Vast expanses of open plains stretching to reach hills crowned with castles cover this part of Spain. These central provinces and cities have shaped the language and culture of the country we know and love in many ways.
Wealth pouring in from the New World reached its peak in the 16th century and financed many of the great artistic and architectural treasures the traveller can see today.
Segovia’s aqueduct is the largest Roman structure in Spain and its ‘Alcazar’ or royal palace is the most photographed in the country. At El Escorial, close to a palace built by Felipe II stands a gigantic stone cross on the hillside to honor those who died in the civil war.
Toledo, which was the capital of Visigothic Spain is a living museum of art and architecture and like much of Spain has influences from its Christian, Muslim and Jewish past. Below is just a glimpse at some of these sights.
Segovia is most famous for her aqueduct, in use until the late 19th century and built at the end of the first century AD by the Romans who turned the town into an important military base.
The cathedral, dating from 1525, is the last great Gothic church in Spain. The interior is light and elegantly vaulted and decorative ironwork grilles enclose the side chapels.
At the western end of the town is the ‘Alcazar’ or royal castle, most of which was built between 1410 and 1455. The castles formidable walls conceal sumptuously decorated rooms along with a museum of weaponry.
An ideal place to stop off on the way to Segovia, La Granja de San lldefonso, an 18th century building that was the former summer residence of the royal family in the times of Philip V.
The palace is is a restrained Baroque style and is surrounded by gardens in the French style with fountains and water features. The palace is open to the public as a museum.
The Gardens are quite spectacular extending over 1500 acres with numerous fountains depicting tales from classical mythology. The fountains are all gravity fed and still operate to this day on this novel system.
Picturesquely set on a hill above the river Tagus is the historic city of Toledo. Behind the old walls lies much evidence of the city’s rich history.
The Romans built a fortress on the site of the present day ‘Alcazar’, or Palace. The Visigoths made Toledo their capital in the 6th Century AD, leaving behind several churches.
In the Middle Ages Toledo was a melting pot of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures and it was during this period that the most outstanding monument was built, the Cathedral.
Felipe II built the imposing grey palace of San Lorenzo de El Escorial 50 Kms to the northwest of Madrid. It was built between 1563 and 1584 in honor of St Lawrence and its severe unornamented style became one of the most influential architectural models in Spain.
The interior was conceived as a mausoleum and contemplative retreat rather than a splendid country residence. The Royal Pantheon holds the funerary urns of past monarchs whilst Flemish, Italian and Spanish paintings hang in the museum.
The library has an impressive array of 40,000 books including Felipe II personal collection.