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It is surrounded by walls and built on a hill on the banks of the Adaja, a river whose source is in the mountain area and which flows into the Duero. It has around 38,200 inhabitants and the distinction of being the highest city in Spain (1,127 metres). A short distance away on the Salamanca road is the observation platform called "Los Cuatro Postes", which offers the best view of Ávila. Its historical origins are Celtiberian; numerous sculptures depicting bulls and pigs provide evidence of an old Iberian civilisation. Los Toros de Guisando (The Guisando Bulls), near El Tiemblo, are the most representative example of this art.
After the reconquest in the year 1085 by the king of Castilla, Alfonso VI, Ávila was repopulated with Christian knights who, at the end of the 11th century began work on the impressive wall by order of Raimundo de Borgoña. It was the residence of various kings of Castilla, and the seat of several courts. Within its walls a world-famous Spaniard, Santa Teresa de Jesús, was born, the reformer of El Carmelo, whose spirit has pervaded the city since the 16th century.
Its walls, which form an impressive monument, are rectangular in shape, with a perimeter of about two and a half kilometres, some two metres high and three broad. The walls are reinforced by stout turrets at intervals of roughly twenty-five metres, ninety of them altogether, and the most important of them all is the one called "Cimorro" or cathedral apse.
The Cathedral, Romanesque and Gothic, is both a church and a fortress built into the city's defensive enclosure. To the original fabric, which was begun in the early 12th century in Romanesque style, other parts and chapels in the Renaissance style were subsequently added. The apse forms part of the wall with machicolations and battlements. The main façade has two 15th-c Gothic towers, one of them unfinished, the work of the architect Juan Guas, although it was later renovated in the Baroque style.
The inside consists of three covered naves with Gothic vaults, a transept and double ambulatory around the chancel. Here there is a large reredos painted by Pedro de Berruguete, Juan de Borgoña y Santa Cruz, showing scenes from the life of Jesús. The whole of the choir stalls is in the Renaissance style, as is the master work of Vasco de la Zarza, who made the tomb of Bishop Don Alonso de Madrigal "El Tostado" sculpted in alabaster in the 16th century. Among them is a monstrance, of exceptional quality, made by Juan de Arfe and other paintings, sculptures and works of embroidery from between the 12th and 18th centuries, which make up a highly valuable artistic collection.
Artistic architecture in Ávila, whether of a lay or religious nature, seems inexhaustible. The Palacio of Polentinos (05001 - Ávila), with its rich Plateresque façade; the Mansión de los Deanes, in the Renaissance style, and that of the Dávila, all embellished with magnificent patios are justly famous, as is the house of the Guzmanes (Sancho Dávila 05001 - Ávila), with the most beautiful turret in the city.The Church of San Pedro (Plaza de Santa Teresa 05001 - Ávila) is one of the finest examples of the Romanesque style, the evolution of which culminates in the Basilica of San Vicente (San Vicente s/n, 05001 - Ávila), a monument which is representative of the transition to the Gothic, between the 12th and 14th centuries.
Also outside the walled area, a visit can be paid to the Royal Monastery of Santo Tomás (Avda. de la Juventud 05080 - Ávila, Phone: 920 22 04 00) in Late Gothic founded by the Catholic King and Queen. Inside we find the alabaster tomb of their son Prince Don Juan, a work by Fancelli; the reredos on the high altar is a work by Pedro de Berruguete.
Santa Teresa is everywhere in Ávila, for example, in the convent (Plaza de la Santa, 2. 05001 - Ávila Phone: 920 21 10 30) devoted to her, constructed on the site of her parents' home; in the convent of Nuestra Señora de Gracia where she began her education, and in the Monastery of la Encarnación (Paseo de la Encarnación, s/n 05005 - Ávila), where one can visit several dwellings whose decoration is reminiscent of the period in which she lived in them. Another monastery directly linked to Teresa de Jesús is that of San José, known as "las Madres", her first foundation.
The area of Las Navas del Marqués has extensive pine groves and is a frequently-visited summer resort with such notable buildings as the castle, and the Gothic 15th-century parish church. Situated in the Alberche river valley and very close to the Burguillo reservoir is the historical village of El Tiemblo, with a 16th-century church. In the whole region there are plenty of picturesque mountain villages, situated in the fertile Tiétar valley, where the rural architecture is intact, and there are also places for summer relaxation. One can quote as the most typical examples of these, Mijares, Gavilanes, Piedralaves and Pedro Bernardo.
Gastronomy in Ávila is plain and simple; the basis of its quality is to be found in the quality of its ingredients. Its roasts are famous, particularly in the capital Ávila and Arévalo, as well as suckling pig throughout the province, veal in Piedrahita and trout from the river Tormes. As far as confectionery is concerned mention should be made of: Yemas de Santa Teresa, huesillos fritos and las glorias de Ávila.
The most important one which takes place in the capital from October 8th to 15th is in honour of Santa Teresa. Open-air dances, competitions and street entertainment are organised and these are highly popular. The simplicity and profound religious nature of Holy Week in Avila is proverbial and dates back a long time. There are a large number of pilgrimages and the bullfighting motif plays a large part in the fairs, like those of Arévalo, the first Sunday in July, with a typical encierro (corralling of the bulls) and the bullfight. On the second Sunday of September Candeleda celebrates the festive-religious excursion or "Romería" of "La Virgen de Chilla", a celebration officially considered of Interest to Tourists. The participants called "romeros", dressed in popular costumes, visit the shrine of the Virgin on the slopes of the Gredos Mountains.