Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Even though Ávila is 3,715 feet above sea level, it is situated on a plateau that is surrounded by even loftier mountains. It is a good place to visit but not to live because, whilst the city is rather spectacular and is a notable tourist centre, it has long cold winters and short summers. The surrounding neighbourhood is not too attractive either. It is an arid, treeless plain strewn with immense grey boulders, which, I suppose, came in useful when the walls of the city were built.
photo: Robert Bovington

Ávila is old. It is one of the oldest of all the cities in Castilla y León. Celtic Iberians, Romans, Muslims and Christians have all left their mark on this fine city.

Las Murallas - the walls - are magnificent and encompass the whole of ancient Ávila. Building started at the end of 11th century and they are 2.5 kilometres long, 14 metres high and around 3 metres thick. They are still in pretty good nick. Alfonso VI ordered their construction after his conquest of Avila in 1090. Moorish prisoners were allegedly employed to build the wall. I don't suppose they were paid though! There are eighty-eight towers and nine gates that include the imposing Puerta del Alcázar and the Puerta de Rastro. Visitors can walk along the walls between these two points. The walls are beautifully illuminated at night.

Las Murallas de Ávila
photo: Robert Bovington
The modern part of the city lies outside the walls. Within the old city are many fine buildings including churches and the 12th-century Gothic cathedral.

Ávila Cathedral was planned as a cathedral-fortress - its apse is actually part of one of the turrets of the city walls. Construction started in 1095 shortly after the Reconquest. The earliest parts were in the Romanesque style and built like a fortress with battlements and sentry walks incorporated into the structure. Most of the cathedral was built between the 12th and 14th centuries and the building is, therefore, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic. It is credited with having introduced Spain to Gothic architecture.

Ávila Cathedral  (photo: public domain - Pizicato Elena)

Ávila Cathedral north entrance photo: public domain - Manuel de Corselas

There are quite a few religious buildings in Ávila but, then, there have been a number of religious residents. These include the 4th-century theologian Priscillian who was the first Christian to be executed for heresy and the notorious Friar Tomás Torquemada who was Spain's first Grand Inquisitor and the zealous leader of the witch-hunts of the 15th century. Another resident was San Juan de la Santa Cruz who was a reformer of the Carmelite Order. The city's most famous resident, however, is St. Teresa of Ávila.
St. Teresa of Ávila

She was a major figure of the Catholic Reformation. A prominent Spanish mystic, writer and monastic reformer, she was known for her ecstatic visions and continual life of prayer. Her most famous work was her autobiography, "The Way of Perfectio" which was written from her personal experiences. St. Teresa has left Ávila with a legacy - not only the memory of her Carmelite reforms and her writings but a reminder of her can be found in the Convento de Santa Teresa, which was built in 1636 over her birthplace. Another monument to her name is the Monastery of La Encarnacion where St. Teresa lived for thirty years.

Tomás Luis de Victoria
Another famous person, born in Ávila was Spanish composer Victoria. Tomás Luis de Victoria, to give him his full name. Victoria wrote only religious music and his works included the 'Officium Hebdonadae' (1585), lots of motets and masses and 'Officium Defunctorum', the Requiem Mass that he composed for the funeral of Empress María in 1603. Victoria is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 16th century.

Another religious monument is the Basílica de San Vicente, which was built in the 12th century. It stands on the alleged site of the 4C martyrdom of St Vincent. Within the church is the martyr's tomb, which has been sculpted with all the gory detail of the saint's torture and execution.

Basílica de San Vicente interior

There are a number of Romanesque churches in Ávila but the 16th-century Iglesia de San Juan Bautista is worth a mention because it was declared a National Monument in 1983. The church contains the baptismal font in which Santa Teresa was baptised. Another National monument is the Convento de San José. Francisco de Mora built it in the beginning of the 17th century - or, at least, he was the architect. It became the model for the rest of the temples that would be later constructed for the Order of the Carmelites. The convent houses the Santa Teresa Museum of the Discalced Carmelites. 

Ávila is not just about churches. There are a number of palaces and houses of noble ancestry including  the Palace of los Deanes. Originally built to house the members of the clergy, it now houses the Provincial Museum.

Palace of Los Deanes
photo: public domain

Because the city is so rich in architecture it has become a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Some more photos of Ávila...

Basílica de San Vicente

old picture of  the Plaza del Alcazar

Ávila - a walk along the walls
photo: public domain (Robert Wiblin)

Ávila - Universidad de Católica
photo: Robert Bovington
Ávila photo: Robert Bovington

more blogs by Robert Bovington...
"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

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