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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Avila

Ávila is situated on a ridge of high ground, falling steeply down on three sides, in a treeless plateau watered by the Río Adaja.

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Townscape

TownscapeTownscape View slideshow
Ávila's wealth of medieval buildings (particularly its well preserved Romanesque churches and Gothic palaces) and the ancient walls which still enclose the heart of the old town make it one of the most interesting cities in Spain. As the birthplace of Spain's national saint, Terese of Ávila, it is also a much frequented pilgrimage center.

Town Walls

Town WallsTown Walls View slideshow
The walls, battlemented throughout their length and incorporating stone from Roman buildings, are 2557m/2797yd long, 12m/40ft high on average and 3m/10ft thick. The 88 semicircular towers, set at intervals of 20m/65ft, give the defenses an imposing aspect, particularly when seen from the Cruz de los Cuatro Postes, west of the town on the Salamanca road. There are nine gates in the walls, the most massive of which are the Puerta de San Vicente and the Puerta del Alcázar (in which re-used Roman stones can be seen), on the east side of the town. Between the two is the apse of the cathedral, known as the Ciborro, which, as the highest tower in the circuit of walls, forms part of the town's defenses. Beside the Puerta del Carmen, on the north side of the town, is a slender tower, topped by one of the storks' nests which are to be seen all over Castile. Near this gate are steps leading up to the wall-walk, which is open to visitors.

Cathedral

CathedralCathedral
The most important building in Ávila is the huge, 11th C Cathedral of San Salvador. It is made of granite and the apse is a part of the town walls.

Within Town Walls

Convento de Santa TeresaConvento de Santa Teresa
Several sites, including the Jewish quarter and the Plaza Mayor, are to be found inside the town walls of Ávila.

Jewish Quarter

The Jewish community of Ávila lived in two areas within the walls, in the northeast corner of the town, round the Puerta de San Vicente, and in the southwest corner, between the Puerta de la Mala Dicha and the Puerta del Puente.

Plaza Mayor

The central feature of the old town of Ávila is the Plaza de la Victoria or Plaza Mayor, a small enclosed square to the west of the cathedral, surrounded by arcades which now house shops and bars. On the north side is the handsome Town Hall, on the south side the church of San Juan, with the font at which Santa Teresa was baptized. The church has balconies from which the nobles of the town once watched bullfights in the square. Around the square are Ávila's main shopping streets, and to the northeast, towards the cathedral, is the two story market hall.

Convento de Santa Teresa

On the south side of the old town, opposite the gate now known as the Puerta de la Santa, there formerly stood the house in which Santa Teresa was born. The site is now occupied by the church (1638) of the Convento de Santa Teresa de Jesús, a convent of Discalced Carmelite nuns. Over the doorway in the relatively plain Baroque facade is a statue of the saint. The main feature of the interior, reached from the north transept, is the room in which Santa Teresa was born, now converted into a lavishly decorated Baroque chapel. On the altar is a statue (by Gregorio Fernández) of the saint at the moment of her vision of the Cross, richly ornamented and decked with jewelery and precious fabrics.
Address: Plaza de la Santa, Spain

Casa de los Dávila

Built against the town walls a little way east of the convent, beyond Plaza General Mola, is one of Ávila's many noble mansions, the huge Casa de los Dávila (13th-15th C.).

Torreón de los Guzmanes

The most striking feature of the palace of the Guzmán and Oñate families, which was built on to the convent in the 16th century, is the massive battlemented tower.

Casa de Núñez Vela

Diagonally opposite the Convento de Santa Teresa is another noble mansion, the Casa de Núñez Vela, built in 1540 for Blasco Núñez Vela, first Viceroy of Peru. It is now occupied by legal offices; the beautiful inner courtyard can be seen during office hours.

Casa de los Polentinos

Northwest of the Convento de Santa Teresa is yet another mansion, the Casa de los Polentinos, now occupied by the military authorities.

Capilla de Mosén Rubí de Bracamonte

To the north of the Plaza Mayor, between the Puerta del Carmen and the Puerta de San Vicente, is a less crowded part of the old town. Here in 1516 Mosén Rubí, a converted Jew belonging to a noble family of Ávila, built a burial chapel for his aunt María Herrera and her husband. The alabaster tomb was carved by Vázquez Dávila. The chapel, which now belongs to a Dominican nunnery, contains a 17th century polychrome figure of Christ, the Cristo de las Batallas.

Casa de los Aguila

Opposite the Capilla de Mosén Rubí de Bracamonte is the Casa de los Aguila, a 16th century noble mansion.

Casa de los Verdugos

In Calle López Núñez, which runs northeast to the Puerta de San Vicente, is the fortress-like Casa de los Verdugos, with four corner towers. The doorway is decorated with the girdle of the Franciscan order.

Outside the Town Walls

San PedroSan Pedro
Notable among the attractions outside the Town Walls is the church of San Vicente.

