Avila (50,000 inhabitants), one of the jewels of medieval Spain, is located at 1,128 m. above sea level, in the region of Castile and Leon, in a rocky area on the buttresses of the Sierra de Guadarrama and Sierra de Gredos on the right bank of the Adaja river, a tributary of the Duero.
Founded in the 11th century to protect the Spanish territories from the Arabs, Avila is famous for its almost intact wall and also because it was home to one of the greatest saints of Catholicism, Santa Teresa di Ávila, and the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada.
The old town of Ávila with its Extra-Muros churches has been part of the UNESCO protected sites as a World Heritage Site since 1985.
WHAT TO SEE: THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF AVILA
A SPECTACULAR CITY WALLS
The imposing fortifications of Avila (11th-14th centuries) represent the best preserved city wall in Spain. The quadrangular wall extends over 2.5 km in length, 12 meters in height, 3 meters in thickness. The walls of Avila are made up of 88 semi-circular towers and 9 gateways (Puerta del Alcázar, Puerta del Peso de la Harina, Puerta de San Vicente, Puerta del Mariscal, Puerta del Carmen, Puerta del Adaja, Puerta de la Malaventura, Puerta de la Santa and del Rastro).
The overall view of the city with its walls is a sight to be observed both day and night. The best point for a complete view is from the Cuatro Postes viewpoint, along the state road to Salamanca. But the attractions of Avila are not only represented by its walls.
A HISTORICAL CENTER RICH IN PRECIOUS BUILDINGS
The itinerary to visit the city can start from the Puerta del Alcazar from which you reach the Romanesque / Gothic Cathedral of San Salvador (XII-XIV century). This is a massive building with three naves, where the Romanesque apse is embedded in the fortifications and acts as a tower on the walls with battlements and corbels. To see: The baroque portal of the west facade and on the left side the Portal of the Apostles (XIV century). La Capilla Mayor with a remarkable altarpiece with scenes from the life of Christ. The Capitular Museum (with a painting by El Greco) and the Gothic Cloister (14th century). Next to the Puerta de la Santa is the Convent of Santa Teresa (17th century), built on the site where the house of Santa Teresa stood, with the annexed Museo de Recuerdos Teresianos.
On the central porticoed square, Plaza Mayor, there is the church of San Juan (end of the 15th century), the baptismal font of Saint Teresa, and the Gothic Iglesia de Mosén Rubí. Among the civil buildings inside the walls are the Palacio Episcopal (XVII century), the Casa del conde de Oñade (XV century) with a crenellated tower, the Casa de Superunda and the Casa de los Almarza both of the XVI century and the Palacio de los Velada with a three-story gallery patio. There are also the Palacio de las Aguilas, the Casa dei Deanes (XVI century), that of the Dávila, the Palacio de Valderrábanos (XV century), the Palacio de los Verdugo (XV-XVI century) and above all the Palacio dei Guzmanes, with the most beautiful tower in the city, the Torreón de los Guzmanes.
AN IMPORTANT RELIGIOUS ARCHITECTURE
Among the religious architecture outside the walls there are several masterpieces. On the east side of the city is the church of San Pedro (XI-XIV), which is considered one of the best examples of Castilian Romanesque. Its facade has a beautiful rose window. While inside there is a 12th century baptismal font.
The basilica of San Vicente (11th-14th century) represents a milestone in the passage towards the Gothic. The church has a beautiful portal and a Gothic portico, while in the interior with three naves there are the funeral monuments of San Vicente and the sisters (XII century). The monastery of Santo Tomás (XV century) summer residence of the Catholic Kings, has a Gothic church with the marble tomb of Prince Juan, son of Ferdinand and Isabela, by D. Fancelli in 1502 inside. The cloisters are also interesting: the Claustro de los Novicios (15th century), the Claustro del Silencio, and the Renaissance cloister de los Reyes. On the outskirts of the city is the Monastero de la Encarnacion (1499) where Saint Teresa took her vows and lived for 28 years.
TO SEE IN THE SURROUNDINGS OF AVILA
In the surroundings of Avila you can visit the Sierra de Gredos, where winter sports, hunting, fishing and mountaineering are practiced. This mountainous area reaches its maximum height with Mount Almanzor (2,590 meters). The main center of the area is Arenas de San Pedro where a Gothic church, a castle and a convent are to be visited. On the road leading to Toledo is San Martin de Valdeiglesisa with a 15th century castle and the so-called Toros de Guisando, stone bulls from the Iron Age (2nd century BC).