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Visiting the Walled Cities of Spain

Puerta Nueva de Bisagra in Toledo, Spain

Throughout the centuries, Spain has been the stage of many clashes between civilizations. Constant battling between Iberians, Celts, Romans, Goths, Visigoths, Jews and Muslims, particularly during medieval times, explains why many Spanish cities were born as fortified strongholds.

In most cases, these fortifications were first built by the Romans and later expanded on by the Visigoths, in an attempt to fend off the Arab invasion of the 8th century, resulting in some truly spectacular stone works, plenty of which can still be admired today. Here are just a few of Spain’s most memorable walled cities.

Ávila

Just over 100km from Madrid in the arid Spanish plain, Ávila is generally shunned in favour of nearby Segovia for day-trip visits from the Spanish capital. But its 2500m city walls are well worth the detour, particularly since they are one of the best preserved examples of medieval architecture in Europe. Although some historians suggest the birth of the walls goes back to the original Roman settlements, the first recorded mention dates from the late 11th century, when King Alfonso VI of Castilla ordered the fortification of the city, a task completed in an astonishing nine years. Due to this rushed construction, the walls of Ávila also double as house walls for many of the buildings inside the city, including Avila’s Cathedral, whose apse is one of the 88 wall turrets. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and these days can be visited as part of a guided tour.

Lugo

This often-forgotten Galician city boasts one of the oldest walls in Spain. Originally founded in 13 BC in honour of the emperor Augustus, the walls of Lugo demonstrated the power of an empire that had managed to reach the northeasternmost point of the Iberian peninsula. Along their 2266m of granite, 85 defence turrets were built to oppose barbarian attacks. The walls managed to stay virtually unharmed through the centuries, even outlasting the Arab invasion, although several new gates were built from 1853 onwards to expand on the original five. Nowadays, the walls are Lugo’s biggest tourist attraction and any visitor to the city should experience a stroll along its parapet – there is an easy-access ramp so people with reduced mobility also get a chance to enjoy the views…

Read more: Javier Panero, Lonely Planet

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