The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. The daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in museum opening hours, flight schedules etc. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunch and evening meals, indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast L=lunch and D=evening meal.
Seville - 4 nights
Day 1: Saturday 22 April, Arrive Seville
- Arrival Transfer for participants arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour commences in Seville. Upon arrival, participants taking ASA’s ‘designated’ flight will transfer by private coach to our hotel. Those taking alternative flights should meet the group at Hotel Las Casas de la Judería. (Overnight Seville)
Day 2: Sunday 23 April, Seville
- Introductory Meeting
- Museo de las Bellas Artes
- Casa de Pilatos
- Welcome Dinner
Seville is a town of pre-Roman origin, originally called Hispalis. In the Roman era, Hispalis, renamed Colonia Julia Romula in 45 BC, became a major urban centre and a provincial capital. Early in the 5th century, the Visigoths captured the city which, led by the great encyclopaedist St Isidore of Seville, soon became the intellectual centre of the Visigothic church. In 712 Muslim forces from North Africa secured the capitulation of Seville through negotiation with its Visigothic nobility.
The Muslims Arabised the name ‘Hispalis’ to ‘Ishbiliyya’ from which ‘Seville’ derives. During the Umayyad period, Seville rivalled the Umayyad capital of Córdoba in wealth and learning. It prospered through the manufacture of silk textiles and the exploitation of its rich agricultural hinterland, which produced figs, olive oil, cereals, honey, and horses famous throughout Europe. The navigability of the river Guadalquivir enabled Seville to export her products not only to other parts of the Iberian peninsula but also to other Mediterranean destinations. When the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba collapsed, Seville became the seat of a local Ta’ifa lineage, the ‘Abbadids, who ruled much of Andalucia until Yusuf ibn Tashfin incorporated the kingdoms of the Muluk al-Tawa’if into the Almoravid empire in the 1090s.
A century later, Seville became part of the Almohad Empire. The Almohads made Seville the capital of the Andalucian section of their empire and extensively re-modelled it. During the last decades of the 12th century, Ya’qub al-Mansur, one of the greatest Almohad rulers, endowed Seville with massive new fortifications, a new citadel, and a monumental great mosque with a minaret in the same style as those of the Almohad mosques in Marrakesh and Rabat. This minaret, now the belltower of the Cathedral of Seville, still stands as a testament to the durability of Almohad architecture, as does the Torre del Oro, a dodecagonal tower beside the Guadalquivir which held one end of a great defensive chain that blocked the river to enemies. Seville remained Muslim-ruled until 1248 when Fernando III of Castile took the city. Initially the Castilians were impressed enough with the architecture of their rivals to leave both the great mosque and the citadel, or alcázar, intact, although the great mosque was rededicated as a church.
In the 14th century, Pedro the Cruel replaced the Almohad citadel with a new Mudéjar structure which consciously emulated Islamic palatial prototypes and the contemporary Nasrid palace-city of the Alhambra. Later additions to the Alcázar of Pedro, such as the early 16th-century oratory of Ferdinand and Isabella, were more consciously Christian in design. The palace nevertheless suggests the Christians ambivalence towards the Muslim culture they had vanquished.
In 1401, as Castilian attitudes grew more militant, the great mosque was torn down and Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral built on its foundations, leaving only traces of its courtyard and minaret. In the 16th century a belfry and weathervane were added to the minaret. The term for weathervane, giraldillo, gave the tower its new name, La Giralda. Inside the vast cathedral stands one of Spain’s most ornate retablos mayores, a massive gilt wooden retable occupying the whole of the chancel wall. The cathedral also contains many major medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art works, and the tomb of Christopher Columbus. These are testaments to Seville’s emergence in the 16th century as a prosperous and important entrepôt for silver and tobacco from the New World.
As wealth poured into the city, a rich bourgeoisie developed which commissioned palatial residences along the narrow streets of the old city, and patronised local artists. By the 17th century, Seville vied with Madrid as a centre of Spanish sculpture and painting. Zurbarán, Velázquez and Murillo worked in the city, which also produced fine polychrome wood sculptures, examples of which are used today in Holy Week processions. Despite its Christianisation, Seville’s culture retained something of its Islamic heritage. The music and dancing of the Sevillana and Seguidilla draw on Hispano-Muslim traditions, as does the aristocratic horsemanship which is so much part of the Feria de Abril (April Festival) which follows Holy Week celebrations.
Following an introductory meeting at the hotel, we begin today by visiting the Museo de las Bellas Artes, a large museum of Andalucian art which was refurbished for Expo ’92. Here we shall study the development of Sevillan religious painting in the works of such masters as Zurbarán and Murillo. We shall discover Zurbarán’s fine treatment of light, which isolates figures from their surroundings, thus emphasising their expressions of intense, private devotion, and the luminosity of Murillo’s images.
We shall also look at the development of the devotional image in the 16th and 17th centuries and at the intimacy, realism and informality which makes Spanish Counter-Reformation works so different from their Italian counterparts. After lunchtime at leisure we shall visit an early 16th-century Sevillan mansion known as the Casa de Pilatos. This mansion was constructed by Fadrique de Ribera and was said to have been inspired by Pilate’s house in Jerusalem. Processions during Holy Week used to leave this building, winding their way out of the city to the Cruz del Campo, the distance believed to be exactly that from Pilate’s Jerusalem Praetorium to Golgotha. The house is organised around a central courtyard and like so many Spanish buildings, is an eclectic mix of Mudéjar and Renaissance elements.
