The Old Town of Segovia (1/2) – the Roman Aqueduct and a Guided Tour

As the UNESCO comments:

The Roman aqueduct of Segovia, probably built c. A.D. 50, is remarkably well preserved. This impressive construction, with its two tiers of arches, forms part of the setting of the magnificent historic city of Segovia. Other important monuments include the Alcázar, begun around the 11th century, and the 16th-century Gothic cathedral.

塞哥维亚古城及其输水道: 塞哥维亚古罗马输水道,大概建于公元50年前后,迄今保存完好,令人称奇。这一建筑以双层拱洞为特点,给人留下深刻的印象,成为塞哥维亚历史古城一道亮丽的风景线。在这里,人们还可以参观阿尔卡萨尔教堂,它始建于公元11世纪,完成于16世纪,是著名的哥特式大教堂。

The Old Town of Segovia is located in the centre of Spain, in the Autonomous Community of Castile and León. The centre is crowded together on the rocky bluff delineated by the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores rivers.

Segovia is symbolic of a complex, historical reality. Its neighbourhoods, streets, and houses are laid out in accordance with a social structure in which hierarchy was organized and dominated by belonging to one of the different cultural communities. Moors, Christians, and Jews coexisted for a long period of time in the medieval city and worked together during the 16th century manufacturing boom.  The evidence of this cultural process can be seen in the large number of outstanding monuments in the city, among which, the Roman Aqueduct stands out. Other important monuments can be found in the property: the Alcázar, begun around the 11th century; several Romanesque churches; noble palaces from 15th and 16th centuries; the 16th-century Gothic cathedral, the last to be built in Spain in this style; and the Segovia Mint, the oldest industrial building still existing in Spain.

Above is the comment by the UNESCO and I believe you can see how valuable the city is to us as heritage. My post about the city is probably not that profound but I aim at providing practical information to ensure a smooth and pleasant trip. To be honest, before my arrival, I thought that I was only gonna gonna spend 3-4 fours here including joining a guided tour, having some food and taking a walk. Nevertheless, I have to remind you that you need to plan a whole day here if you don’t wanna rush yourself. Fortunately I planned 6-7 hours here eventually because I thought I wouldn’t have much to do back in Madrid anyway, yet I didn’t get the opportunity to see all that I wanted to see…

Learnt from my own experience, I strongly recommend you plan your trip to Segovia in advance, for example, when to arrive and when to leave, where to go, what to visit and so on. You need to decide where you actually wanna go inside to explore and where you just wanna have a brief look. The official tourism website of Segovia is available in Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese and Portuguese, and it has basically everything that you need as a tourist. For example, you can check the points of interest, know more about the Segovia Tourist Card, know more about the guided tours, or even design your own visiting route based on what you are interested in (There are readily-designed “Itineraries on Your Own” available online but unfortunately only in Spanish).

For me, I joined a guided tour in English (I strongly recommend this as well!) and visited the Alcázar (included in the guided tour) as well as the cathedral. After theses attractions, I took a small detour to the Jewish Cemetery in order to have a better view of the city, and I can assure you that on this hiking trail you will see the Alcázar and the cathedral from a brand new angle.

I’ve decided to divide my post about Segovia into two parts because if I place all the information in one post it’s gonna be really long and you might get lost. In this case, the first post, that is to say this post, is going to be about the Roman aqueduct and the guided tour (World Heritage route) that I joined, while in the next post, I’ll focus on my visit to the cathedral and to the Alcázar as well as the small detour I took for a better photo opportunity.

