The absence of the sea in inland Spain doesn’t make its people abstain from a maritime vocabulary. In Segovia, they compare their home city to a ship, plowing through waves of green hillsides that merge with a blue sky or a preceding strip of dark mountains.
All the many daytrippers, caused by a trifle of 90 km from Madrid, may not see this likeness, as they are too busy studying components: a Roman aqueduct, ancient city walls, a cathedral touching the sky and a fairytale castle. These components, combined with their location atop a shapely rock, are exactly what create the maritime associations: walls acting as ship’s sides, steeples for masts, a castle to strengthen the bow, an artistic gangway the shape of an aqueduct.
World Heritage status and the monuments justifying it, among them the largest collection of Romanesque churches in Europe, can be fatiguing. You’d like to rest awhile by enjoying Segovia from a distance, convinced that a luxury ship will then materialize before your eyes. A suitable transportation appears early one morning: two gaily colored hot air balloons, what could be better for an overall view. They seem to aim at the arches of the Aqueduct, cleverly avoid it though, gain height and slowly drift off without you.
While spurting swallows again take over the arches, your attention is caught by a bronze wolf, patiently nursing two human babies atop a plinth that depicts they are a gift from Rome to Segovia to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the Aqueduct. This inspires you to follow Avenida Via Roma, the road toward Valladolid, until you reach the vantage point of Mirador del Terminillo; an anticlimax. Suddenly, the two balloons reappear, well above and behind Segovia, their crews surely relishing the ship’s shape to the fullest.
Two Rivers Meet
Morning traffic, to and from Valladolid, accompanies you back to town. Valladolid is the regional capital of Castilla y León, to which Segovia also belongs. With a population of 55.000, Segovia is the smaller sister. Considering the altitude, 1000 m, it is a bit farfetched to be looking for a ship in this region. Segovia is, however, partly surrounded by water already; the rivers of Eresma and Clamores running on either side of it and merging in front of Alcázar. Comfortable pathways make it easy to follow the rivers and the adjacent walls.
Your starting point is Plaza del Azoguejo at the bottom of the Aqueduct; the central square where roads converge and the attractions of the city are reflected in the size of the local tourist office. A legend says the Devil built the Aqueduct, doing it so well that no maintenance seems necessary. It’s not in use, though, and climbing it is forbidden. After covering 15 km, this is where the Aqueduct culminates with a height of 28 m and two levels of arches, 166 in total, formed by 120 granite pillars.
El Paseo al Valle del Rio Eresma says it all; you’re on your way down to the river, among red poppies and blossoming chestnut trees under towering poplars. An old stone bridge carries you across the plentiful water of Eresma to a municipal park, Alameda, stretching between the convents of San Vicente and El Parral. The valley was in the past a favorite site for new monasteries and churches, also for factories relying on water power, like flour and paper mills and processors of wool.
Even hard cash was produced in the valley, at the first mint in Spain, Casa de la Moneda, now under restoration. Segovia was, in the later centuries of the Middle Ages, an international trading center dealing in livestock and locally produced textiles, creating a wealth generously transformed into palaces and religious institutions. The textile industry, the base of Segovia’s prosperity, suffered a serious collapse in the 17th century.
Thrilled by the surroundings, you almost forget what you came for – the overall view of the Segovian ship. An ascent to the 12-sided church of Vera Cruz confirms that the city walls are more or less covered by vegetation on this side. A helpful elderly man recommends Iglesia del Carmen, but they have no church tower view to offer. You turn to the rivers instead, this is where they meet to form a deep moat below Alcázar, its likeness to a prow quite amazing down here.
On Board Again
Rio Clamores, the southern river, soon disappears under the ground, which is laid out as a narrow park, pleasantly shady. Taking the road to get a broader view, you’re rewarded with high bare city walls, their top treasures very near: Alcázar and the Cathedral. You recognize the hotel you’re in, Sirenas, where your back side room offers such splendid views of the slopes opposite, forested with pines and cypress. Refreshed by the exterior of Segovia, you are eager to get on board again for close-ups.
Calle Real is a collective name for the streets that make up one long pedestrianized zone from Plaza del Azoguejo up to the main square, Plaza Mayor, the heart of the old town, originally reserved for noble families and the clergy. Ascending the first part, Calle Cervantes, you come across a mansion studded with tiny stone pyramids, the famous Casa de los Picos. Behind you, the Aqueduct has been reduced to a piece of scenery between the rows of houses.
Calle Juan Bravo takes over, soon widening into two squares joined by stairs: Plaza de San Martin and Medina del Campo, a favorite spot among those who appreciate coziness and architectural details. Grander are the dimensions of Plaza Mayor, Segovia’s nerve center, its buildings in strict harmony, among them the City Hall and a theater. Every want is met: a music pavilion for shouting children to play in, an old-fashioned kiosk, bars and cafes, one is reserved for writers tormented by a blank sheet, La Oja Blanca, while a sweet tooth gets treatment at Limon y Menta, una pastelería.
People can’t help casting a glance now and then toward the open side of the square, to enjoy the Gothic beauty of the immense Cathedral, whether bathing in the morning sun, or hosting elegant storks on its many steeples in the evening, its cloistered courtyard a daytime oasis of trees, light and sculptural perfection. Less perfect are the water pipes in a neighboring street; they have exploded into cascades of sparkling water. A technician arrives, all he can do is call for reinforcements.
Alcázar receives you with tulips in the shade of pines and chestnut. The castle, once a royal residence and state prison, has been destroyed by fire several times, just to rise again in a yet stronger version. Today’s castle is only from 1862, its moat and draw bridge easy to pass if you arm yourself with a ticket, giving access also to the Throne Hall and the royal bedroom. However, you’re impatient to climb a particular tower, the 80 m high Torre de Juan II, so spacious that you can move about freely up there until the views make you delirious, for this is where the ship comparison falls into place.
Looking over the rail, you see the countryside as waves undulating the horizon’s blue sky. An impressive bow is prepared to follow those waves, a spectacle you will need a hot air balloon to fully appreciate. Thus sailing through the air, you would realize what is Segovia’s foremost monument – it’s the complete city, stranded on a rock like a ship westward bound.
all photos supplied by Terje Raa