Arts & Culture


Old Town of Ávila with its Extra-Muros Churches

The walled city of Ávila, in central Spain, traces its history back to around 700 B.C., when the Vettones, a pre-Roman Celtic people, built a fortress in the area. The Romans subsequently established a military stronghold in Ávila in the 3rd century B.C., and in the following centuries, the city was conquered by various groups, including the Visigoths, Moors and Christians. The city languished until the 11th century, when Christians, under Raymond of Burgundy’s leadership, repopulated Ávila and rebuilt its ruined Roman fortress. Ávila’s most prosperous period occurred in the 16th century. At that time, the local wool industry boomed and fine religious monuments and civic buildings were constructed throughout the city.

The city’s ramparts, perhaps the best-preserved in Europe, are nearly 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) long. The fortifications include approximately 100 towers and 2,500 battlements. Built on top of one of the city’s gates is the Espadaña de Carmen, a towering stone portal that is also home to nesting storks.

Within the city’s walls are town squares, such as the Plaza de los Dávila, and Renaissance palaces, including the notable Los Dávila Palace, which comprises four houses, one of which dates to the 13th century. Nearby is the fortress-like Ávila Cathedral, which was built beginning in the 12th century and was enhanced with different architectural styles over hundreds of years. The Cathedral is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic forms, with a few Renaissance touches, and contains numerous chapels, an elaborate alter, and marble tombs belonging to bishops and nobles.

Outside Ávila’s walls is Saint Vincent’s, a church built over two centuries that blends Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The nearby Romanesque church of Saint Peter’s, dating from the 12th century, is one of the oldest religious monuments in the city. The Monastery of the Incarnation, built in the 16th century, was home to Saint Teresa, a well-known Spanish mystic, and the 16th-century Dean’s House, named after the clergyman who performed administrative duties for the cathedral, features an elegant Renaissance façade decorated with iron balconies and columns. Cuatro Postes (“Four Posts”), also outside the city’s walls, is a small shrine dedicated to Saint Teresa, consisting of a stone cross and four Doric columns supporting a decorated cornice. Ávila’s outstanding collection of historic monuments preserves the city’s medieval heritage.
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