1 Practical info and some tips

In this chapter, I’m gonna give you some general tips based on my own experiences, about visiting the city Segovia. First of all, let’s take a look at how to arrive in Segovia. If you are not driving to Segovia by yourself then there are basically two most convenient ways to get there by public transport. Please note that there is a distance of 90 kilometers between Segovia and Madrid. I went there from Madrid so let’s imagine you’re also starting from Madrid. If you go there by long-distance bus it will take you around 1 hour from Madrid-Moncloa Bus Station to Segovia Bus Station and then you just need to walk 5 mins to the Roman aqueduct or the tourism office located nearby. You can also go there by high speed train which takes you 27 minutes from Madrid-Chamartín Station to Segovia-Guiomar Train Station but the problem is that then you have to take a bus from the train station to the Aqueduct which takes approximately another 15-20 minutes. I took the long-distance bus because I think it’s more convenient and I really hate the fuss of transferring from the train to the bus and waiting for the bus etc. However, I met someone in the guided tour group who took the high-speed train and then transferred to the bus and she told me it was rather smooth and comfortable. In this case I guess there’s not big difference between the two ways of arriving at Segovia, so it totally depends on your preference of transport.

Now, once arriving at Segovia, what’s the first place that you should go to? The aqueduct? The Alcázar? The cathedral? No, the first place that you should go to is the Tourism Office located next to the aqueduct. Please note that it’s open every day from 10:00 to 19:00 and the Booking Center (for booking tours) is open till 18:00. Whether you’ve already learnt about this city and planned your trip online or you have no idea what to see or what to do here, the friendly and helpful staff will help you to make the most of your time here. You can tell them what your expectations are, how long you are gonna stay here, what you are interested in etc. and they will give you a city map and highlight some attractions for you based on your request or design a personalized visiting route for you.

If you just wanna wander around in the old town by yourself, I suggest you get some brochures of various themed routes, which might interest you. For example, I’ve seen the “Saint John of the Cross in Segovia” route, which covers the most prominent places related to him during the three years he stayed in Segovia, the “Antonio Machado’s Route”, which allows you to visit the most emblematic places and follow the itinerary he took every day from the boarding house where he stayed to the school where he taught, and the “Saint Teresa of Jesus in Segovia” route which follows the footsteps of Saint Teresa in Segovia. If you wanna ask about my preference, I’d say my favorite route is the “World Heritage route”. If you wanna take this specific route by yourself, I suggest you get a brochure called “Segovia, World Heritage Site” together with a city map. In this way, you can read about the attractions first and highlight them on your map and design a route. Of course, you can do this with the help of the staff in the Tourist Reception Center (Tourism Office I mentioned before). In alternative, you can simply join a 2-hour guided tour, where the guide will take you to walk through the historic old town and explain to you the significant monuments and quarters. Please note that this guided tour also includes the entrance and tour of the Alcázar, one of the must-visit attractions in Segovia.

Now I’ll provide some information about this “World Heritage” guided tour.

1.1 General description

In my opinion, this is the most representative tour of the city. The route starts on the feet of the Roman Aqueduct, in front of the Tourist Reception Center and ends in the Alcázar. The general route is like this (pardon me if I don’t remember al the buildings to squares that I visited in the guided tour):

Roman aqueduct -> Panorama viewpoint of la Canaleja -> Casa de los Picos -> Conde Alpuente Palace -> Plaza Medina del Campo -> San Martin Church -> the Royal Prison -> Corpus Christi Convent -> the Jewish Quarter -> Plaza Mayor (the main square) -> Segovia Cathedral -> San Andrés Church -> Alcázar

1.2 Schedule:

Guided tours in Spanish and English.

English guided tours: Monday – Friday at 11:00 am

Estimated duration: 2 hours

Please note that there are many guided tours in Spanish of different themes. However, in English there is only one tour everyday from Monday to Friday. For various themed tours in Spanish please click here to visit the official website in Spanish. I also read from the “Monument and Museum Timetable” the Tourism Office gave to me that this schedule is only from 1st July to 30th September, so if you are traveling after 30th September please click here to check the renewed schedule or contact the Tourism Office by clicking here.

1.3 Prices:

General: 12 €

Reduced: 10 €

Free: children younger than 5 years old

Please note that reduced price applies to:

  • children from 6 years old (inclusive)
  • students younger than 25 years old
  • retired people (documentation will be required)
  • holders of the Tourist Card “Segovia´s Friends”

Please also note that what I am talking about here is the “World Heritage” tour in English and it includes the visit inside the Alcázar but doesn’t include the visit to the inside of the cathedral.

