Segovia

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Segovia

An ancient town which captures the atmosphere of medieval Spain. Since it is built on a hillside, its streets are steep and narrow — sometimes mere staircases. Current population: about 40,000. The climate is cold in winter (it snows sometimes as late as April), but warm and breezy in the summer. Segovia is one of Spain's priceless "museum towns" — full of traditional houses, a famous castle, a great cathedral, and a Roman aqueduct. Spain's Academy of Artillery is located here, and in the summer, one sees the youthful cadets on the streets. Like Madrid, Segovia has a high elevation: 3,280 feet, which is what makes the winters cold and the summers mild.

History  Segovia started as a Celto-Iberian settlement, and had its present name even back then. During the Roman colonization of Spain, the city resisted furiously, and became the center of Celto-Iberian hostility to Rome. All we know from this period is that the Romans, once they finally subdued the city, built the huge aqueduct that stands today.

The Moors: The city was destroyed by the Arab conqueror Ali-Maimon, king of Toledo (1072), but was repopulated again in 1079 by Raymond of Burgundy.

The Reconquest: Since the Reconquest began early in northern and central Spain, Segovia played an important part. Its citizens joined the Christian army which captured Madrid from the Moors (1083); so successful was this campaign that Segovia found itself the capital of a mini-empire that stretched to the outskirts of Toledo. The new kingdom was called, Comunidad y Tierras de Segovia, Community and Land of Segovia.

Early prosperity: In 1120, the seat of the bishopric of Segovia was returned to the city, making it a religious center. By the 17th century, a large textile industry had started, employing 36,000 people (out of a population of 100,000 — more than twice its present population). The city minted its own coins: gold centenes and silver cincuentines — the largest coins in Europe at the time.

Thereafter, the city began to decline as trade routes shifted, and today it is only a medium-size city. But this very fact has resulted in a preservation of historic treasures in the city: Segovia gives you a glimpse of what a medieval Castilian city might have looked like.

Features  Roman aqueduct: This is the largest such aqueduct in Spain, and one of the best-preserved in Europe — better preserved than the Pont du Gard in France. The aqueduct was built entirely without mortar; this meant that the stones had to be fitted perfectly with notches and grooves — superior craftsmanship. There are 170 arches, and the height is 90 feet. The aqueduct is still used to bring water into the city from 10 miles away: an enduring tribute to Roman engineering.

The aqueduct probably dates from the time of Augustus (i.e., the birth of Christ). In 1079, Ali-Maimon, the Arab conqueror, destroyed several spans but spared the rest. Later, the Christian king Alfonso VI used stones from the aqueduct to build the city walls. In 1489, Queen Isabella restored the aqueduct, rebuilding 36 arches and pillars.

The Cathedral: This was the last Gothic cathedral to be built in Spain, begun in 1525. It is huge and elaborately decorated, showing signs of the Baroque influence which was becoming widespread in Spain at the time. Inside is a rare collection of Flemish tapestries and the Pieta by Juan de Juni (1571). The stained glass (1554) was made in Segovia. The bell tower is almost 300 feet high, with 11 bells (the largest bell, known as Maria, weighs 4960 pounds).

The Alcazar: This is the most famous landmark in Segovia and the most-photographed castle in Spain. There are castles like this all over this part of Spain. The very name Castile comes from the many castles dotting the countryside; most of them were built during the centuries when Christian and Moorish armies battled each other for the control of Spain. The Alcazar is built on the foundations of an old Roman fortress, and even the Roman fortress made use of earlier foundations. The castle has often been compared to a huge ship, rising up from sheer rock to a height of 262 feet. The present castle was built by King Alfonso VI at the time of El Cid, when daring exploits in the cause of Reconquest guaranteed fame. Alfonso himself captured Madrid from the Moors. Segovia's Alcazar was built in imitation of the Alcazar in Toledo, though it's less square-shaped than Toledo's. The marriage of Philip II and Anne of Austria took place in the Alcazar in 1570. A century before, Queen Isabella had lived there, and her children were born inside the castle. It's possible to climb the stairs to the very top of the towers, from which there's a breathtaking view of the surrounding plains. There's an armaments museum featuring suits of armor, swords and spears, shields, battle axes, and about everything else one associates with medieval castle life.

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