One hour of driving from Madrid, Segovia is a charming city where time stopped to the XVth century. Three main attractions dominate the area. The Roman Aqueduct, an extraordinary construction from almost two thousand years ago, testifying the quality of Roman civil engineers. The magnificent Cathedral, a late gothic building sitting at the exact center of the city. And finally, on the top of the hill, the immense Alcazar, a mighty fortress that served as royal palace before Spanish unification.
But that’s far from being a complete overlook on the city. Apart from these world-class monuments, the best part of the town is on the streets, in the secluded alleys of the Juderia or opening secret doors leading to el Monasterio de San Antonio. Explore Segovia with us!
The most prominent symbol of the city is the majestic Aqueduct of Segovia. Built around I century A.D, this is one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts. The Roman population heavily invested in engineering research, focusing on the construction and maintenance of civic architecture. Every city they conquered, they deployed a massive army of slaves to build sewers, roads, aqueducts, and other public works to improve the quality of life of the population. The original construction was about 17 km long. After 15 km of travel outside the city, water came into town thanks to a series of water deposits. From there, it reached the city center by running over a bridge.
This is what remains of the original project. The impressive structure stretches across Plaza Azoguejo, two extensive series of arches that reach a height of 30 meters. It’s Roman architecture at its best, a monument to the skills and engineering knowledge this population achieved over its history. After two thousand years, we can still feel the same emotions ancient merchants must have felt while admiring this aqueduct for the first time.
Alcázar of Segovia
An unmissable spot in the city is the Alcázar, the fortress shaped like a bow of a ship that overlooks the town of Segovia and its surrounding. Its rounded towers surmounted by pointed roofs give the castle a fairy tale atmosphere, but the building always had a primary military focus. Built in the XII century, it was one of the favorite residences for the kings of Castilla y Leon during the Middle Ages. This is a medieval building and, as such, it feels pretty empty inside. The most notable feature is the tower of John II, built during XV century. From its top, we had a fantastic view of the city.
Church of Vera Cruz
A stone throw from the Alcázar, just outside of the walled city sits the Templar Church of Vera Cruz. This unique building was built by the Templar Knights Order in the XIII century. Its curious shape, a 12-sided polygon instead of the classical cross, is a reminiscence of the Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the origin of the Templar Order. A piece of the “true cross” (the cross used to kill Jesus Christ) was worshipped at this place, giving the name to the church. The interior of the church is pretty empty, as suited for a Romanesque church. It’s a short walk from the Alcázar, with a walkway connecting the fortress to the downside road under the shade of the trees. A delightful walk under the sun!
Cathedral of Segovia
One of the most prominent features of Segovia’s skyline is its majestic Cathedral. It was built in the XVI century in what we may call late Gothic, an architectural style that was already outdated at the time. This is a clear testimony of the high consideration Renaissance Spain had toward tradition and consolidated models. The Spanish kingdom was the wealthiest country in the world, with an empire that spread over two continents. At the same time, the Spanish Inquisition was the infamous religious tribunal in charge of swiping heresies and re-establish the “traditional truth.”
If the outside of the church appears pompous and ostentatious, its interior can be considered even more impressive. High columns support a vaulted ceiling decorated with nervures, while every wall is ornated with marbles and stuccos. This is one of the best examples of Spanish religious architecture, a showcase of the power this nation had during XV and XVI centuries.
El Cochinillo Asado
Central Spain cuisine is dominated by the presence of a single protein: pork. The traditional food culture in Segovia is characterized by a specific preparation concerning suckling pig: “cochinillo asado.” The word “cochinillo” means suckling pig, a piglet fed only on mother’s milk and killed before its third week. “Asado” characterizes the cooking technique, roasted for several hours in an earthenware pot in an oven.
The dish is served whole, still in its container, in a way we sincerely found macabre, and traditionally cut with a ceramic plate broken afterward as a good luck gesture. Frankly, we recommend it only if you really like roasted pork. We tried several examples of the dish in good restaurants, but we always found it a bit underwhelming. It’s fat, it’s simple, it’s traditional. But not a great dish.
Delicious tip: if you want to have the full cochinillo experience, with the whole asado brought from the kitchen and cut with the dish in front of you, you will need to call 24 hours in advance and buy a full pork (about 7-8 portions). Consider to go there in a group, or try your luck, maybe you will find a group that ordered it near you!
As typical in Spain, an area of the city was home to several Jewish families since at least 1215. There was no official mandate forbidding Jewish from relocating outside of this neighborhood, but it was just “discouraged.” That changed in 1412 when they were restricted to the area, more or less, around the present Cathedral and in 1481, when an enclosed ghetto was created. Closed by seven gates, families were cramped inside a much smaller area than before, and living conditions worsened.
This phenomenon had its apex on March 31st, 1492, just a few months after the final defeat of the Moors, when the “Catholic Monarchs,” Isabel and Ferdinand, promulgated The Edict of Expulsion, forcing all Jewish population to conversion or exile. What is left of the Jewish heritage in the city is a labyrinth of small roads spread in every direction, with some fantastic viewpoints of the Cathedral. If you have some time to spend, try to reach the Jewish cemetery just outside the city walls. From there you can get some beautiful pictures of the walls and the cathedral beneath.
The monastery of San Antonio el Real
Often overlooked by most of tours and guides, the monastery of San Antonio is a charming place that will make you travel back in time to the year 1455. On this year king Philip II established a nun convent on the premises, and the place has not been touched ever since. Inside the convent, you can walk around the lovely cloister and explore the various rooms, pictured with original artworks and ornated with some of the best preserved wooden carved ceilings you can find in Spain. Tours are guided-only (in Spanish) and last about an hour. Still, this is an enchanting place, one of the most fascinating locations you can find in the region.
Delicious tip: it’s not easy to access the monastery. Follow the small signs and enter the church. There, look for the red curtains on the right hiding a secret wooden door, and ring the bell. Somebody will (hopefully) come to open the door and guide you around. They may be a little slow!
Segovia is a charming city, with some world-class monuments and some secluded areas that deserve to be explored. Being one hour far from Madrid, this is a beautiful day trip from the Spanish capital or one of the first stop before exploring the Northern region of Navarra. In both cases, we recommend spending one day beneath the walls of this enchanting city and step back in time!