Saturday, June 19, 2010

Adventures in Segovia

My favorite day-trip away from Madrid thus far has been Segovia (June 5, 2010). The bus ride there from Madrid was pretty cheap and short. The bus stop is about one block away from the Roman aqueduct. The aqueduct is incredible - and still runs right through the center of the modern city for nearly a mile. We walked the entire length twice and climbed up to the top for a better vantage point of the aqueduct, city, and the mountains. After visiting the aqueduct, we found the incredible cathedral of Segovia.

From the cathedral, we visited the Alcázar of Segovia. After visiting quite a few alcázars and wondering why they are all called the same thing, we learned that an Alcázar is an architectural style (specifically, a fortified palace). The Segovia Alcázar is by far my favorite that we have been to (the Toledo one would have been just as awesome, I'm sure, but it is closed for six years because of renovations and a museum being installed inside it). It is gigantic and for a couple euro extra, you can climb the tower of Juan II, which used to contain dungeons. If you can make it up the narrow, steep spiral staircase, the view from the top of the windy tower is magnificent. We spent a lot of time at the top of the tower where I came to the conclusion that it would have been really hard to be a good guard because the view from the tower is so beautiful. You can also venture down into the basement of the Alcázar, where you can see the foundations of a previous Roman or medieval castle on top of which the Alcázar was built.After Alcázar, we wandered around Segovia and eventually made our way outside of the city to its northern edge. We climbed some hills and arrived at the Monestario del Parral, my favorite part of the entire trip. The area surrounding the monastery (still in use by monks from the southern order of Guadalupe - the inside is designed with red and white, the colors of the order) was one of the most peaceful places I have been. The monastery is named for the virgin Maria del Parral, who helped a nobleman from Segovia win a duel and he promised to build her the church, which was commissioned six years later. There used to be a school in the monastery as well, but it fell. From the surrounding hills, the entire Alcázar is visible, as is the belltower of Iglesia de Vera Cruz. In between the monastery and the tiny Vera Cruz church, there are a few boulders; carved into one of these boulders on the path, we found a small flower. If you stand in the center of the Vera Cruz church with the entrances unobstructed and talk, your voice is amplified like a microphone.

From the hills and Vera Cruz church, we wandered back across the hills to the monastery to see if it was open for visitors. It is pretty unmarked but we found a bell and were lucky enough to get a free, private tour of the monastery and the connected church. The facade of the church is unfinished because after Enrique IV died, there was not enough money to continue the detailed stonework on the front. Ironically, they made time to place the king's royal seal at the top before the rest was finished (seal is supposed to be the last thing added). When entering the church, there is hardly any light but as one approaches the altar, there is more and more light until the altar is fully illuminated (it is supposed to symbolize a spiritual journey). Around the top of the centerpiece of the church are statues of the 12 disciples. On either side of the centerpiece, there are dark grey tapestries. Traditionally, they were placed over the golden centerpiece during Semana Santa (Easter Week/Holy Week) because the soul is in mourning. On Easter Day, the tapestries are one again placed on the side to symbolize the salvation. However, this tradition is no longer continued. On the right side of the centerpiece, there is original rose-pink painting, which is very rare for that type of architectural style.

It was a full day of walking and climbing hills (although thankfully not as many hills and inclines as Toledo), but it was by far one of the coolest, prettiest places that I have been to so far in Spain. :)


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