Segovia: Aqueducts, Castles, Little Pigs and Cathedrals

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To maximize our travel time, we left early Sunday morning for a day trip to Segovia – a town in between the two political centers of Castile-Leon, Valladolid and Madrid. Before arriving at the Charmartin (the train station) Andrew and I made banana pancakes to give us strength for the trip. Also because it isn’t Sunday if pancakes are not involved!

We met up with Tibo, one of my friends from my swim team, who was making the trip with us and boarded the Ave train to Segovia. It was a fast train that reached 230 k/hr and made the trip in less than 30 minutes. Typically, these trains cost more than the slow trains; however, the price difference was about a euro each way and I didn’t see the point wasting an extra hour to save one euro. We arrived around noon, which left us basically the whole day before our train home at 9 pm.

The train station is located just outside of the city and so we took the bus to the center, which dropped us off right in front of the Roman Aqueduct. Here was our first glimpse of Segovia. (I should preface that in 2009 I made a similar day trip by myself, but nonetheless it was nice to see the city again and to experience it with others).

It is believed that this aqueduct was built around the first century by the Romans. This is not the whole aqueduct, which stretches over 818 m, but rather the highest point. It is fascinating to think that there were many ways to built this structure to bring water into the city, and yet, they chose to create something so elaborate and beautiful.

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Once inside we searched for the other restaurant that Andrew’s co-workers had recommended because we were determined not to miss a chance to have cochinillo at a top restaurant. It is building seen through the arches on the left hand side.

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Once we learned their hours, we headed off in search of the Alcazar. Within ten steps of our journey we were greeted by the parade of antique cars by Asociación clásicos de Segovia. A strong presence of diesel gas filled the air and for a minute it felt as if we were back at the port, waiting to go out on a boat trip. Below are the photos of some of my favorite cars passing in front of the aqueduct.

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Our route, although rather long, allowed us to pass by many of the main monuments of the city of Segovia. Below are some of the highlights:

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If I remember correctly these two photos above depict two 10th/11th century churches.

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It was a very crowded Sunday morning as all were out and about as shown by this picture above of the main drag of Segovia.

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Above: This was a ducal palace of the Condes de Alpuente, famous mostly for its mixture of mudejar stucco with gothic windows

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Above: This is not the plaza mayor, but rather is the plaza in front of the church of San Martin. Both of these statues are found in the plaza, the latter being of particular interest as this woman appears in many palaces and paintings throughout Spain. We believe that it is a representation of a Sphinx. In Greek Mythology those that cannot answer her riddle are devoured; yet, for the Egyptians she was a more benevolent creature generally seen as the guardian, protecting temples. (In the egyptian version, the face is not clearly female, but androgenized) During the Renaissance this figure resurfaced more or less in the Egyptian concept of the figure as the protector of temples and royal tombs. I believe it is in this context that we can understand the prevalence of this figure throughout all of Spain.

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These three photos featured above were our first glimpses of the Cathedral. We figured due to the time that we would do a tour of the Palace and then come back after lunch to see the inside of the Cathedral. Below is a photo of Andrew at his church, San Andres. IMG_3008

This photo below demonstrates part of our walk and the city’s aim to restore and maintain their old buildings. In 1985 Segovia became a UNSECO World Patrimony site.

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Eventually we made it to the palace, which in many ways looks as if it was the manifestation of a fairy tale castle. IMG_3013 IMG_3014  IMG_3017IMG_3020

I think the excitement for seeing another palace is accurately shown above. The boys are both smiling and content and then you add the modernist (me) and we are literally jumping for joy!

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This detail from the outer facade demonstrates a special technique used in Segovia where the small dots of iron were added to make the designs more intricate. They do not represent iron bars throughout the building and served no functional purpose, being solely aesthetic.

Before touring the upper part of the palace we went down into the restrooms, where there are also the first caves. Here you can see the light streaming into the small space along with a wishing well full of many people’s small change. We did not add to the collection. IMG_3026  IMG_3029 IMG_3027

We ventured above ground to the first floor of the palace. The palace has seen many different restorations throughout the centuries. Originally, it consisted of three rooms. One large room in the center, where the armor is currently, and then two bed chambers to either side. Later it was amplified, but the main wall and windows remained giving it a unique appearance.

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To the left of this room was the first bed chamber. Currently it holds furniture from the 16th century but that would have been used in a banquet hall. You can see much of this room through the mudejar doorway on the side of the room. This next room was an addition made to amplify the palace. Unfortunately a fire destroyed almost all of the original woodwork in the palace, but due to extensive drawings they were able to recreate what was lost. This ceiling shown was not originally in this room, but rather in another site and was identical to the ceiling present at the Alcazar. After the fire it was moved here into the room of the Kings, the white stucco above the velvet hangings are original to the building.

