Ávila from the Knights
Date of World Heritage Declaration: 1985 (broadened in2007)
Site: The city of Ávila.
Located next to the Adaja River, Ávila is the highest Province capital in Spain, standing 1,131 meters over sea-level. This is the reason why the snow is no stranger to its people.
The city was granted the titles of “Ávila of the King”, “Ávila of the loyals” and “Ávila of the Knights” y Alfonso VII, Alfonso VIII and Alfonso IX respectively, and all of them are now represented on the city’s flag.
The city’s trademark is its complete Great Medieval Wall, resembling a very clear Romaic style. Traditionally, it is considered “The City of Calls and Saints” (Ciudad de Cantos y de Santos), and its historical Medieval City Center has been preserved in almost perfect conditions.
In the year 1884, Avila’s Great Walls were granted the National Monument title, and in the year 1982, the city was also declared “Historic – Artistic Site”. From the year 1985 onwards, the city of Ávila, its Great Wall, churches and outer walls of San Vicente, San Pedro, San Andrés and San Segundo are also declared World Heritages by the UNESCO. In the year 2007, this organization decides to broaden the title so as to include the city’s churches of San José, Santo Tomás, San Martín, Santa María de la Cabeza and San Nicolás.
Among Celts and arévacos vetones
It is believed that the first settlers of the area of Ávila were the Celtiberian tribes of the Vetones and Arevacos in the VII century B.C. The first name that the city was granted was “Obila”.
The latter arrival of the Romans didn’t seem to stir any kind of problems among the local villages, thus a period of intense roman enforcement began, as remains of roads and bridges prove to us now. The Forum, or headquarters of the Roman Cities, was placed in the current Chinese Market Square. Surrounding this square, the first fenced premise was erected.
The process of Christianization in the area began in the II Century. After the downfall of the Roman Empire, Ávila remained under Visigoth law. In the year 711, the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Arabs and hardly a year later Ávila was a city under Muslim law.
Back in the day, the King Alfonso I, taking advantage of the Berber uprisings in the center of the Peninsula, overtakes the city, thus beginning a period of constant fights in the military actions of occupation and devastation between the Asturian-Leoneses, Castilians and Arabs in order to overtake the city of Ávila.
Inside the city of Ávila remain a series of small Christian settlements, despite their rough situation. These, slowly start to engage with the rest of the communities and manage to revitalize the city towards the end of the XI Century. Things slowly start to improve within the Peninsula, so much so that in the year 1085, Alfonso XI manages to conquer the city of Toledo.
As a result, older cities such as Salamanca, Segovia and Ávila are repopulated by settlers from multitude of different regions in the mountains. Ávila’s own repopulation process happens as planned and people from all sort of different locations begin their immigration to the city. Thus began a time of intense repopulation and construction processes with will create a new society that will reach 6,615 people in the year 1250, a population made of a mix between Christians, Jews and Moors.
Towards the end of the XI and the beginning of the XIII Centuries, the Roman style completely takes over Ávila, seeing as churches as important as San Andrés or San Vicente are built.
During the Catholic Kings Empire, towards the second half of the XV Century, and the empires of Carlos I and his son Felipe II during the XVI Century, the city is born again as a result of their ideas and constant visits of the Court. But near the end of the XVI Century and the beginning of the XVIII Century, a long and rough period of decadence and depopulation take over due to the Plague. This disease caused the deaths of 12% of the population, as well as the expulsion of the Moorish, which affected the 13.8% of the remaining people.
During the second half of the XIX Century, a slow but steady demographic recovery took place due to the construction of the railway, which turned the city into a relevant junction on the line that would connect Madrid and Irun’s French border.
Nowadays, Ávila is one of the highest populated province capitals in Spain, with approximately 59,000 citizens, and is, at the same time, the highest populated town in the province.
Ávila’s Cathedral is the first Gothic cathedral of Spain. The name of the architect that initiated the construction process is still unknown to this date, leaving two possibilities open: the first one advocates for Alvar García and argues that he started its construction in the year 1091 over the remains of the Church of Salvador, and the second option and most accepted among the community of Historians, being that the Master Fruchel was actually the one that began the contrustion back in the XII Century.
FruchelIt is believed that Fruchel erected the oldest part of the cathedral, the header, and the shape of the naves, adjacent naves and the last touch being the later addition of the towers.
