Ávila: the city of Knights
Going through the Rastro gate leads to the heart of the City of Knights, thus called because of its fascinating past when Ávila had a very large population of aristocrats. We invite you to come and enjoy a walking through the rich history of this aristocracy, walled by the Avila Roman Wall, and we also invite you to view the main buildings in the life of Santa Teresa de Jesús, a woman who revolutionized the society of her time.
Dávila Buildings. This is a set of four16th-century palaces belonging to the noble family of Dávila. The warriors in relief on the main entrance will certainly get your attention, also theenigmatic sentence below one of the windows: “Where one door closes, another oneopens”.
Los Guzmanes Tower Building, started on this in 1513 and, nowadays, it is the seat of the Regional Council and has an exhibition hall. As the inscription on one of the windows on the ground floor reminds us, King Alfonso XII stayed here on a visit to Ávila in 1878. The tower also houses a statue of San Juan de la Cruz, the famous mystical poet.
Superunda Palace. This was built in 1580 by Pedro de Aguirre, alderman of Ávila at the end of the 16th century. The mansion belonged to following members of his family until the Italian painter, Guido Caprotti, bought it in the 20th century.
Almarza Palace.This is a 16th-century mansion with coats of arms of the Dávila, Águila and Guzmán families. At present, the religious Siervas de María community resides there.
Santa Teresa Convent One of the most important figures in the history of Ávila raised theconvent on the site of Santa Teresa’s birthplace. The room where she was born, nowadaysa chapel, is still preserved along with the original vegetable garden. The delightful museum in the convent also houses several mementos of Santa Teresa.
Núñez Vela Palace. This palace stands next to the convent and is the seat of the Provincial Court. It is a magnificent Renaissance building with noble coats of arms. Opposite the Puerta de la Santa gate, you can see the new building of the Centro de la Mística centre on mystics.
Polentinos Palace. The next stop is at the Polentinos Palace, with its remarkable Plateresque doorway and medallions looking out onto the courtyard. It is currently the site of the General Military Archive.
Town Hall and San Juan Church. The Town Hall stands in the Mercado Chico, a square surrounded by porches, which used to be the Roman forum. It has been a marketplace since the times of the Catholic Monarchs. It was designed by the architect, Vázquez de Zúñiga and is notable for its granite façade, the elegant interior staircase and the full portrait of Santa Teresa. The saint was baptised in 1515 in San Juan Church, which stands opposite.
Los Velada Palace and Valderrábanos Palace. You cannot miss the main feature of the first building, which is the unbattlemented square tower. Valderrábanos Palace was owned by Gonzalo Dávila, steward to the Catholic Monarchs. Note the façade with the family coat of arms. Both buildings have been renovated as hotels.
El Salvador Cathedral is surprising, as it looks like a military fortress, but is only one of the attractions awaiting you on this route. On the way, you will see charming shrines and centuries-old mansions, until you reach the Cuatro Postes, another of the symbols of Ávila.
El Salvador Cathedral. Dating from the Gothic era, it is one of the oldest cathedrals in Spain and was started at the beginning of the 12th century. The famous poet, García Lorca,said that it was “formidable in its bloody blackness”. The sanctuary was built into the wallitself, thanks to the “cimorro” tower, one of its identifying features. Make sure that you seethe main altarpiece inside (decorated with paintings by Pedro Berruguete), the impressivechoir stalls and the ambulatory, where lies Vasco de la Zarza’s masterpiece, the El Tostado sepulcher. A visit to the cathedral museum is also recommended.
Verdugo Palace and Los Águila Palace. Verdugo Palace is a fine 16th-century building. Los Águila Palace, built by Rodrigo del Águila, a knight of Santiago and mayor of Madrid, is currently attached to the Prado Museum.
Mosén Rubí Chapel. The chapel is linked to the Bracamonte family, French aristocrats who arrived in Castile in the time of John II of Spain. One of their descendants ordered a hospital and chapel complex to be built in 1512. Dominican nuns started to use it as a residence in 1872. Piedras Albas Palace. Now a Parador hotel, this 16th-century palace stands against the walls, and the gardens contain several archaeological items.
San Martín Shrine Leaving the walled part by the Arco de Mariscal gate, you come to San Martin shrine, declared a site of historic and artistic interest in 1983. You will certainly appreciate its Mudejar tower.
La Encarnación Monastery. If you continue through the traditional Ajates district to thisbuilding, you will be able to find out more about Santa Teresa. The highlight is the saint’scell, decorated with kitchen utensils rescued during the restoration work done in 1968. The museum contains a recreation of a journey through the history of the reform of the Carmeliteorder, and several of the saint’s personal belongings.
Santa María de la Cabeza Shrine. This was first dedicated to San Bartolomé. The original 12th-century building has been renovated several times, and the name was changed when a statue of Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza was installed. San Segundo Shrine This Romanesque building was declared a national monument in 1923. It contains an alabaster sculpture of the saint, the first bishop of Ávila, by Juan de Juni.
The Cuatro Postes We finish at the Cuatro Postes, a shrine from the middle Ages. The present structure dates from the 16th century, and the story goes that the young Santa Teresa and her brother, Rodrigo, were caught there when they tried to escape to find martyrdom in Moorish lands. It provides the best view of Ávila.
Few days in Avila would allow you to discover a very unique city, originated with the Roman Empire, with an incredible millenary heritage. Ask Destination Spain to plan a stay for you. https://www.destination-spain.com/newsletter/AVILA%20THE%20CITY%20OF%20KNIGHTS.pdf