Romantically named Avila de los Caballeros (of the Knights) is a medieval gem. At more than 1,000 meters above sea level it is the highest, and possibly the windiest, provincial capital in Spain.
The centre of the old city is encircled with the finest-preserved medieval walls in Europe. Built in the 11th century the walls stretch for more than a mile and wrap 88 sturdy turrets around the heart of Avila.
Our first glimpse of this impressive and evocative scene was from the windy heights of the Los Cuatro Postes (Four Posts corner) on the road that winds across the hillside to Salamanca.
We could clearly see the oldest section of walls on the city’s east side which had to be more heavily fortified as the grassy ground was relatively flat and easy to breach. Towering above the walls, the oldest of the city’s nine gateways, Puerta de San Vincente, welcomed crowds of people streaming into the centre for the start of the Easter celebrations, Semana Santa.
Having seen preparations for the festival on a huge scale in Valladolid it was touching to see a small scale and intimately local event on the evening of Spain’s Easter Monday.
Long before the advertised time of the town’s evening procession at 7.30pm the pretty central square was filling with excited school children, black mantilla head-dressed women and solemn and silk-gowned members of the Brotherhood of St Teresa of Avila.
Just before 7.30 we all thronged around the great wooden doors of the unusual Cathedral, decorated with scaly men and wild beasts. Two marching bands serenaded us firstly with an up-tempo singalong song that everyone (bar us) joined in with, followed by a doleful jazzy number played wildly on brass instruments.
The crowd gasped as the Cathedral doors started to groan and wobble being pulled open from inside, we imagined for the first and only time in the year as at Valladolid. Emerging outside and resplendent in white and green silk gowns and cones the members of the Brotherhood seemed a little confused about the next steps of the ceremony. Which we were surprised by, assuming this is done every year!
Avila has its own saint, the mystical St Teresa of Jesus. At seven years old she rushed out of the city walls in hope of becoming a martyr at the hands of threatening Moors. She was caught by a chasing uncle and returned to her family.
Teresa became a nun at 19 but left the order to establish her own, the Barefoot Carmelites. She travelled around Spain with her disciple, St John of the Cross, a mystical poet himself, writing and recording her visions and spiritual beliefs.
From the city’s motorhome aire below the walls, we had spectacular but worryingly windy views of Avila as the evening drew on.
Blessedly, the gusty gales blew themselves out before midnight and we thanked St Teresa the next morning for the protection her hometown’s walls had afforded us.