UNESCO World Heritage Site Segovia
As you come over the last hill on the road to Segovia you see the town perched atop a hill like a diamond glittering in the sunlight. The Gothic Cathedral, foreboding Alcázar, and seemingly impenetrable city walls beckon you toward the city and its sights with promises of history and adventure. Originally a Celtic settlement, Segovia was later built up by the Romans and it was they who built the amazing aqueduct that still spans the valley floor below the walled city.
In fact, it was the aqueduct which led to Segovia’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The most vividly striking section of the aqueduct sits in the heart of the city with the old town rising up behind it, the so-called Puente de Diablo. Legend has it that the devil had become enamoured with one of the towns beautiful princesses and struck a bargain–he would have the maidens hand in marriage if he could build the bridge across the valley in one night. Fortunately, he failed at the task with one last stone left unplaced as the first crow of a rooster rang out in the morning air.
Even more unbelievable is the skill and engineering that must have gone into the design and construction of the aqueduct in ancient times. Standing under one of its many archways, it’s hard to imagine how it could have survived the centuries of weather, warfare, and earthquakes, but in reality it has been threatened more in its past century then in the nearly two thousand years before. The construction of city parking garages, pollution, heavy traffic passing beneath its arches, even later day conservation efforts have all had severely damaging effects, but the aqueduct is one of the major draws to stunning Segovia and the city has gone to great lengths to protect it. The traffic that used to pass under its magnificent arches has been rerouted and the entire plaza around it is now a pedestrian zone.
But there’s far more to stunning Segovia than the Roman aqueduct which survived after the Roman empire crumbled. The town continued to grow and prosper eventually coming under control of the Arabs who built a new fort upon the old Roman ruins. Later, after the town had been reclaimed by Spain, a major building boom saw expansions of the city walls and the Alcázar became a palace for the King and Queen. It is an impressive structure sitting atop a craggy outcropping at the edge of the old city. We enjoyed strolling through the leafy green park and the views from the Alcázar of the city are incredible. There’s a small café that sits on a terrace near the walls and from its al fresco tables you can enjoy a relaxing cafe con leche and the marvelous views.
A relative late-comer to the city, the Gothic cathedral was built in the sixteenth century and dominates the old city sky line. This is a massive building and it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off of it when it’s lit up in the evening dusk. It takes some time to explore the 18 ornately decorated chapels of the cathedral but the cool air is a welcome respite from the hot sun outside. After visiting the cathedral you can enjoy a drink, some tapas, or a full meal at one of the many restaurants surrounding the Plaza Mayor just outside. Of course, this is also a perfect location for people-watching, one of our favorite past-times.
As usual, we were on a road trip when we visited Segovia and this had some advantages and disadvantages. Having a car meant we were able to explore the area around the city. Driving out to the end of the aqueduct was an adventure in itself, and finding the best vantage point for the perfect landscape photograph of the city was a challenge we enjoyed living up to. But driving in the old city is extremely restricted and parking is hard to come by. Our hotel was just around the corner from the church off a street leading into the Plaza Mayor. We were able to drive in and drop off luggage and passengers, but we had to park the car in the same parking garage that had threatened the aqueduct during its construction. Once the car was parked, it was a 10 minute walk through the old city to get back to the hotel. Of course, the views along the way were stunning so it really wasn’t too big of a problem.
Driving to Segovia out of Madrid takes about an hour on the highway north out of the city. You can also take the train out of Madrid or a number of different buses. It is fairly easy to get around once you get to Segovia with most of the sites within the walls of the old city. We stayed in a beautifully restored 15th century building called the Hotel Spa La Casa Mudejar, located right off the plaza mayor and near to the cathedral and other sights. The rooms were clean, comfortable, and great value for the money. Check out the links below for additional information.