Heritage cities of Castilla y León
Keep reading if you’re interested in visiting Castilla y León. The triangle of heritage cities Salamanca, Segovia y Ávila is a perfect getaway excuse if you have a long weekend from Madrid. My suggested route for you would be to first visit Segovia. On your way to Salamanca you can make a stop at La Granja; a summer palace built by King Felipe V, the first Bourbon King of Spain. Salamanca would be good even for two days if you can. Ávila would complete the triangle. You could also consider Ávila & Segovia as daycation trips and Salamanca as a weekend getaway alternatively.
The Ministry of Culture & Tourism has established Patrón Pasaporte that has discounts & promotions for visitors of the three cities.
Just a 30 minute-train-ride away from Madrid, the magical city of Segovia has a lot to offer. A little bit of history first. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was settled by people from Northern Europe, which was then invaded by the Arabs. Segovia has since been the capital of various Moorish kingdoms. In 1088, the city was conquered by King of León and Castile, Alfonso VI. Segovia then became a royal residence, seat of the bishop, and a prosperous trading center. It is in this flourishing period that most Romanesque monuments originated.
Roman Aqueduct: The landmark of Segovia, the Aqueduct has defied time for over two thousand years. It is believed to have been constructed during the first century AD with emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan reigning. The aqueduct is an astonishing architecture of 166 arches of stone set neither with mortar nor cement on ashlars granites of the Guadarrama Mountains. The 14 kilometer long structure standing 28.5 meters tall at its maximum height supplied water from the Frío River to the city. Known as the Devil’s Bridge due to a local legend detailing that Lucifer built the bridge on one single night so as to win a soul of a young woman which he failed to achieve in time lacking the final stone. In the gap that remained, the statue of the Virgin of Fuencisla, patroness of the city, stands today. Best enjoyed at Azoquejo Square, the aqueduct was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1985.
El Alcázar: The Alcázar is said to have been the inspiration for the Disney Castle logo with Rapunzel type turrets and a deep moat. The royal palace of Segovia dates as far back as the 12th century. The castle stands imposingly upon a rock in the intersection of the valleys of the rivers Eresma and Clamores.
The Cathedral: ‘The Lady of cathedrals‘ is a great legacy of Basque-Castilian Gothic architecture of flying buttresses and towering peaks which took almost two hundred years to complete. Segovia Cathedral was relocated from Alcázar and was designed by Juan Gil del Anatanon.
La Casa de los Picos (House of Sharp Points): Serving as the School of Applied Arts since 1977, this 15th-century building features a facade with 617 granite points & a Renaissance courtyard. It is believed that the 15th century noble home’s curious façade was created as a possible form of defense given the building’s rather exposed location. Legend has it though, that the house was well known for its previous owners, so when new ones moved in, they chose to cover the façade. Similar to La Casa de las Conchas in Salamanca, the variety of patterns, decorative details and motifs one encounters in Segovia are notable.
As you stroll around the ancient Jewish quarter - La Judería, where a powerful Hebrew community once lived during the Middle Ages, you’ll come across to finest examples of Spanish Romanesque architecture: the Church of Saint Miguel, which can be easily identified by its atrium’s columns; that of Saint Esteban, boasting a tower that’s one of the most perfect representations of this medieval style; or the sober Church of the Holy Trinity.
If you’d like to put some distance between yourself and the city center to enjoy greenery, head towards the banks of the river Eresma until reaching the park called Alameda del Parral. You can discover the city’s hidden treasures while you’re around. 15th-century Monastery of El Parral, 13th-century Church of Vera Cruz, Convent of the Barefoot Carmelites and Sanctuary of the Virgin of Fuencisla are on the same path.
Looking for a traditional place to eat local food? Check out the famous Meson de Candido el Segoviano. You can try Cochinillo Asado, a popular Spanish dish of slow roasted young pork.
200 kilometers from Madrid, city of Salamanca is quite a peaceful place. Known for its ornate sandstone architecture, Spain’s “Golden City”s tourist destinations are within walking distance.
Plaza Mayor dates back to 1755 and was primarily used as a place for bullfighting. Check out the baroque architecture not only during sunlight but also at night when the whole surface of the plaza is lit. If you recognize the square, it’s probably because you watched the movie Vantage Point! Remember it was blown up.
