“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 – ‘As I walked out one Sunny Morning’
The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.
Top of my personal list is my current favourite city in Spain – Segovia in Castilla y Leon…
On a first visit there 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, by some measures, is the most visited castle in Spain. The route took us through narrow streets, past artisan 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. In the nineteenth century it was destroyed by fire but was restored to its present magnificent status soon after.
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 Disneyworld but there is no real evidence to support this. In fact it is more likely that the famous icon of the Disney empire was inspired principally by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and several picturesque French palaces, most notably Louis XIV’s Versailles although I like to think that it is also quite possible that the Alcázar in Segovia may also have been an important influence as well.
The Alcazar of Segovia above and Walt Disney Castle below…
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). The castle was busy with a coach full of Japanese tourists and several school visits so we had to try and arrange our journey through the rooms and exhibits to try and avoid the busy sections and the crowds.
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.
Leaving the Alcázar gardens we followed the old city wall along its northern side where there were good views over the river valley below and a barren plain stretching away in infinity towards mountains in the north. The city walls were not so impressive as those in Ávila however and eventually we left the old city through the Puerta de San Cebrián and followed a small road past the Santa Cruz monastery and the City’s bullring to the nearby village of San Lorenzo.
Here there was a splendid church in a main square lined on every side with medieval houses and little shops. I imagine that this pretty little place becomes quite congested in the summer but today it was unhurried and charming and the local people paid no attention to us as they went about their business.
Leaving the village we returned to Segovia through a modern residential development and entered the City at the Plaza de la Artilleria, the bus station underneath the Aqueduct and from where we roamed leisurely through the streets past Romanesque churches and Renaissance palace residencies and older medieval buildings and it was by now time for a beer and a tapas so we 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 kilometer 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 diminished no matter how many I see.
There was only one more thing to do in Segovia so after a 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. There was an admission charge again, which seems to becoming quite normal, so 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 and the visit it was 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.
Later in the agreeable afternoon sunshine we needed to warm up so we ambled around the pretty little streets, bought some wine from a little shop near to the hotel and then went back to the room to drink it and look out from our balcony over the square at the late afternoon activity. The Sercotel Infanta Isabel was a good hotel in an excellent location and we enjoyed the setting and the atmosphere as we drank our bottle of local Spanish wine and thoughts turned to dining arrangements for the evening.