I guess I’ve said enough about the preparation before your visit. In the next sections, I’ll focus on the introduction of the Roman aqueduct as well as the monuments and quarters in my tour. Don’t forget that I will give a detailed explanation of the Alcázar and the cathedral in my next post, the second post about Segovia. Now let’s start our virtual journey to explore this charming historical city!

2. The Roman Aqueduct

Segovia is a city of two-thousand-year-old history and is nowadays distinguished among other cities because of its cultural dynamism, gastronomy, traditions, popular festivals and above all, most importantly of its impressive Roman Aqueduct. In this chapter, I will focus on this masterpiece built by the Roman Empire.

Local legend has it that it was the devil instead of the Roman Empire who built the aqueduct here in Segovia. I was told by the guide that there was once a girl living here who needed to carry water up the hill to her house every day. It was really hard work and she got really tired of and fed up with it. Someday she met the devil and made a deal with him which was that she would give the devil her soul if he could think of a way to carry the water from the river to her house and make it possible before the following dawn. The devil soon began working and the girl got more and more nervous and scared when she realized what she had done. Seeing that the aqueduct would soon be finished she began to pray to Virgin Mary, hoping that she could forgive her and save her soul. Virgin Mary was touched by the girl and made the sun rise one hour earlier, right before the devil laid the last stone to the aqueduct. The devil was shocked but the deal had been broke so he could not do anything but let the girl go. Afterwards the girl confessed her deeds to the people of Segovia and asked for their forgiveness. They understood the difficult situation that the girl had been in and decided to forgive her for what she had done. They sprinkled the arches with holy water to wipe out the traces of the devil and happily accepted this new addition to the city. Nowadays, the holes, said to be the footprints of the devil on the aqueduct together with the statue of Virgin Mary “testifies” to this story. I also read some other stories about the aqueduct in Segovia with some tiny variations but the main idea is the same. They add a mask to the aqueduct, making it more mysterious and attractive.

Though full of fantasy and mystery, a legend is after all a legend. The 167-arch bridge has become the symbol of Segovia, combing both beauty and practicality, and most people know that the aqueduct is indeed the magnificent work of Roman engineering. However, what most people don’t know is that the aqueduct is much longer than the bridge and a large part of it remains unseen. Intrigued? First of all, let’s learn some interesting facts about it (All the information I obtained and listed below are from the brochures called “The Aqueduct of Segovia – World Heritage Site” and “Segovia – World Heritage Site”.

  • The name “aqueduct” comes from the Latin words aqua (water) and ducere (to lead).
  • It was probably built in the 1st century AD or first half of the 2nd century.
  • The aqueduct has been serving the city of Segovia until recent years and has undergone very few modifications in more than 2000 years!
  • The 167 granite arches are made up of brick-like ashlars joined by means of an ingenious force equilibrium. (guess which stone is the most important and the most difficult to place?)
  • The aqueduct can be divided into three sections: the remote stretch (where water was collected and where channeling began), the rurban stretch (channeling) and the urban stretch (channeling and distribution by the monumental aqueduct and the subterranean channel).
  • Before the water reached the arch-bridge, it had to pass through two settling tanks (filtering tanks).
  • The total length of the aqueduct (from the river intake to the main entrance of the Alcázar) is 16.22 kilometers!
  • The stretch from the river intake to the first urban sand trap is 13.393 km long and from the first to the second sand trap is 794 m long. The monumental stretch (from the second sand trap to Avendaño Square) is 794 m long and the subterranean channel (from the end of the monumental stretch to the Alcázar’s gate) is 1220 m long.

As the monumental stretch is the most popular and most known to us, let’s have a look at the statistics about this part in particular. Of the monumental stretch (the 167-arch bridge):

  • the total amount of arches is: 167
  • the maximum height of the bridge is: 28.1 m
  • the total number of pillars is: 120
  • the width of the arches is: 4.5 m
  • the number of the granite ashlars: 20400
  • the volume of the granite: 7500 cubic meters

Having learnt enough about the facts of the aqueduct, are you fascinated by it now? If so, I’d like to suggest you one more alternative route of exploring the city, to follow the subterranean stretch of the aqueduct known as the “Mother of the Water“. Do you still recall that in chapter one I mentioned some self-guided routes to explore the historic center of Segovia? This route that I’m gonna mention below is gonna be really special thanks to the hard research work by the archeologists.

