The medieval town of Segovia is the perfect day trip from Madrid, says Prachi Joshi
Legend says the mighty Hercules built this ancient Spanish town. Modern lore says Walt Disney modelled Sleeping Beauty’s castle in California’s Disneyland on Segovia’s Alcázar fortress. Whatever its artistic connections, Segovia is stunning – a fairytale city of spired sandstone castles and brick arches stretching across the rolling greens, with the majestic peaks of the Sierra de Guadarrama in the background. Segovia keeps its past close to its heart – be it the soaring Aqueduct, an example of Roman architectural splendour, or the Gothic cathedral at Plaza Mayor, standing in the heart of a modern bustling city.
I arrive in Segovia after a short 30-minute train ride from Madrid’s Chamartin station. I just have a day in the city and within minutes, I catch a glimpse of Segovia’s claim to fame – the UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Aqueduct, built more than 2,000 years ago. This high wall of stone arches seems to rise up from the ground almost at my hotel’s doorstep. This is my first encounter with the engineering wonder that the Romans built to bring water from River Frio in the surrounding mountains to Segovia.
As I walk past its soaring arches, I gape at the gigantic blocks stacked one atop the other, held together by the sheer force of equilibrium. There is no mortar binding them together. I notice holes in some of them, which prompts my guide to regale me with the local legend of how those are the devil’s fingerprints!
But it’s in the old city centre that the Aqueduct really takes your breath away. In front of me is the monumental part of the Aqueduct – 92 feet (approximtely) at its tallest, with 128 pillars topped by double arches. It’s a miracle that it still stands tall against the vagaries of time and daily wear and tear. The Aqueduct was in use until the mid-19th century. Cars used to drive in and out of its arches till it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Today, the Plaza del Azoguejo, which is flanked by the Aqueduct on one side, is a pedestrian zone with quaint cafés, restaurants and shops dotting its cobbled streets.
My next stop is Plaza Mayor, the town’s main square dominated by the impressive Gothic Cathedral of Segovia. The latter’s bell tower is nearly 300 ft tall and several elaborately carved spires rise up from its roof. The interior is quite stark in contrast – there isn’t much to see inside, except a museum that houses a collection of elaborate tapestries and rare manuscripts.
From the cathedral, my guide leads me down the narrow, winding alleys of Segovia towards the other main attraction of this medieval town. The Alcázar, or the Royal Palace, seems straight out of a fairytale. One look at its spiral tower and you will know why it’s considered to be one of the several castles that had inspired Walt Disney’s iconic structure. There has been a castle at this site for centuries, given its strategic location high on a rocky crag at the confluence of two rivers. The current castle was built as a royal residence for the Castilian kings. Dating back to the 12th or 13th century, it was built over by subsequent kings, giving it a Romanesque- Moorish appearance, complete with towers, turrets, spires and unbridled opulence inside – the gallery room with its ornate ceiling, the monarch’s room with golden friezes depicting Spanish royalty, and the lavish, red-and-gold royal bedroom.
I return to the city centre, walking through Segovia’s old Jewish quarter and past its former synagogue turned into a convent. I arrive just as the sun begins its descent, bathing the Aqueduct in a golden light as it proudly straddles the city, almost symbolic of a bridge that connects Segovia’s past and its present.
The author is a travel writer and the views expressed in this article are her own