“Here were churches, castles, and medieval walls standing sharp in the evening light, but all dwarfed by that extraordinary phenomenon of masonry, the Roman aqueduct, which overshadowed the whole…’The Aqueduct’, said the farmer, pointing with his whip, in case by chance I had failed to notice it.” Laurie Lee
The approach to Segovia was truly wonderful and still some way out we could see a golden city, a thousand metres above sea level, on a convenient rocky outcrop rising majestically from the plain with a spectacular snow-capped mountain backdrop and the Cathedral and the Alcázar reaching dramatically into the blue sky.
I was determined not to repeat the parking difficulties of Ávila but this plan went spectacularly wrong after I drove through the stone gates into the old city and tried to find a way to the Plaza Mayor. Guessing a route is never a great idea! We made a couple of circuits stopping here and there to consult an inadequate map and then by chance arrived at the main square where our path was blocked by one of those steel retractable bollards and my dramatic entrance and squeal of brakes raised the eyebrows of some nearby pedestrians.
Some men in a bar directed me to another entrance and this had a bollard in the down position and an intercom to request permission to enter. There was no answer and I was nervous about driving across it in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘Caught on Camera’.
I could sense that a bus driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could. Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course. The bus driver smirked.
We were staying at the Sercotel Infanta Isabel and we had one of the best rooms on the second floor with a perfect view of the Plaza Mayor lined with cafés and bars and with the Cathedral directly opposite looking like an elaborate birthday cake.
As it went dark it was nice to sit and watch the square melting away from afternoon into evening with plenty of sociable activity. There were lots of Segovians walking out in families and we joined them in the busy streets and looked for somewhere to eat. We walked further than planned and ended up at the Aqueduct, which we were really saving until tomorrow so finding ourselves at the bottom of the town we walked back and by my choice found a little restaurant that turned out to be quite disappointing.
After that I had the restaurant selection responsibility removed from my list of duties but as I had failed quite badly tonight I didn’t argue about that at all.
After breakfast the next day we walked out into the sociable main square and followed a street adjacent to the Cathedral and walked in the direction of the Alcázar, which, I am told is the most visited castle in Spain.
The route took us through narrow streets, past craft shops and churches and eventually brought us out at the north of the city on the top of a rocky outcrop that was the location of the fortress that was begun in the twelfth century and was subsequently occupied by a succession of Castilian monarchs from Alfonso X to Phillip II and Charles III.
Segovia and the Spanish tourist board would have us believe that the Alcázar was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland and Disney World but in truth there is no real evidence for this.
We purchased tickets to visit the Alcázar and paid a little extra to climb to the top of the Torre de Juan II (total price €6 each). After visiting the state rooms and the armouries we ended our visit with a climb of three hundred and twenty steps up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower where we were rewarded for our efforts with fabulous views over the city and the surrounding countryside.
It had taken most of the morning to visit the Alcázar and after we were finished we walked back to the Plaza Mayor for a drink and tapas and selected a bar with tables in the sun and sat and enjoyed watching the residents of Segovia as they went about their business of the day in probably the same way that they have for a thousand years. A walk around the square, a sit down, a chat, a walk around the square, a sit down, a chat and so on and so on.
If the Alcázar isn’t enough for one city the Aqueduct is the most recognised and famous historical symbol of Segovia. It was built at the end of first to early second century AD by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometre from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town.
This is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large, rough-hewn granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.
We liked the Aqueduct and looked all round it from every possible angle, it is one of those structures that make you appreciate just how brilliant the Romans were. I never tire of visiting these ancient structures, I feel privileged to able to enjoy them and the sense of wonderment is never reduced no matter how many I see.
There was only one more thing to do in Segovia so after the refreshment break we went to the Cathedral to finish off the day. The building was completed in 1577 and is regarded as the World’s last great Gothic Cathedral. We paid the €3 and then entered what I suggest is quite possibly the coldest cathedral in Spain and probably all of Europe.
We were inappropriately dressed for sub-zero temperatures and although the cathedral was well worth the admission charge it was way too cold to enjoy it so we sprinted around the naves and the chapels with rather indecent haste and were glad to come about again into the sunshine with only seconds to go before hypothermia set in.