- Location: Avila, Community of Castile and Leon, Spain
- Significance: Historic City
- Attraction Type: Historic Walled City, Cathedrals and Churches, Sacred Destination
- How to Reach: The most popular and the best way to reach Avila is by train. It takes 1 hour and 30 minutes approximately to reach Avila from Madrid. There are trains every two hours. You can also book a car to drive you to Avila from Madrid.
- Nearest Airport: Madrid Barajas International Airport
It is not often that a single place attains the distinction of being the land of birth of some of the leading saints and martyrs of a single religion. The Old Town of Avila is one such place. Even now, the medieval town of Avila, with its walled fortifications, continues to surprise travelers with its austerity and calm solemnity.
History of Avila
The history of Avila is integrally connected to the presence and preservation of Christianity in Spain. Although there are earlier references of the city in Classical accounts it was in the 11th century onwards, that the place started to be counted as a bastion of Christian thought as the Moor overran Spain and summarily captured it. The city was founded anew and Raimundo de Borgona, the son-in-law of Alfonso VI, started to construct the wall around it in 1090. It’s this magnificent stone wall that became the veritable symbol of Avila over the years.
Because of the impressive stone wall and a large number of saints and martyrs who were born here, the city is often referred to as the ‘City of Stones and Saints’. The most notable presence is, of course, that of St. Teresa, Carmelite nun and reformer who stayed here. There is a convent and a chapel dedicated to her, although she was born not strictly within the city limits. St. Teresa, however, is not the only saint or martyr with whom the name of Avila is connected. This was the birthplace of Priscillian, the fourth-century theologian who earned the prestige of being the first Christian executed on charges of heresy. It is also the burial place of Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor. Among other prominent figures who were born and resided in the confines of this austere city are Saint John of the Cross, Tomas Luis de Victoria and in more recent times, the philosopher George Santayana.
The Walled City of Avila
It is no surprise, that the city of such impressive spiritual history and such a central place in the Christian canon will have a certain level of solemnity attached to it. This solemnity betrays itself in the very external appearance of the city. From afar, it looks serious and austere, almost like a walled fortress with a granite wall equipped with 82 round towers and nine gates. There are two solid towers as well, revealing the fact that the need for violence for the defense of the faith was not something that was counted out. In medieval times, Spain was right in the middle of the crusades and threats from the Moors were always imminent. The extreme weather of the place, as its isolated presence on the top of an unapproachable cliff, added to the impregnability of this city. In the 15th century, it also served s the seat for a university.
The Extra-Muros Churches in Avila
As is obvious from the profile and the history of the old town of Avila, the greatest attractions are in the ways of churches, convents, monasteries, and cathedrals. Along with the constructions inside the walled segment, the constructions just outside the wall and the vicinity of the Old Town of Avila (Extra-Muros Churches), also attract the traveler’s attention and admiration.
The San Vicente, San Pedro and San Segunda are some of the main churches within the confines of the Old city of Avila. They were all built around the 12th century, and follow a Romanesque style of architecture. However, by the 14th century, Gothic architecture was on the ascendance, and the Monastery of Santo Tomas, built by the Catholic Queen Isabella, was purely Gothic. It is noteworthy for its great marble work carved by noted Florentine sculptor Domenico Fancelli, over the tomb of Prince John, the only son of Ferdinand and Isabella. The gothic Cathedral, apart from adding to the defense of the city, also became a site for the preservation of excellent artworks. Most noteworthy is the wonderful silver pyx executed by Juan de Arfe in 1571.
Accommodation and Dining in Avila
Avila is a very popular tourist destination, and there are plenty of hotels that are present in this city, close to the Old Walled City and the Extra-Muros area. Some of the popular Avila hotels are Parador de Avila, Il Castillas, Real De Barco, Las Leyendas Hotel, Palacio De Valderrrabanos, and Vetonia. Avial is well known for its delicacies. Do not forget to taste its famous yemas de Santa Teresa, a preparation of egg yolk and candies named after the patron saint of the city. You must also taste the excellent roast lambs, veal steaks and suckling pigs.