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The World Heritage City of Ávila, Spain

Discover Avila in Spain Video


Ávila is the capital city of one of the nine provinces making up the Autonomous Community of Castile and León. It is situated in the community’s southern area at the start of the mountainous region known as Cordillera Central at an altitude of 1,127 meters which is the highest city in Spain. The city presents a mixture of Muslim, Jewish and Christian traditions. Its well preserved fortification walls built in the 12th century. It is perfectly placed to command a view of the extensive plains as they roll northwards without a break for several hundred kilometers. In the opposite direction stands the austere, rocky wall which marks the region’s southern limit.

There is something very special about Ávila. Here, as in few other places, there is a profound union between cityscape and landscape on the one hand and the deep, transcendent spirit of the personages that have made it famous on the other. The highest city in Spain, Ávila reaches up to heaven from a space created by a unique light enveloping a unique city possessed of a unique history.

First and foremost, I wish to speak of the beauty of its monuments, a reflection of each civilization that has lived here: the remarkable verracos vetones, a series of zoomorphic sculptures in the form of wild boars, made by a Pre-Roman tribe from Ancient Lusitania. Found in the most unexpected places, the true meaning of these divinities remains unknown. Next I should speak of the urban layout and, amid the stones of the mediaeval walls, the inscriptions and remains of the Roman cemetery.

Similarly, I should stress the importance of architectural work in the period after 1088, when Alfonso VI of Castile took Toledo for good and transferred the border with Moslem territory to the River Tagus. A repopulation process took place, with the arrival of Christians from north of the Duero and beyond and of Jews and Mozarabs, who came here to start a new life and would make Ávila into one of the greatest cities in the Kingdom of Castile. These centuries of knights and villains, of Jews, Moors and Christians, produced beautiful legends which, even today, seem to emanate from the city’s silent, sombre stones.

It was then that the construction of Ávila’s handsome churches was commenced, mostly in the sober Romanesque style. In the course of time, the walls, which would become the city’s emblem, were erected. Although they were designed solely for defense purposes, they would later be considered as a work of art. The city of Ávila is a prime example of a walled city in mediaeval Spain. Inside its walls and in the surrounding districts, we find churches, convents, historical buildings and a layout of narrow, winding streets that give us a vivid insight into the history of Spain and the way of life in mediaeval Europe.

During the sixteenth century, Ávila was the scene of a number of major events. It was here that the Junta de Comuneros took place and the war known as Guerra de Comunidades was planned. It was here that the great saint, Teresa de Jesús, was born and brought up. After her conversion, she would embark upon her work as reformist and writer. It was here too that the magnificent mystic poet, San Juan de la Cruz, originally of Fontiveros, started his work to become, in the course of time, the patron saint of Spanishspeaking writers. The famous Renaissance musician, Tomás Luis de Vitoria, was brought up and educated here, while artists of great note left their mark on the city. In this, a golden age for Ávila, countless civil works were undertaken, including a water supply system, illumination and paving. These were the years when noble families added beauty to streets and squares by renovating their mansions in a refined, sober Renaissance style. As a result of these and many other events, the sixteenth century blossomed into a period of political, religious, cultural and artistic splendor.

When in Ávila, we may trace the passage of time by visiting the churches built from the seventeenth century onwards, when a period of decadence set in. We have the chance to witness the first efforts to recover the city in the mid- nineteenth century. The railway, the construction of schools, the teacher training college and the military administration academy were all projects pursued at that time in an attempt to forge a better future for the city.

Today, Ávila is a city of contrasts: alongside its distinguishing feature – a remarkable, legendary heritage, which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Catalogue in 1985 - we find a population very much in tune with the twenty-first century; people ready to work towards the future. Ávila clings to the roots of yesteryear while raising its branches towards tomorrow.

Sonsoles Guillén Ruiz-Ayúcar
Municipal archivist. Ávila City Hall


Getting There
There are many convenient ways to get to Ávila with its proximity to Madrid (115 km). By road, there is a whole range of possibilities all of which guarantee a safe journey despite the twists and turns awaiting the driver on some of the mountain roads. From the north, you can get to Ávila by National Roads 501 and VI, both of which are within easy distance of the city. The NR VI, converted into the A-6 Motorway carries on into
Madrid. From east to west you can link up directly with four of Spain’s seven World Heritage Cities. From Segovia, you can take National Road 110 (67 km). The same road covers the distance from Cáceres (229 km), although the route is considerably longer and is not direct. In the opposite direction, Ávila is linked to Salamanca by National Road 501 (97 km) and to Toledo, by National Road 403 (137 km).


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