Defined in proverb as “ the land of song and saint”, Avila (pop. 47,650), standing 1,131 metres above sea level, is the highest of the provincial capitals. Its carefully preserved town centre and its numerous attractive monuments are two of the reasons why this small, peaceful city was declared part of the Heritage of Mankind in 1985.
But before immersing themselves in the maze of medieval streets, visitors should take the opportunity to enjoy the best views of Avila from a truly splendid vantage poin. Known as Los Cuatro Postes, this is situated a bare two kilometres from the city, just off the Salamanca road. The most characteristic sight in Avila is its famous medieval walls, the best preserved in Europe. Begun around the year 1090,this solid “case” of stone measures 2,5 kilometres in length and has 6 gates, 3 posterns, 88 towers and battlements with some 2500 merlons. The best-known tower is the “cimorro”, which houses the gigantic apse of the Cathedral of Avila. Tourist can climb to the top of the walls by way of the Alcazar gate situated in Plaza de Santa Teresa.
Nearby soars the supers Cathedral, which bears a surprising resemblance to a military fortress The front consists of a crenellated tower almost 43 metres high with superimposed Gothic and Baroque elements. In the interior, the armonious dual space of the apse aisle, finished in the white and ruddy stone is particularly striking. There, behind the main altar, it is worth stopping before the carven alabaster tomb of El Tostado, a masterpiece by Vasco de la Zarza. One the centrepieces of the Cathedral Museum is a silver processional monstrance by Juan de Arfe.
Outside the walls in the Basilica de San Vicente , which is reached by the gate of the same name. This is the most important Romanesque building in Avila and is easily recognisable by its bell-tower. The church, which was begun in the 12th century, contains the splendid cenotaph of Saint Vincent and his sisters, decorated with scenes from the lives of these martyrs.
Also outside the walls is the Royal Monastery of Santo Tomás. An excellent example of Isabelline Gothic, the monastery was built in 15th century under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs. In addition to its three richly decorated cloisters there is the tomb of the prince Don Juan, only son on the most important monarchs in the history of Spain, finely executed in Carrara marble. In the grounds of Queen Isabella’s summer palace is the curious Museum of Oriental Art.
The city of Avila is intimately linked with Santa Teresa de Jesus, one of the great doctors of the Catholic Church. The Convent of Santa Teresa was built in 1636 on the site of the house where the saint was born. As well as a church which blends elements of Baroque and Neo-classical, there is a kitchen garden and museum containing mementos of Santa Teresa. Teresa de Cepeda has left an indelible mark on an ecclesiastical and cultural itinerary which takes in various churches: Convent of Nuestra Señora de Gracia, Convent of San José, Convent of La Encarnación and others.