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This next room is connected to the armor room, I do not quite remember its function, but rather the fact that they left the iron bulbs from the original exterior as part of the decoration of this room, a reminder of the expansion of the palace. Additionally, this mural represents the coronation of Queen Isabel I, the Catholic, who was crowned in a San Miguel on December 13, 1474. (We have photos of this church that I will show at a later part in the post).  Strikingly these participants seem extremely solemn and all of their eyes are demonic, painted fully black. I have not read anything about her coronation and so I do not know any details, but found this to be an interesting way of depicting her coronation. Additionally, the palace sits upon a hill and uses this advantage point to create many vistas of the landscape. This is just one of the many views created throughout the palace.

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The original palace’s bed chamber would have been in this room. Interestingly these are not tapestries but rather painted weavings, the tecnical name I have currently forgotten, but a much less costly way to adorn your walls. The damask bed hangings are all embossed with golden Castille and Leon coat of arms. I rather enjoy these small chair shown next to the weavings as they were considered in medieval times to be royal chairs and the sitter could be hoisted onto the back of the horse with ease.  IMG_3046IMG_3043

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Below is the room of the Kings. Seated are all the Kings of Castile and Leon from the first until Juana VII. This room held the royal power since all judgements were made here.

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Alongside this room is a passageway that leads to the royal chapel. Access to this chapel was possible through the wooden grate. The same grate can be seen to the left of the main altarpiece.

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This room concluded our tour of the inside of the palace. It continued onto the exterior where we found the well bringing water to the palace and the expansive views of the countryside.

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As the 18th and 19th century schools of war, it is fitting that the tour includes a look into weaponry wielded by the Spanish knights. IMG_3073IMG_3080

In this room was also the chest of money, since a minting press used to be in the city. This chest needed somewhere around 8 different keys which were in the hands of 8 different people to protect its contents. I found the construction to be rather fascinating and you can see one chest with a metal grate covering its mechanics, while the other clearly demonstrates how it functioned.  IMG_3074 IMG_3075

This is a picture of the final courtyard, alongside is a picture of Tibo and Andrew touching the iron details. IMG_3076 IMG_3077

Our tour also included a climb of the main tour. It was a winding way to the top, but was well worth the exercise. From here you can see the Cathedral that stretches out over the city. We also decided that it would be difficult to siege this palace because your sight stretches for miles upon miles in all directions making it hard to conceal your approach.

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We worked up quite an appetite at the palace and quickly walked back to our special restaurant. We ordered the Segovian specialty, cochinillo, or rather suckling pig. This restaurant has a lot of character, where the walls are covered in its famous guests, including the pictures of the current King of Spain, Juan Carlos. We had heard that there was a tradition where the head chef gave a speech and then cut the cochinillo with a plate, finally throwing the plate upon the floor. The three of us ordered cochinillo with roasted potatoes and right before ours was brought out we got to witness this sacred ritual. He read what we believe is the founding document, it was in old Spanish and at times was hard to hear what he was saying. As you can see I got some great photos of him in action even with the plate mid air! He also is the same head chef that is featured in almost all of the photos on the walls. Some of the last photos represent the broken plate on the floor as well as our lunch! I loved eating the cochinillo, it is not something that I would have everyday, but I love meat slow roasted. It definitely was a special treat and the perfect place to indulge.  IMG_3091 IMG_3092 IMG_3096 IMG_3097 IMG_3098 IMG_3099 IMG_3101

After lunch we walked back and took a tour of the Cathedral. From my last trip to Spain (2009) I remembered this place as my favorite Cathedral in all of Spain. That being said, I had high expectations for the visit again and it fully lived up to my dreams. These photos are from the cloisters where they currently hold the museum to the Cathedral. I believe in this instance these photos are worth more than my paltry explanations.

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Afterwards Andrew and I toured the radiation chapels. We found out that many have two doors on either side of the main altar, I believe that these doors were used by the priests for easy access to the chapels when they needed to say prayers for the donors there. However, some had only one functioning door which begged the question, was the second one just for decoration? We started to explore, sherlock style, and found that in some chapels both doors had modern locks and hinges while others did not. Then we found the jackpot, a door that was ajar leading to another door. There are many layers to this space as exemplified by these doors and it made for a fun search throughout the space.

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We enjoyed a coffee on the main plaza, watching everyone come and go. We wanted to see the Church San Miguel where Isabela I was crowned Queen of Castile and Leon, but it was closed. Fortunately, 7 pm mass was being said by the time we left and we were able to enter the church and have a feel for this historic site.

There was one last stop on our tour of Segovia which was climbing the far side of the aqueduct. We saved it for the end because it was a free timeless adventure.

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(Ps. this last photo shows our lunch restaurant!!!)

We grabbed a scoop of ice cream and then climbed aboard the bus to take us back to the train station. Since it was a fast train, we were home in no time and ready to start the week!!

One response »

  1. Pingback: The Convents of Henry IV | katesspanishadventure

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