The Fairy tale Castle...
Today is our last opportunity to take the day trip out of Madrid to explore the nearby Unesco towns of Avila and Segovia so we will be going despite the elements….we pile on the winter ‘uniform’ again, this is the 3rd wear and hope that it will be warm enough…it’s a bleak and cold morning with thunderous clouds overhead threatening to burst forth at any moment. Grab a cab and wait at the tour depot until we board the bus.
First stop Avila, about 120km away and is located in the Castille-Leon province…torrents of rain splash against the windscreen and it looks like we will be recycling the glad wrap ponchos and even they are unlikely to keep us dry… however, by the time we approach the city the weather has cleared a little and we are grateful. Aliva is a medieval town, known as the city of knights…the city is totally surrounded by an impressive ancient wall that is totally intact. We start our walk and are soon frozen to the bone, it’s so bitterly cold and deathly when the wind whips up…our guide now tells us that Avila is the coldest place in Spain!!, up in the mountainous range, well over 1000m above sea level…Rosie has her ‘sad face’ on and I resemble one of the local nuns with my black pashmina draped over my head to keep the cold out…as we move through the massive entry archway Jorge tells us that if enemies made it to the entry, the city inhabitants would be bombing them with rocks, fire and anything they could throw from that height to deter the intruders…
We tread the ancient cobblestones from monument to monument,,,of particular interest is the small fortified palace of D’Avilia where an inscription carved into an ancient window has a fascinating story… At the time, the gates in the walls were closed at night. To avoid the prohibition, a door was opened in the walls without permission. After its closure, Pedro Dávila, incensed by the command he had been given by the king, ordered the construction of this window with the legend 'Where one door closes, another one opens', and this is where the saying we use today comes from…the 15th century…
The other notable resident of the city was Theresa of Avila, a nun that revolutionised the lifestyle of nuns to a life of simplicity and poverty…..as a young girl she had a fascination for the saints and her mother was keen for her daughter to embrace a pious life…at the time a life as a nun was a popular option for women as marriage was fraught with risk, many women died in childbirth, not to mention becoming the chattel of a mean man…nuns then had it pretty cruisy and could spend some time living in the convent and sometime at home and obviously the lifestyle was pretty flexible…Theresa was so obsessed with the desire for a spiritual life, she ran away with her brother at 7 years of age to find martyrdom amongst the Moors and was only delivered from her foolishness by her uncle who happened to come across them both outside the city gates… When Teresa was 14 her mother died, causing the girl a profound grief that prompted her to embrace a deeper devotion to the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother. Along with this good resolution, however, she also developed immoderate interests in reading popular fiction (consisting, at that time, mostly of medieval tales of knighthood) and caring for her own appearance...she was sent for her education to the nuns of Augustinia at Avila…eventually she made it her mission for nuns to embrace a simple life of poverty and religious isolation…this concept was not really palatable to the religious orders of the time. It was significant that eventually her campaign was successful, particularly as a women and she established 17 orders across the country where the lifestyle embraced was painful to say the least…there is an impressive antechamber in the cathedral devoted to her, a spectacle of gilt and red from ceiling to floor..
Back outside the cathedral, droplets of rain fall on our faces like icy needles…and after exploration of a few more points of interest, we are grateful to be back on the heated bus…
Another hour’s trip to Segovia where we will have lunch and then explore the fairytale city… the weather has cleared a little by the time we arrive and the sight of the aqueduct that runs 800m above ground bordering the entrance to the old city is breathtaking and that’s only the portion that is seen above the ground, over 400 arches.…the Romans were the engineering masters of anything to do with water transportation and heating and this aqueduct is made of granite blocks, no cement, no mortar and is thought to have been built in the 1st century..so amazing…the massive double row of single and double arches are a tribute to the ingenuity of these master builders. The aqueduct carries water from a local river 32 km away and supplied the Segovians with water right up until 19th century…a channel in the top level of the arches carries the water after it has travelled through a special tank and the distillery of sand and rock and ducts are running underneath the streets we are walking on…what’s even more mind boggling is that it is believed to have only taken 20 years to build…
We grab a bite at a local restaurant and then follow Jorge through the enchanting fairytale town…through the tiny streets that then open out on to the Plaza Mayor, then the towering cathedral built in the Spanish Gothic style, it’s floors miles and miles of checkerboard tiles in cream and terracotta and rows of individual crypt like chapels around the walls that were purchased and belonged to individual wealthy families so that they could worship apart from the commoners, isolated from the riff raff with large iron lace gates…
The last stop on the tour is the Alcazar and this dreamlike palace was on my ‘must see’ list….as it comes into view, you can see why Walt Disney was believed to have modelled his Disneyland logo on this ancient palace that captures imaginations….the Alcazar of Segovia like many fortifications in Spain started off as an Arab fort believed to have been constructed in the 11 century…it remained a favourite residence of the monarchs of the Castille kingdom through the middle ages….for me it is the outside structure that most appeals, the inside rooms are large and austere, minimally furnished apart from collections of armour and the odd throne….the most impressive part of the interior are the ceiling of the living rooms, glitteringly ornate in geometrics of Moorish design…apparently the ceilings were a focal point because large pillows, low couches and carpets were the order of the day rather than chairs so there was a lot of lying around and looking ‘up’
Back to the bus and an hour’s drive back to Madrid, time for a little nap…return to our favourite Plaza St Anna for a glass of vino blanc in the wintery sunshine and there are people galore out in the square enjoying the turn in the weather..
It’s been a long day and we are on the move tomorrow, so we take a simple Italian dinner of pasta head for our beds, weaving our way through the throngs of Madridian merrymakers, the city is so alive late into the night and Rosie says that even with her night owl habits she can’t keep up…next chapter Seville and 25 degrees…
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Chapter 2 Dos Hermanas on a train in Spain - The Fairytale Castle
The Fairy tale Castle...