Next stop on our itinerary: Ávila. A small town in Castile-León, 58something thousand inhabitants. Under the Visigoths one of the most important cities in the kingdom – under moorish occupation between the 8th and 11th century.
Most significant landmark – and certainly the reason to pay Ávila a visit – the intact city wall surrounding the historic part of Ávila. 80% of the walls can be visited (EUR 5 per person – ticked valid 48 hours) and be walked on, giving you a perfect starting point to explore the city.
BUT… let’s not get ahead of ourselves… let’s start at the beginning, which as you all know for me is the breakfast.
We met M. and B. at 8:00 in the breakfast room of the Room Mate Laura and discussed the stages of our trip today. M. and Manfred would leave around 9:00 to pick up the cars, park them in the nearby parking lot – so that we could load the trunks without having to hurry and avoiding traffic jams in the small Travesía de Trujillos.
On our way to Ávila we had planned to make a stop at El Escorial and visit the Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Quite frankly – another must-see.
From the 16th to the 19th century, the residence of the Spanish kings and queens. Built from 1563 to 1584 – looking at the size of the complex 21 years appear to be a ridiculously short construction time.
Philip II. had the place built keeping a promise (to God) he had made, related to his victory over his nemesis Henry II – King of France. Well, Philip defeated the French in the battle of St. Quentin – on St. Laurence Day. Now, you connect the dots… 🙂 By the way… he left it to his astrologers to find the right site. They came up with El Escorial 45km north-west of Madrid.
The place is amazing and we were in luck. Usually swarming with hordes of tourists, El Escorial was quiet this day.
We had re-ordered the tickets, Manfred had volunteered to stay with the cars packed with all our posessions for this trip (what a desaster if somebody ran off with that bag with my shoes in it…)
To control the flow of visitors – time slots are assigned to visitors; ours was from 13:30 onwards, but we had left Madrid early (the travel bug had infected my fellow travellers) and here we were, noon-ish, one hour to kill.
Well, if I learnt one thing about the Spaniards – they are able to bend the rules. As there were not as many tourists as I had expected (feared) I suggested that we just march in there, present our tickets and pretend not to know anything about the time printed on the tickets.
Well, the woman scanning the bar codes on our tickets could not care less, as long as her scanner beeped and the indicator light showed green.
One rule though that was being observed mercilessly is the: NO PHOTOS taken rule. The moment you attempt to take a photo inside the building someone of the omnipresent staff would approach you and make it quite clear to you that you were not to take pictures.
I managed to take one – a snapshot of the „Halls of the Battles“, you – dear readers will understand that I shall not publish this photo here as I do not feel like being sued for copyright infringement (similar to posting pictures of the Eiffel Tower lit at night)
To me the whole photo prohibition – to a large extent – is all about business and not so much about protecting the delicate exhibition artifacts. On the other hand, people, I must admit – walking in there and using your actual eye and other senses had something de-stressing and almost liberating (plus it decreased the amount of photos that I had to work on in the evening).
The place is so big and impressive that a visitor appreciates the fact that the order of the visit is prescribed. No chance to wander off on your own. You may stay and admire the beauty as long as you want, but you follow the course that has been plotted for you.
Before you enter the former royal palace turn left and enter the basilica. You can spend hours in there. Pay attention to the fresco paintings – they tell you volumes of stories.
Another highlight – the tomb chambers in which the hundred infants of the various kings were put to rest – and more so the pantheon in which all 23 royals from Charles I through to Alphonse XII have been burried.
Interesting detail – the bodies are being held in a seperate chamber for 50 years until the bodies have fully decomposed before the remains are put to the final rest in the Patheon. If you opened one of the coffins you would only to find the bones of the deceased kings and queens.
Last but not least: the “Hall of the Battles” – the home entertainent at the time. A room of approximately 50 meters length and 10 meters height, covered with paintings of battles and fight scenes – on the right hand wall (when entering the hall) there are in particular scenes of the battle at St. Quentin, where Philip II. prevailed and won over Henry II of France.
Speaking of the French: While the „Château de Versailles“ is flamboyant, airy, frivolous, „El Escorial“ symbolizes political strength and power.
Compared to Versailles it has a more down-to-earth beauty despite the fact that its architect was one of Michelangelo’s students and despite the many gorgeous frescos, the frame of it all comes across as clumbsy and crude at times.
90 minutes later we rendez-vous-ed with the command module (Manfred) who had orbitted the El Escorial. We payed the Gardens a short visit – in my opinion, the actual attraction is the palace/monastry, the gardens – though vaste – appeared dull and somewhat boring. But again, this was not Château de Versailles.
Time to get some food in our systems. We indulged in various tapas in a bar nearby the palace, then headed back to the cars, safely parked in a public parking lot.
On our way out we stopped at a supermarket to buy the essentials: Wine, wine and water (sparkling of course).
45 minutes later we arrived in Ávila. Manfred and I had visited the Parador of Ávila during our very first Paradores tour many many moons ago.
I recall that weather was terrible on that first trip and that it had rained most of the time. This time we were greated with sunlight and an overcast sky – at least no rain.
The Parador itself is nice – its proximity to the ancient well-preserved city wall certainly is a plus.
We parked the car on the parking lot of the Parador and checked it. Here I noticed how long ago we must have been here: Back then I had made a note in my travel diary that the check-in procedure took ages and was conducted in a very burocratic and most inefficient way… today this was a pretty straight-forward industry-standard check-in. We were greeted friendly, room keys were already available, just taking the ID data, sign and we were done.
Like the first time, Ávila’s Parador did not WOW me… it is a nice place to stay, it has a beautiful garden and offers more light than for instance the one in Cácares.
What followed was the usual drill: Settle in, freshen up, meet in the Lobby for the first inspection of the Parador, then the city.
Looking at its history, Ávila certainly is a historic hot spot (if you are into Spanish history that is). I have never seen an ancient city fortification / city wall as well preserved and almost prestine as Ávila’s. Dear reader – in my opinion – if you ever visit the city you must start your tour with a walk on the city wall. There are three entry points, tickets are valid 48 hours. EUR 5 per person, audio guides included.
Beside the fortification the many churches and foremostly the cathedral are a must-see (well hard to miss them).
Looking at the historic city center we found that it was lacking the density of historic structure that we had found for instances in Cáceres, Salamanca or even Ciudad Rodrigo.
In essence – the wall and the history engraved in it is Ávila’s historic potential.
All Ávila pictures can be found here.