In the middle of a windy plateau littered with giant boulders, with the Sierra de Gredos in the background, Ávila can look wild and sinister. Modern development on the outskirts of town partially obscures Ávila's walls, which, restored in parts, look as they did in the Middle Ages. Begun in 1090, shortly after the town was reclaimed from the Moors, the walls were completed in only nine years—thanks to the daily employment of an estimated 1,900 men. The walls have nine gates and 88 cylindrical towers bunched together, making them unique to Spain in form—they're quite unlike the Moorish defense architecture that the Christians adapted elsewhere. They're also most striking when seen from outside town; for the best view on foot, cross the Adaja River, turn right on the Carretera de Salamanca, and walk uphill about 250 yards to a monument of four pilasters surrounding a cross.
The walls reflect Ávila's importance during the Middle Ages. Populated during the reign of Alfonso VI by Christians, many of whom were nobles, the town came to be known as Ávila of the Knights. Decline set in at the beginning of the 15th century, with the gradual departure of the nobility to the court of Carlos V in Toledo. Ávila's later fame was largely due to St. Teresa. Born here in 1515 to a noble family of Jewish origin, Teresa spent much of her life in Ávila, leaving a legacy of convents and the ubiquitous yemas (candied egg yolks) originally distributed free to the poor but now sold for high prices to tourists. For the 500th anniversary of her birth, Ávila hosted a series of exhibitions, academic conferences, concerts, and street festivals celebrating their native saint. Ávila is well preserved, but the mood is slightly sad, austere, and desolate. It has a sense of quiet beauty, but the silence is dispelled during Fiestas de la Santa Teresa in October; the weeklong celebration includes lighted decorations, parades, singing in the streets, and religious observances.