Saturday, July 30, 2011


Segovia is an ancient walled city topped by the Alcazar, or royal palace. It fully deserves its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leona, Wendi, Alan and I spent a day wandering its maze of narrow streets and marveling at the exquisite craftmanship in the details of the old buildings.

Segovia's magnificent cathedral––the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain

Segovia's deepest roots are Celtic. The settlement next fell into Roman hands, and Romans built the 2000-year-old aqueduct which today dominates the approach to the old walled city. The city's fortunes waxed and waned over the centuries. Its location along major travel routes led to its becoming an important center of trade for wool and other textiles.

Segovia's 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct, complete with Common Swifts

Segovia is deeply entwined with the birth of the Spanish nation. Here Isabella I was proclaimed Queen of Castille and León in 1474. Her marriage to Ferdinand II of Aragon united the core of what became the Spanish nation, a feat that was cemented by their conquest of the Moors in Granada at the end of 1491. Isabella brought public order and effective reform to her kingdom. One day a week the monarchs made themselves available to hear the problems and complaints of their people.

The Alcazar, where Isabella was proclaimed queen

Ceilings in the Alcazar are a marvel...

... and doors across the entire country are works of art.

A store's window display in Segovia

Legend is that when Columbus approached the Royal Eminences in the throne room of the newly-conquered Alhambra, Ferdinand laughed at the notion that the Earth was round. But Isabella gave Columbus her jewels to finance his voyage.

Their union fused two major dialects as well, and gave birth to the Castillian Spanish that is spoken today. (Many years ago, I studied the origins of Spanish as part of being a Spainish major. We read the Spanish classics––Don Quixote, Don Juan and La Celestina––in their original form, rather like reading Chaucer in Old English.)

Segovia's golden age came in the late Middle Ages, when the Jewish population took learning and commerce to new heights. (All that came to an end with the Spanish Inquisition, when harsh treatment of the Jews was initiated by Ferdinand and the friar Torquemada.)

This street sign marks the old Jewish quarter of Segovia.

The city's fortunes may have waxed and waned, but one constant has likely been the swifts that swoop overhead, feasting on airborne insects. Hundreds of Common Swifts still nest in the aqueduct's nooks and in various crannies across the old city.

And, to top it all off, Segovia and Tucson are sister cities!

But can you imagine approaching Tucson in summer as a Conquistador, wearing that?!

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