In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always liked the sound of the name “Segovia”. “Se-go-vi-a” rolls off the tongue with a pleasing velvety smoothness. The agreeable resonance of the place name seems almost enough of a reason to visit Segovia. But even if the name were Middelfart, Segovia, with its Roman aqueduct, grand cathedral, and ferry-tale castle, would be a worthy stop.
On a hill surrounded by two miles of historic walls Segovia’s UNESCO-listed old town is easily explored on foot. Most tourists visit for just a day. After all, Segovia is a convenient hour-long bus trip from Madrid. We were fortunate to be able to discover Segovia’s meandering medieval street plan over a three-night stay.
Segovia is ideal for unscripted touring; historic buildings appear around every corner. Our base in the center of town near the Plaza Mayor put us near Segovia’s massive Gothic cathedral. This imposing church looms over the central square. Though its exterior style is frilly Gothic it is not as flamboyant as many Spanish late-Gothic cathedrals. Particularly interesting is the chruch’s cavernous, airy, and dramatic interior. The inside of the Segovia’s cathedral is impressive today. We could just imagine the impact it had on parishioners in the 16th Century.
At one end of the hilltop is Segovia’s second most famous landmark, the Alcázar. With its turreted towers, deep moat, and crenellated ramparts the Alcázar is a prototype of a fairy-tale castle. It is said that the Alcázar’s design inspired Walt Disney’s vision of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Fairy-tale appearance aside, the Alcázar’s privileged location and strong defenses made it a formidable fortress for centuries. Indeed the castle proved to be an important stronghold for the Spanish royals. But today the Alcázar is no longer safe from rampaging throngs. Its stonewall defenses are easily overwhelmed by Euro-equipped tourists who cross the moat by the hundreds and scour the inside looking for the best possible photograph.
On the opposite end of the hilltop from the Alcázar is Segovia’s most iconic sight, a Roman aqueduct. Constructed in the 1st Century, the aqueduct is Rome’s solution to the challenge of supplying water to a hilltop town. Indeed, the solution was a robust; the aqueduct supplied water to Segovia until just recently.
The aqueduct brought water to the edge of Segovia from the mountains 18 kilometers away and delivered it across town to the Alcázar at the far end of the hill. Most impressive is the last stretch. To cross the last half-mile gap to Segovia’s walled hilltop, the Romans constructed an aqueduct bridge from massive granite blocks fit without mortar. The bridge starts low with single arches. As ground level drops the single arches increase in height. After a bend, two levels of arches support the lead lined water trough at the top. At its extreme el Acueducto is 93 feet above the tourists’ feet as it crosses Plaza del Azoguejo. On the far side of the plaza the channel disappears underground beneath Segovia’s old city. When it was in use the water flowed in a subterranean channel across the length of the hill town to the Alcázar. Segovia’s nearly 2,000-year-old aqueduct is one of the most impressive Roman structures we have seen.
Like many Spanish towns Segovia has its food specialties. Perhaps most famous is the whole roasted suckling pig, a dish offered at many restaurants. Oven roasting leaves the pig with a crackling crisp skin surrounding the moist and tender meat. Waiters wheel the roasted pig tableside and break it apart with the edge of a plate before it is served. Sampling roasted suckling pig is another good reason to spend at least a night in Segovia.
Smooth sounding Segovia has plenty to offer in a small area. The town’s appeal was apparent to the Spanish royalty in the past and to tourists today. It’s a place worthy of a slow casual visit. It is a place to savor.