“Segovia is well worth a short visit from Madrid” was how Rick Steves described it. We found it to be so much more than that.
With just 56,000 in population, Segovia, after centuries of existence, is still basically a walled hillside city surrounded by the open plains of northern Spain. Its contours are pretty much the same as they were hundreds of years ago. Very little development has occurred in the countryside around it.
Segovia is only about an hour by train northwest from Madrid. It is absolutely littered with beautiful churches in addition to a grand Gothic cathedral.
The most iconic structure in Segovia is an amazingly well-preserved Roman aqueduct. The city buzzes with tourists – most of them Spanish – enjoying the ancient, pedestrian-only streets, great restaurants, and lots of fancy shops.
We traveled by rail to Segovia from Valencia.
The first leg of our journey, from Valencia to Madrid, was on a high-speed train, a trip of about three hours with top speeds of 145 miles per hour. Whoosh!
Spain has very comfortable and reliable trains.
In Segovia, we rented a lovely little one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a 4-story building in the middle of the historic Jewish quarter. The apartment featured a tremendous view of Segovia’s majestic Cathedral. In the early morning the sky around the Cathedral was filled with hot air balloons.
The only downside to the apartment was a group of students on the floor below. By the sounds of their voices, we could tell they were young women from Britain. To put it charitably, they were full of the carefree spirit of youth. They spoke at the absolute tops of the voices in the hallway at all hours of the night — including at 5:30 AM, when they arrived home after a night of partying.
The noisy girls didn’t give a thought to the other occupants of the building. They shouted to each other to “mind the gap” as they exited the elevator, laughing heartily at their silly joke, right outside our door. Their loud voices sounded as if they were directly in our apartment. It was a test of our patience.
Segovia restaurants are renowned for roasted suckling pig.
Suckling, as in not trough-trained yet. Yikes.
In store windows throughout town there are playful, smiling baby pigs molded in plastic, appearing to anxiously await their chance at fame.
Restaurants in Segovia display freshly roasted suckling pigs in their windows or front counter. It has been splayed out, with head and curly tail in place, and roasted so that the skin is a crispy, brown shell.
With an obligatory nod to local tradition, we shared a small sampling. The roasted smell is reminiscent of a very non-kosher holiday dinner. The crispy skin was crunchy and tasty. The meat inside was tender as only milk-feeding and slow roasting can achieve. However, the high concentration of baby fat sat heavy on our stomachs, and our consciences, and made us decline a repeat order on our second night in Segovia.
Construction of the Segovia Cathedral built between 1525 and 1768. It is incredibly majestic from the outside, perched at the highest point in the town. From the inside it is breathtaking, even for a couple of vagabonders who have been visiting grand churches around the world for the last year and a half.
Our first view of the outside of the cathedral was from our apartment window as our landlady was showing us around. In the evening, it was even more dramatic with the up-lighting the city provides.
Our first glimpse inside the cathedral was on our first night in town as we were out for a stroll in the big Plaza Mayor. The doors were open so we wandered in. We expected to be asked to leave but nobody paid any attention to us.
In Spain, Catholic churches have adopted the practice of charging an admission fee for tourists. It can be dodged if you attend mass, but most people are looking to look and snap photos, not kneel and pray.
When we entered the church that evening, the ticket booth was closed and we could hear organ music from within. To our delight we found an organ recital in progress. There were about fifty people sitting in pews listening attentively (well, most of them were…one guy was looking at his cell phone). Beautiful, serene organ music was emitting from the two-story high set of pipes.
The organ music made a perfect soundtrack for the extraordinary building. We were astounded at its grandeur. The vaulted roof is held aloft by massive granite pillars reaching high into the sky, supporting huge arches in a flourished Gothic style called “Flamboyant.” It would take at least ten people clasping hands to embrace the huge pillars.
We listened to about fifteen minutes of the organ recital and then headed towards the doors, fully intending to come back for a fuller visit.
The next day we returned, paid the entrance fee, and entered with camera phones ready.
In addition to the main section of the cathedral, there were about 18 separate, and ornately decorated chapels all around the sides.
It was all really beautiful and well worth the 5 Euro entrance fee. In Italy, the churches were free to enter, but we felt a little awkward taking pictures as if it were a museum. Somehow the entry fee at the Segovia Cathedral released us from this inhibition and we happily snapped away.
Segovia has a beautiful royal palace which was supposedly Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. While Walt really took the design over the top, the Alcazar does have regal beauty.
The first date recorded for the current palace was 1122. There was a fire that damaged the original structure back in 1862, so much of the castle we see today, including the Disney-esque peaks, reflected the 19th Century reconstruction. But it works.
The entire palace was set up as a museum, featuring beautiful rooms in royal style and amazing ornate ceilings.
An especially noteworthy feature of the castle was an impressive, large huge collection of suits of armor and medieval weaponry. One wing of the castle is set aside as a museum dedicated to the science of medieval cannons, honoring the structure’s later use as the Royal Artillery College.
And of course, palaces always have some pretty nice views, and the Alcazar’s were outstanding.
Segovia boasts one of Europe’s most impressive and complete Roman aqueducts.
Just on the edge of the city center, next to a large plaza, the arched structure looms up 29 meters, or 95 feet high. It is strikingly narrow for such a tall structure. Built entirely out of stone, the aqueduct has stood impassively for over 2,000 years.
Remarkably, the tall stone towers with double arches were constructed with no mortar. It is simply stones laid on top of stones, all in perfect symmetry.
The aqueduct is an engineering marvel and makes an iconic centerpiece for the city. It continued to be used as a water supply until the mid 1800’s, and some people contend it could still work today.
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We thoroughly enjoyed our two-day visit to Segovia. Something about Segovia made us feel happy inside from the moment we arrived.
Perhaps because it was undersold as only being worthy of a day-trip, we found Segovia charming and well worth a longer stay.
Next Train – Salamanca, Spain – We Remain on the Plain