Basílica de San Vicente

Basilica de San Vicente 1589
San Vicente, Ávila's most important church after the cathedral, stands just outside the Puerta de San Vicente, on the spot where San Vicente and his sisters Sabina and Cristeta are believed to have been martyred in A.D. 300. Begun in the early 12th century (the apses, transepts and part of the nave were apparently built by 1109), it was not completed until the 14th, and the towers were left unfinished. On the south side of the church is a portico added in the 14th century which is said to have been a place of judgment. The south doorway, which dates from the earliest building period, has a very fine Romanesque Annunciation.
Address: Puerta de San Vicente, Spain

San Vicente - West Doorway

The west doorway, with a porch, has one of the finest groups of Romanesque sculpture, with column figures of Apostles and, on the central column, Christ with two other Apostles.

San Vicente - Interior

The interior of San Vicente, with an aisled nave, is dominated by the saints' magnificent shrine under the crossing. The late 12th century shrine, under a 16th Century canopy, is decorated with reliefs of outstanding quality. On the ends are Christ Pantokrator and the Adoration of the Kings; on the front are seven panels relating the story of San Vicente and his sisters. In the crypt of the church is the rock on which the saints are said to have been martyred. The crypt also contains several figures of the Virgin, the most notable of which is the Romanesque Virgen de la Soterraña.

Casa de los Deanes (Museo Provincial)

The 16th century Casa de los Deanes (Deanery), a two-story building, stands to the south of San Vicente in Plaza Naivillos. It now houses the Provincial Museum, which displays in three rooms a collection of sacred sculpture from the Romanesque period to the Renaissance, tapestries, a triptych attributed to Hans Memling, pictures, weapons and ceramics.
Address: Plaza Nalvillos, 3, E-05001 Ávila, Spain

Santo Tomé

Immediately adjoining the Provincial Museum is the little 12th century church of San Tomé, now a lapidarium.

San José

Farther east from the Provincial Museum is the convent of San José or Las Madres, the first house founded by Santa Teresa (1562). It contains a fine retablo by Alonso Cano.

Plaza de Santa Teresa

Just outside the Puerta del Alcázar is the spacious Plaza de Santa Teresa, another important shopping area, with many cafes. Not to be missed is the El Grande cafe with its wide range of tapas and drinks of all kinds.

San Pedro

San Pedro 1585
Dominating the east side of Plaza de Santa Teresa is the church of San Pedro with its large rose window. This aisled church with a plain but impressive west doorway was built in the 12th and 13th Centuries. The most notable items in the interior are a painting by Morán ("St Peter in Chains", 1673) in the north aisle and the high altar by Juan de Borgoña.
Address: Plaza de Santa Teresa, E-05080 Ávila, Spain

Monasterio de Santo Tomás

From San Pedro the Paseo de Santo Tomás runs southeast to the Dominican convent of Santo Tomás, founded in 1483 by María Dávila and Tomás de Torquemada following his appointment as the first Grand Inquisitor of Spain. The Catholic Monarchs also used it as a summer residence. From the outside the church looks austere and cold; the only decoration on the façade is provided by ball friezes and the emblem of the Catholic Monarchs (a yoke and sheaf of arrows).
Address: Plaza Granada 1, E-05003 Ávila, Spain

Santo Tomás - Interior

The interior of the church is dark. A striking feature is that the high altar and choir are opposite each other on two galleries accessible only from the cloisters: that is, only for the monks, who looked down from the high altar on the choir with its richly carved stalls. The tribunals of the Inquisition met in the choir, and from the choir the Catholic Monarchs followed the mass. The retablo of the high altar, the masterpiece of Pedro de Berruguete (c. 1499), depicts scenes from the life of St Thomas Aquinas. Under the dome over the crossing is the magnificent tomb of the Infante Don Juan, only son of the Catholic Monarchs, who died in 1497; the recumbent alabaster figure of the young prince and the scene of his burial were the work of the Florentine sculptor Domenico Fancelli (1510- 13). In one of the side chapels are the tombs, by Vasco de la Zarza, of Núñez Arnalte, treasurer to the Catholic Monarchs, and his wife.

Santo Tomás - Cloisters

There are three cloisters. The simplest is the Claustro del Noviciado (Cloister of the Novices), which leads into the Claustro del Silencio (Cloister of Silence), from which a flight of steps leads into the choir. On the first floor is a doorway leading to the high altar, with Berruguete's retablo. Opening off the two-story Claustro de los Reyes (Royal Cloister) are a number of rooms housing a museum of Eastern art.

Nuestra Señora de Gracia

Under the southeast corner of the town walls is the Convento de Nuestra Señora de Gracia, in which the future St Teresa was brought up.

San Segundo

San Segundo 1587
This little 12th century church on the Río Adaja, below the south side of the town walls, contains the tomb (by Juan de Juni, 1573) of St Secundus, first bishop of Ávila.

La Encarnación

Teresa of Ávila spent 29 years of her life in the convent of the Encarnación (northwest of Ávila ), of which she was prioress. A chapel was built over her cell in 1630 and there is a museum containing relics of the saint.

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