The Cathedrals: Salamanca has two; an “Old” Cathedral and a “New” Cathedral. The Old Cathedral was built between 12-14th Century in Gothic/Romanesque style whereas the New Cathedral was built between 16-18th Century in Gothic/Baroque style. Look out and try to spot the astronaut and an animal eating an ice cream among the odd carvings in the exterior of the New Cathedral. Ieronimus, the New Cathedral’s tower offers panoramic views of Salamanca.
Clerecía Church: Once a royal college and home for the Jesuit brotherhood, The church has an immense, three-floored Baroque cloister. Today it serves as the headquarters of Pontifica University is the fourth oldest university in the Europe.
Casa de Las Conchas (The House of Shells) : As the name itself states, the building’s unique façade is designed with over 300 shells. The shell shape was chosen as its the symbol of the Order of Santiago de Compostela. Built by the order of a knight, the building is now used as a public library. Inside the architecture is a mixture of Gothic, Moorish, and Italian styles.
University of Salamanca: The oldest university in Spain (and fourth oldest university in the Europe) also houses the oldest library dating back to 1218 and 1254 respectively. Attracting many overseas students to study Spanish language, it’s also local students’ top choice to study law, economics and science. The famous university façade has a little frog hidden on it! The huge student population makes the city not only fun, crazy and affordable but also with the most bars per person of any city in Spain 🙂
Convent of St. Stephen (Convento de San Esteban): Its courtyard is surrounded by big arched windows with mullions which differentiates it from the rest of the monasteries in Spain. Interesting fact is that Christopher Columbus had stayed at the convent when he came to Salamanca to seek for help for his big project that lead to the discovery of America.
Monterrey Palace: Built in 1539 by Alonso de Acevedo y Zuñiga, third count of Monterrey, the palace is owned by the Duke of Alba now.
Clavero Tower: Today houses a government office, the tower used to be a part of the palace that belonged to Don Francesco de Sotomayor.
For those feeling to get away the center, walking south to River Tormes and the Roman Bridge could be ideal to enjoy lovely views over the city.
Typical to the area, you can try Hornazo de Salamanca, a delicious savoury pie. It’s made of a thick buttery pastry filled with pork, chorizo and boiled eggs.
Throughout the early medieval period, Avila alternated between Moorish and Christian rule until the reconquest by Alfonso VI in 1085. Many noble families settled here beginning in the 11th century. In the 16th century, the mystical spirit of Santa Teresa de Jesús made it an important pilgrimage destination. The town stands on a high plateau sheltered by the rolling hills of the Sierra Gredos Mountains.
Town Walls (Muralla): After the Christian Reconquest of Avila, the ramparts became an important line of defense against the Moors. Raimundo de Borgoña, son-in-law of Alfonso VI, built the massive circuit of walls between 1090 and 1099, the best preserved to date in Spain. Nine entrance gates provided access to the city. The most spectacular gates are the Puerta de San Vicente and the Puerta del Alcázar.
San Salvador Cathedral: Spain's oldest Gothic cathedral is integrated into the ancient town wall. The enormous granite structure has a fortress-like aspect. Construction of the it had begun in 1091 in Romanesque style, but the cathedral wasn't completed until the 14th century and the dominant architectural style turned out to be Gothic in fact.
Church of San Pedro: Residing over Plaza del Mercado Grande, Church of San Pedro dates back to 13th century. The monarchs swore their respect for the charters of Castile in the atrium of the church, which underlines its importance during the period in which the town achieved its greatest relevance in the world of politics.
Before getting out of town walls, you can stop by The Convent of Saint Theresa which was built as a convent for Carmelite nuns and enjoy a drink in the cafés on the medieval cobblestone streets of the Jewish Quarter that was home to the Jews in the Middle Ages.
Lying outside the town walls are Royal Monastery of Saint Thomas, a Dominican monastery founded in 1483, used as a summer palace by The Catholic Monarchs and, Basilica de San Vicente, a 12th-century Romanesque church built on the spot where Saint Vincent is believed to have been martyred in AD 300.
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