master Gregorio Fernández and beautiful stained glass windows. An adjacent room contains many objects unfamiliar to visitors, but of great value (last photo below).
While returning towards our bus, we stop by the Cathedral of Ávila. Unable to visit in the interior, we admire its exterior facades. The cathedral was designed as both a temple and fortress: indeed, its apse is part of the Walls of Ávila. The building is surrounded by various stately homes and palaces, which were responsible to ensure the defense of the nearby gates. The Cathedral of Ávila is considered as the first Gothic cathedral in Spain.
Before leaving to Segovia, we make a stop on one of the viewpoints surrounding the city, Los Cuatro (the Four). I think it’s a great way to end the visit, since the view of the city and especially its walls is just beautiful!