Inspired in Saint-DenisIt is inspired in the French Abbey of Saint-Denis, and though it begins its construction process in a style leaning towards Roman during the times of Alfonso VIII, it was knocked down in order to erect a more outstanding one with a Gothic style built in granite materials.
Roman styleTowards the end of the XI and the beginning of the XIII Centuries, the Roman style completely takes over Ávila, seeing as churches as important as San Andrés or San Vicente are built.
In the cathedral the remains of the Historian and the last president of the II Republica in exile, Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz and the former president of Spain and his wife, Adolfo Suárez and Amparo Illana can be found.
Watching palacesIn each one of these nine gates there is one or multiple palaces in charge of the protection of such gates back in the day.
Ávila’s Great Wall
Its universal emblem
Universal symbol and Ávila’s trademark, the Great Wall is a Roman Military fence that surrounds the older center of the city. Its relevance is due to being considered the best preserved medieval fenced complex in Spain and most likely in the whole of Europe.
The wall represents the separation between the “wild” and “civilized” ends of the city. In the fields, farmer settlements could be found, representing the lowest class of the city which would be financially responsible for 80% of the expenses of the urban structures, including the wall.
The construction of the Wall was carried out by two masters in Geometry, the Roman Casandro and the French Florín de Pituenga. Its defensive structure resembles the Analucía-like walls.
It is a property of the Country of Spain and managed by the local government of Ávila. Some parts of the wall are private, like the ones that are being used by buildings or churches.
The wall has a total of 9 gates, colloquially referred to as arches: The Gate of Alcázar or the Great Market, The Gate of the Cathedral, the Loyals or of the Weight of the flower, The Gate of San Vicente, The Mariscal Arch, the Arch of Carmen or the Prison’s door, The Gate of the Bad Luck or Gypsies Arch, The Gate of the Holy or of Montenegro, The Gato of the Rastro of Grajal or of the Star and The Gate of the Bridge.
In each one of these nine gates there is one or multiple palaces in charge of the protection of such gates back in the day.
The Four Pickets
The Doric columns
Located in Ávila city, this religious monument, known as the Shrine of the Four Pickets (Humilladero de los Four Postes), is made up by four Doric Columns 5 meters high each, with capitals resting over architraves with the arms of the city. In the middle, made up by 4 columns and standing over a pedestal, we can find a granite Christian Cross.
In the year 1157, the locals put together a procession towards San Leonardo’s hermitage in order to celebrate the disappearance of the Plague that had been taking over the town up until then. Taking advantage of the fact that most of the population was gone celebrating, the Muslims attacked the city and robbed and sacked taking everything of value. A search party was sent put after them but some of the robbers volunteeringly came back into the town to be taken in. Once the search party had defeated the rest of the robbers and came back into the villa, they realized the robbers that had turned themselves in had closed the gates and were demanding the loot in exchange for letting them in.
When the King Sancho III of Castilla found out, he set off to the city and kicked out the robbers that were inside of the city, punishing them to living off of the villa, in the rough lands, without any sort of peerages or privileges. It was then decided that the procession towards San Leonardo would be celebrated every year and the Shrine of the Four Pickets was built.
The Eagle Caves
Las Cuevas del Águila, located in Ramascatañas, 9 kilometers away from Arenas de San Pedro, are a fairly large area made of folded crystalline limestone, which ended up becoming hills of low altitude due to the effect of the wind. The caves were discovered unintentionally, by a group of 5 youngsters back in the year 1963, as they noticed mist coming out of one of the wholes in the ground while they were hunting. The mist was caused by a difference in the temperature between the interior of the cave, about 20 degrees Celsius, and the exterior.
The teenagers decided to enter the cave through a small opening with the help of ropes and flashlights. They had to crawl 60 meters until they reached the main cave. Once they reached the inside of the cave, they got lost inside for about 5 hours, until they managed to find the exit hole.
Its current look goes back to 12 million years ago, with different sets of formations in its main area among which stalactites, hanging shapes and stalagmites.
After its proper preparation, it opened its door to visitors in the year 1964 and ever since it’s possible to walk through almost its complete area. It’s well signalized and prepared for the public, away from all possible dangers that visitors might fear.