The monumental part of the aqueduct ends at Plaza de Seminario and from there the subterranean section, the “specus” starts. The underground stretch here has developed a complicated distribution system of distributing the water through special basins branching off to supply fountains as well as private dwellings. This subterranean aqueduct has been serving the entire city with water for centuries, from medieval to modern time, thus having been known as the “Mother of the Water” since the Middles Ages. Nevertheless, how are we gonna follow this stretch if its under the ground? Thanks to the preventive archeological measures related to the renovation of various infrastructures from 2002 to today, the entire subterranean aqueduct in the city from Plaza de Seminario to the Alcázar is marked by twenty-four 10*15 bronze plaques with the aqueduct logo. These plaques are embedded into the pavement and follow exactly the route of the subterranean aqueduct. Led by them, the visitors will not only learn about the historic center of Segovia but also enhance their knowledge of this 2000-year-old masterpiece, which made life possible on this rocky ledge until the beginning of the 2oth century.

If you decide to take this route, I strongly recommend you taking a brochure from the Tourism Office (Tourist Reception Center) which is called “Segovia, The Subterranean Aqueduct – The water path in the walled city“. You will see a readily-designed route marked with 24 signposting plaques and the surrounding points of interest.

The route is basically like this: plaza del Seminario -> plaza de la Reina Doña Juana -> Ildefonso Rodríguez street -> Colón -> plazuela de la Rubia -> Cronista Lecea street -> Main Square -> Marqués del Arco street -> plaza de la Merced -> Daoíz street -> entrance of the Alcázar Gardens (plaza de Juan Guas) -> the Alcázar and the tourist attractions along the way are, for example, the Seminary Square, Arias Dávila Tower, San Miguel Church, Juan Bravo Theater, the Town Hall, the Cathedral of Segovia, San José Convent, San Andrés Church, the Alcázar and so on. It might be a bit complicated when I explain the route like this but once you get the brochure, everything is clearly marked and trust me, the route is super easy to follow.

Having said so much about the aqueduct, from its start in the La Acebeda Valley to the end in the Alcázar, from the legend to the engineering of the Roman empire, from the monumental arch bridge to the subterranean stretch, I even begin to suspect whether it’s really built human beings or not. It is so marvelous that it leads me to think this is the work of God. Anyway, one more thing that I wanna mention about the aqueduct is whether you are interested in the historical side, cultural side, architectural side or practical side of it, you should go to the Tourist Reception Center and get some related brochures (or publications). With the help of the staff in the office, of my guide and of the brochures or publications I obtained, I learnt a lot about the Aqueduct in Segovia as world heritage. Isn’t this the meaning of heritage? To leave an unforgettable impression in everyone’s mind.

3. Guided tour of the old town

As I’ve mentioned above, the general route of the guided tour “World Heritage” is from: Roman aqueduct -> Panorama viewpoint of la Canaleja -> Casa de los Picos -> Conde Alpuente Palace -> Plaza Medina del Campo -> San Martin Church -> the Royal Prison -> Corpus Christi Convent -> the Jewish Quarter -> Plaza Mayor (the main square) -> Segovia Cathedral -> San Andrés Church -> Alcázar. In this chapter I’ll just give you a brief overview of what you can expect in the tour and in my next post, that is to say the second post about Segovia, I’ll introduce to you in detail the cathedral and the Alcázar.

3.1 Panorama viewpoint of la Canaleja

The first stop of the guided tour would be the Mirador de la Canaleja, from where you can see the Mujer Muerta Mountain and the San Millán neighborhood. You can also see from here the mountains such as Peñalara, Cabezza de Hierro, La Bola del Mundo, Seven Peaks, Montón de Trigo etc. Listen carefully to the guide and you will learn an interesting legend about the “Dead Woman Mountain”.

