30 September 2010

Segovia and the Roman Aqueducts

Two days ago, two friends and I ventured to Segovia, a small town of about 55,000 inhabitants that is 92km north/northwest of Madrid capital. Nestled in the region of Castilla y León, Segovia is home to a few very important historical sites in the history of this peninsula.

The process of arriving in Segovia was actually, and surprisingly, quite easy. From the north of the Madrid city center, we took a commuter train that rode very comfortably for very cheap. For 18€ roundtrip, we were whisked away at over 230 km/h through the Spanish countryside. The train was very modern, very smooth, and incredibly quiet as it sped through the plains, and then through the mountains, and then through the plains again, passing small villages, herds of cattle, and a picturesque landscape of which I have no pictures due to the aforementioned rapidity of the ride. After 30 minutes and 92 km, we got off of the train and caught a bus that took us 15 minutes into the center of town. And, from there, our day trip to Segovia officially began.

Alcázar, the castle once home to Fernando and Isabel
The history of Segovia is pretty interesting, well, of course, if you like history...

During the height of the Roman empire, Segovia was ruled by the Romans, evidence of which can be seen in many of the still-standing structures, most notably the aqueducts that tower over the center of town. During the invasion by the Moors in the 8th century, the town was abandoned but was eventually inhabited again by the Spanish and rose to prominence. Segovia is where Isabel I was declared Queen of Castille (note that Spain was not yet unified at this point, so for all intents and purposes, "Queen of Castille" was the same thing as "Queen of Spain"). Isabel and Fernando reigned from Alcázar, a beautiful castle on the edge of Segovia that overlooks the city and the surrounding countryside, and from here, the famed commission of Columbus' exploration of the West Indies took place, which subsequently became the "discovery" of America when Columbus' West Indies actually turned out to be the Caribbean. (Who knew?) Also, the first military academy in Spain was established in Segovia, and while it does not occupy the same building, it is still in operation today. Today, Segovia is a tourist attraction in and of itself. Hundreds of people come everyday to see Alcázar, the Roman Aqueducts, and the cathedral in the central plaza where Isabel was proclaimed Queen. While much of Segovia has been modernized, like much of Spain, there are still reminders around every corner of what used to be.

The Roman Aqueducts
My trip to Segovia was the first that I have taken outside of Madrid, and I think that it was a good first choice. First of all, I love history, and having learned about Ferdinand and Isabella growing up, I found it fascinating to go to their castle, stand in their throne room, and see the landscape over which they ruled during one of the great eras in Spanish history. The site of the aqueducts looming over the town, predating anything Spanish and representing the oldest structure that I have ever seen was also quite incredible. The narrow cobblestone streets were very reminiscent of old Madrid, yet they were slightly different, slightly more quaint, slightly more welcoming. Life in Segovia seemed to be a bit more relaxed, less pressure than in the metropolis of Madrid. Some businesses didn't even open until after noon, and restaurants began to fill up for lunch around 1. The people seemed happy, relaxed, and to my recollection, I did not see a single person rushing anywhere...to do, well, anything.

In Segovia lives the same romantic entanglement of antiquity and modernity that is seen in Madrid and ostensibly all over Spain and Europe. I am not surprised by this, as I expect to see the same sort of thing through all of my travels, but, for some reason, I feel like mentioning it again. I just like the constant contrasts that can be seen everywhere you look. I enjoy seeing a society in which history is not forgotten but, instead, is embraced and lived in. While the people of Segovia in no way interact with the Roman Aqueducts, they allow them to remain standing as a symbol of how things were. While the Alcázar castle serves no real purpose in today's society, there is still a need for it in Segovia; there is still a connection to it. Segovia just isn't Segovia without those things.

Click here to see the rest of the pictures that I took on my trip.

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