Our road route from Salamanca to Seqovia took us near Ávila Spain. Guidebooks say that Ávila is famous for its imposing medieval walls, the most complete fortifications in Spain. And Ávila’s massive walls are impressive; they encircle the 1.5 mile perimeter of the old town with eight monumental gates, 88 watchtowers, and more than 2,500 turrets. But there is more. Ávila is the birthplace of St Teresa and the burial place of the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada. UNESCO deems that Ávila’s historical sites warrant a position on the World Heritage list. That’s more than enough to motivate us to visit.
On approach Ávila can be seen from the distance. The town sits on a gently sloping rocky outcrop 3,714 feet above sea level near the Adaja River. Downhill from the top of the town open space buffers the crenellated walls from surrounding development. Modern renovations and restorations have left the 11th Century fortifications looking a little too flawless; they’d fit in perfectly at Disneyland. Not that that the restoration is a bad thing; in a few years the walls might just look as they did in the 12th Century.
Sometimes called the City of Stones and Saints, Ávila claims that it ranks near the top for number of Romanesque and Gothic churches (and bars and restaurants) per capita in Spain. Our personal survey confirmed the high density of religious buildings. As expected the most impressive church is the cathedral.
Constructed as a cathedral-fortress, the Cathedral of Ávila’s apse functions as a turret in the city walls; here there’s no separation between church and state. Building of the church began in 11th or 12th Century; the exact date is not known. The structure is thought to be first Gothic cathedral in Spain. Though it lacks the exuberance of Spain’s late Gothic cathedrals, Gothic touches can be noted on the exterior of Ávila’s cathedral. Inside, the nave and the cloisters are distinctive and difficult to describe; it’s not quite like other cathedrals. Nor would the cathedral fit into Disney World. But you’ll have to take this on faith; we have no pictures this time.
Ultimately we escaped through Ávila’s walls and were back on our way to Segovia. For us the stop in historic Ávila was a perfect way to break up a road journey.