3.2 Casa de los Picos

It belonged to De la Hoz family, whose coat of arms is repeated on the façade. The decoration of diamond tips is especially eye-catching and it played both defensive and ornamental roles. Today it is an Arts and Crafts School.

3.3 Palacio de Cascales

This palace was built over the houses of the Moorish quarter and still preserves some of its features. Both the delicate Gothic windows and the sgraffito are worth visiting.

3.4 Plaza de Medina del Campo and San Martín Church

This square is famous for its interesting Italian architectural style as well as the elegant buildings around. What’s especially worth noticing are the Statue of Juan Bravo and San Martín Church.

3.5 The Royal Prison

This was the public jail of the city till the 19th century.

3.6 Corpus Christi Convent (former main Synagogue)

This was the main Synagogue until 1419.

3.7 The Jewish Quarter

In order to understand the past of the city Segovia, it’s necessary to to visit the Jewish Quarter, rich in culture and history. You can easily get an idea of the Jewish Quarter by walking on the typical narrow, winding eastern-style streets. The old Main Synagogue, Jewish Quarter Visitor Center and Segovia Museum (House of the Sun) are the must-see attractions here.

3.8 La Plaza Mayor (the Main Square)

The Main Square is the heart of the city and it has changed to its current appearance due to the collapse of the San Miguel Church, which has been rebuilt on one side of the square now. The town hall has a granite façade, two towers and a clock with chimes. This square is also the cultural center of the city.

3.9 The Cathedral of Segovia

The cathedral is undoubtedly one of the most popular and beautiful places to visit in Segovia. I’ll give you a detailed introduction in the next post about Segovia.

3.10 San Andrés Church

This church is a three-nave structure and has an alter area with two apses. The high altarpiece dates back to the 16th, 17th century with works by Mateo de Imberto, Nazario de la Vega and Gregorio Fernández.

3.11 The Canonical Neighborhood

The people who lived in this neighborhood had special privileges and immunity. It starts from Plaza de la Merced and includes the streets of Daoíz and Velarde, which had running water provided by the aqueduct. In old times, this area was also isolated from the rest of the city by three gates which had been closed each night according to the schedule. As you can see from the pictures above, there are many Romanesque houses with beautiful semicircular arch façades, which have been well preserved. In fact this neighborhood is also the best preserved in the old section of the town because the houses here were rented and renovations were not allowed.

3.12 The Alcázar

The Alcázar is where the aqueduct ends and can you see a small tunnel below the small bridge, from where people enter the castle? That’s where the water finally flowed into the Alcázar. You will see in the castle that there’s a well, possibly where the water was finally stored. Please note that the admission ticket to the Alcázar is included in the guided tour so don’t go there before if you decide to take the guided tour. In the next post about Segovia, I’m gonna introduce the Alcázar to you in detail.

I do apologize that the I didn’t give you a detailed description of the monuments (except the aqueduct), museums, art galleries, churches or monasteries here. First of all, it’s because my purpose of writing this post is to give you a general idea of what the guided tour is like while placing the emphasis on the Roman Aqueduct. Secondly, had I given you a detailed explanation of all the buildings and quarters that I visited in my tour, your own visit of Segovia would most likely be less exciting. Therefore I’d better not spoil it for you. However, you need to realize that though I don’t say much about them, it doesn’t mean they are not worth visiting. I do strongly recommend you exploring and enjoying the Azoguejo, the main street “Calle Real”, Mirador de la Canaleja, Plaza Medina del Campo, Plaza Mayor (the main square), the Jewish Quarter, the cathedral, the Canonical Neighborhood and the Alcázar. Trust me, you will surely fall in love with not only the Roman Aqueduct but also the city. Don’t forget to check out my second post about Segovia, which is gonna focus on my visit to the cathedral and the Alcázar. Below you can see some pictures about them.

The Old Town of Segovia (1/2) – the Roman Aqueduct and a Guided Tour was last modified: October 25th, 2018 by Dong

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