Discovering Avila in Spain
An hour and a half away from Madrid, time and space are suspended behind the wall that safeguards the secrets of two women who defined the history of their time and of Spain: Queen Isabella of Castile and the nun Teresa de Jesús.
These equally-determined characters who belong to different periods have inspired life-altering tours at this destination that was declared Cultural Heritage and that is part of the stations of the Road to Santiago and Road of the Castilian Language routes.
Tour of Queen Isabella the Catholic Queen
The Isabelline route includes Arevalo, the village where Isabella of Trastamara lived with her mother and brother, and Toros de Guisando, the place where she received the title of Princess of Asturias, thus becoming heir to the crown.
Specifically, Isabella’s Avila is first understood by visiting the Royal Monastery of Saint Anne, declared Heritage of Cultural Interest in 1982. It possesses a peculiar three-level cloister that’s unique for its time. There, Isabella was educated as a child by Cistercian nuns, although now it serves as a government office, so you must visit it in the morning.
Royal Monastery of Saint Thomas
DINKtravelers highlights the Royal Monastery of Saint Thomas as a landmark that helps understand Isabella’s Avila. It was built under the patronage of the Catholic Monarchs’ treasurer, the King and Queen themselves, and friar Tomas the Torquemada, who used it to house the inquisition tribunal for six years. You’ll be surprised when you visit the royal cloister that’s configured by 40 arches in the first level and 56 in the second, all of which are decorated according to the traditional Isabelline Gothic.
Inside, the most relevant feature is the raised altar in the church. In order to have the best view, climb up to the choir’s balcony. From there you’ll have a spectacular perspective of the cross vault, the altar, and under it, Don Juan’s –the Catholic Monarchs’ son– marble sepulcher.
Puerta del Alcazar (Gate of the Fortress)
To finish this route, enjoy the panoramic views you’ll have from top of the city wall. There are two areas you can visit in this medieval construction –the southeast area with access from Puerta del Alcázar and the east-north-west area with access from Casa de las Carnicerías, where you’ll find a wooden replica of the wall–. The wall surrounds palaces and museums that safeguard Isabella’s history, that is, the life of the queen who governed with iron will and who promoted groundbreaking projects such as Christopher Columbus’ journeys; the woman who chose the man she would marry, something quite unusual for her time; and the ruler who conquered the remainder of the Moorish power in the peninsula.
Footprints of Santa Teresa Route
From that privileged location, prepare to begin a second highly-recommended route that is also dedicated to a historic character who defined her time. Visit the Avila of Teresa de Jesus, a woman who was born 11 years after Queen Isabella’s death.
Avila City Walls
This adventure starts on top of the walls of Avila, the place where we ended the Isabelline route in our previous article. From that location you’ll be able to spot, outside the city wall, the Monastery of the Incarnation where Teresa lived for over 20 years. It was there where she prepared her order’s reform giving place to the foundation of 20 convents in different parts of Spain. Once in the premises, visit the Teresian Museum where you’ll find some of the nun’s relics.
Then, go back to the entrance of the fortified city until you reach the Saint Vincent Basilica, built in Romanesque style and declared National Monument in 1923. There you’ll find the image of the Soterraña Virgin, the city’s patron. They say that Teresa stopped there to pray on her way from the Incarnation Monastery to the convent of Saint Joseph, the first she founded.
Evidently, your next stop will be at the convent of Saint Joseph, which you’ll recognize by its façade that is divided in two halves: the higher one has a pediment and there’s a three-arched portico on the lower half. Pay close attention to this architectonic style because it was constantly repeated in Catholic religious constructions during the seventeenth century, so you’ll find it in other Spanish destinations if you follow the route of Teresa’s Footprints.
The Convent of St Teresa and its Museum
It’s intriguing to try to figure out what a sixteenth century nun’s life was like, so your next stop will be the Church-Convent of Saint Teresa, built in Teresa’s family home. This site that was declared National Monument in 1886 harbors Saint Teresa’s Museum, which was set up in the church’s crypt. The interior’s dim lights, the background music and the stone and brick walls will help you imagine what Teresa’s childhood, her time as a writer and her life in a convent’s cell were like.
Cathedral of Avila
This route along Avila’s religious architecture ends in the Cathedral. This fortress-like building is considered the first Gothic cathedral in Spain. It houses a magnificent carved wood choir, a retable by Pedro Berruguete and Saint Teresa’s Renaissance-style chapel, decorated with a painting that represents a vision that, they say, Teresa had in that same spot.
DINKtravelers invites you to follow these routes that were inspired by the lives of two women who marked the history of Avila. Pair them with the gastronomic delicacies served in this city including stews and yemas. What else could you expect from your next destination?