9 best things to do in Avila, Spain

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Avila, located in the southern part of Castilla-León and about 120 km northwest of Madrid, is often referred to as the “City of Saints and Stones”. Founded in the 11th century to defend Spain against the Moors, Avila is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, mainly because it is one of the few medieval towns in the world to be completely enclosed in a perimeter wall. almost intact. The city is located on the Adaja River, but on a plateau 1,132 feet above sea level. I came to Avila by train from Madrid and could already see the massive walls from afar, punctuated by 88 towers. semi-circular. An eye-catching spectacle that also fascinated the Italian painter Guido Caprotti over 100 years ago. He arrived in the middle of a snowstorm but was so mesmerized by the atmosphere and the beauty of Avila that he never left.

Avila is the birthplace of one of the most revered Catholic saints, Saint Teresa. Related churches and monasteries abound in Avila, as do sculptures and paintings. Everything in Avila bears his name: bars, restaurants and even a driving school. Another religious figure is the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, Tomas de Torquemada (1420-1498), who died in the monastery of Saint-Tomas d’Aquin in Avila.

The lighter side of Avila are the famous sweet cookies, called Yes, which are made and sold by the nuns of the Monastery of Santa Teresa de Jesus.

Inka Peigsa-Quischotte

1. The wall of Avila

The wall of Avila is a fortification built between the 11th and 14th centuries. It is the most complete wall in all of Spain. The average height of the wall is 40 feet and it is interspersed with 88 semi-circular towers. There are nine gates, two of which, the Saint-Vincent Gate and the Fortress Gate, are flanked by 66-foot-high twin towers. The circumference of the wall is 1.6 km, half of which can be walked.

The Avila Cathedral is integrated into the wall, giving you a unique close-up view of the details while walking on the wall that you could never get from the ground. In addition, you can admire the courtyards and other private buildings, some with secret gardens and sculptures inaccessible from the ground floor.

You can walk the entire wall at ground level, but going up is much more interesting. There are several access stairs near the towers, the best at the upper end of the cathedral. For opening hours and tickets, visit this link. Signs indicating the access stairs to the wall are in many places in the city.

Pro tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes. The footbridge is not particularly rugged but it is long and you have to turn around at the end. Streets and sidewalks are another matter as they are all cobblestone.

Cathedral of the Savior in Avila, Spain
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2. Cathedral of the Savior

Built in the 12th century, it was the first Gothic cathedral in Spain. The apse is one of the turrets of the city wall. It is a real cathedral / fortress with built-in sentry aisles. The Gothic style is rather severe, but the sacristy is remarkable because it has a star-shaped dome with gold inlays.

Basilica San Vincente in Avila, Spain
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3. Basilica of San Vicente

This 11th-century basilica is located outside the city walls and spanned two centuries. It built in a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles, which makes it interesting to visit.

Convent of Saint Teresa;  Avvila, Spain
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4. Church and Convent of Saint Teresa

She was born in 1515 with the full name of Teresa Cepeda y Ahumada. She was a nun from a young age and joined the Carmelite Order at the age of 19. She felt that the order had become somewhat lax and spent much of her life reforming Carmelite monasteries and founding new ones, traveling all over Spain. This church, built in the purest Carmelite Baroque style, is in fact his birthplace. The surprise is the crypt below which contains a marble statue of the saint. She is often depicted with an arrow crossing her heart. She claimed that an angel had thrown an arrow at her that left her “on fire with a deep love for God.” Some 300 years after her death in 1582, her body was exhumed and it was discovered that she actually had a hole in her heart. The church was inaugurated in 1636. It is located in the Plaza de la Santa and the Baroque facade is clearly visible through the opening of the fortress gate.

Monastery of the Door of the Incarnation;  Avvila, Spain
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5. Monastery of the Incarnation

The monastery, which is now an active convent and houses the Museum of Saint Teresa, is located just outside the city walls. Saint Teresa lived and worked here for 30 years and you can visit her monastic cell as well as see many of her writings in the museum. A visit here completes the “pilgrimage” of Santa Teresa, a visit that you simply cannot avoid on any visit to Avila.

Jewish quarter during the medieval festival;  Avvila, Spain
Jewish Quarter during the Medieval Festival (Kavibio / Shutterstock.com)

6. The Sephardic Garden of Moshe De Leon

In the Middle Ages and before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, there was a large and prosperous Jewish community in Avila. They set up their businesses and businesses in the city center and a stroll through the old Jewish quarter reveals several treasures. One is the cemetery, which was not discovered so long ago, and the other is the peaceful garden of Moshe de Leon, author of the Book of Splendor. Located in front of the Malaventura gate, the street leads directly into the old Jewish quarter. The garden, besides lush plants and flowers, contains a monolith covered with some Hebrew worms from the Book of Splendor.

On the right bank of the Adaja River were the San Segundo tanneries, also run by the Jewish people until their expulsion. Extensive excavations have revealed jars, implements and soils documenting the process of tanning and the making of leather garments. They were active from the 14th to the 18th century. The interesting site can be seen from the bridge but is currently not visited due to ongoing restorations.

Palacio de los Superundo;  Avvila, Spain
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7. Los Superundo Palace

Los Superunda Palace was built around 1580 in the Renaissance style. It is located in the center of the historic district of Avila and also known as the Caprotti Palace. The name comes from the Italian painter Guido Caprotti, who became so enchanted with Avila that he remained in the city for the rest of his life. He was quickly accepted into Avila’s society and was even designated “Avila’s adoptive son” in 1918. With his wife, Laura de la Torre, painter of miniatures, he bought the palace and made it his home and his studio. A visit to the palace reveals a treasure. Not only because of the original features and antique furniture, but also because of the extensive collection of paintings by Caprotti. Although he worked for commissions, his favorite subjects were the landscapes and people of his time, giving an almost photographic image of what Avila and her people looked like over 100 years ago. The lovely miniatures of his wife are also on display. Look for the white flags hanging on the front and you will easily find the entrance.

8. Convent of Santa Maria De Jesus

This fairly simple 16th century brick building is an active monastery of Clarisse nuns. Located on a hill overlooking the impressive panorama of Avila, it is a bit outside of the city. The nuns are famous for the candies and votive candles which were all made in the monastery. They used to sell their items hidden behind walls, but times have changed and they are happy to sell their wares in the convent shop. They even have an online store.

Yemas pastries from Spain
Yemas (Miguel AF / Shutterstock.com)

9. Yemas and Chuleton De Avila

Exploring Avila and looking for all the more or less hidden treasures involves many steps, mainly in the medieval cobbled streets. This, in turn, necessitates a hearty meal and Avila has a few specialties to offer. The best known is Chuleton de Avila, a huge cut of veal from the acorn-fed black pigs (Negra Iberica) of the region. The bones and fat are left behind and the cut, which is often so big it can feed two people, is served on the barbecue. It comes on a wooden plate rather than a plate accompanied by potatoes and vegetables.

Yemas, which translate to “egg yolk”, are sweet pastries that come in the form of small orange balls, presented in white confectionery paper and made in honor of Saint Thérèse, mainly by the Clarisse nuns. . Images of smiling nuns making yemas are displayed in many bakeries in Avila.

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