The rest of the afternoon is at leisure, enabling you to further explore the city’s medieval and Baroque precincts. Tonight we dine together at Albarama, a gastronomic restaurant with a modern take on traditional Andalucian specialties, located on Plaza de San Francisco, a short walk from the hotel. (Overnight Seville) BD
Day 3: Monday 24 April, Seville
- Hospital de la Caridad
- Torre del Oro
- Santa Cruz Quarter
- Cathedral and Giralda
This morning we visit the Hospital de la Caridad, a Baroque hospital commissioned by Don Miguel de Mañara (1661-1664) to care for the sick, the poor and the starving. Mañara was a typical Counter-Reformation Spaniard in that he believed that salvation could be gained by good works. The hospital’s chapel contains Valdés Leal’s two extraordinary images of death, In Ictu Oculi and Finis Gloriae Mundi (1672), which visually explore the themes of death, decay and the transitory nature of life. The great masterpieces of this chapel are, however, Murillo’s beautiful cycle of paintings depicting mercy executed between 1660 and 1674. The Feeding of the 5,000, Moses Striking the Rock, and St Elizabeth Nursing the Lepers, are particularly fine examples of Murillo’s masterful handling of light and shade.
We next visit the Almohad Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold), so named for the gilded tiles that once reputedly adorned its sides. The Torre del Oro was part of the Almohad river fortifications guarding the port of Seville. It was originally one of a pair of towers either side of the river which held the great defensive chain stretching across the Guadalquivir River.
After lunch, we walk through the Santa Cruz Quarter to Seville Cathedral. Santa Cruz, a medieval ghetto, reflects the urban layout of old Seville. In the 16th century aristocrats built small palaces in this district, partly transforming its social composition while preserving the quarter’s medieval plan. At the cathedral we shall see the Patio de los Naranjos, the original mosque courtyard, the Giralda and the impressive cathedral interior. (Overnight Seville) B
Day 4: Tuesday 25 April, Seville
- Morning at leisure
- Alcázar of Seville
This morning is at leisure. In the afternoon we visit the Alcázar of Seville, located opposite the cathedral. This palatial complex was constructed by Pedro I, ‘the Cruel’, of Castile in the 14th century on the site of the ‘Abbadid and Almohad citadels. Pedro used the Almohad outer walls of the palace precinct and incorporated fragments of Muslim palaces into a new complex with a large Mudéjar palace at its heart. His palace was constructed by craftsmen from Nasrid Granada and, with its multiple courts decorated with faience and stucco, bears a close resemblance to parts of the Alhambra. However, Pedro had the emblems of Castile inserted within the essentially Islamic decorative schema of his palace, thus asserting Christian power over the sophisticated Hispano-Muslim artistic tradition. In subsequent centuries, Spanish rulers added new wings and extensive gardens to the Alcázar which was a favoured royal residence until the early 17th century. Special apartments are still maintained for visits by the Spanish royal family. (Overnight Seville) B
Granada - 3 nights
Day 5: Wednesday 26 April, Seville – Córdoba – Granada
- Synagogue, Córdoba
- Mosque-Cathedral, Córdoba
We depart early this morning to drive across the broad plains of the Guadalquivir basin to Córdoba, where we will spend the day. Córdoba was the capital of the 8th to 11th century Umayyad dynasty, and we will visit its Great Mosque and the Judería (Jewish quarter).
The Great Mosque was dedicated in 786 and expanded in stages over the next two centuries. The world’s third largest mosque, it is the earliest and finest Hispanic mosque still standing. Doorways set within horseshoe arches puncture its fortress-like outer walls. Exquisite geometric and floral patterns decorate the tympana of the arches and the panels above them. Inside, a courtyard leads to the vast prayer hall that contains arcades of columns supporting superimposed tiers of polychrome arches, thought to have been modelled upon the Roman aqueduct at Merida.
The mihrab (prayer niche) is adorned with exquisite abstract designs in mosaic, executed by craftsmen from Constantinople in the late-10th century. When Córdoba fell to the Castilians in 1236, the great mosque was converted into a church. Chapels were gradually inserted around the prayer hall and, in 1523, the cathedral chapter chose to build a cathedral within the mosque, although this decision was opposed by the city council and, later, criticised by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.
At around the same time the minaret of the mosque was definitively converted into a bell tower by the construction of a new outer shell and the addition of a belfry. At about 3:00pm, we will depart Córdoba and drive to Granada through the Andalucian landscape, dominated by the vast olive forests of its latifundia, great agricultural estates which owe their ultimate origins to the Romans. (Overnight Granada) B
Day 6: Thursday 27 April, Granada
- Albaicín quarter
- Muslim Baths
- Capilla Real
- Corral del Carbón
- Afternoon at leisure
- Dinner at El Huerto de Juan Ranas Restaurant
We begin this morning by exploring Granada’s most important residential quarter, the Albaicín which nestles below the Alhambra. The Albaicín was the last refuge of the Muslims of Granada and traces of its Islamic heritage remain to be discovered, including a beautiful and tranquil bathhouse, and fragments of minarets converted into church towers.
We shall also visit Muslim and Christian sites in the centre of Granada. The Capilla Real (Royal Chapel), built in flamboyant late Gothic style, houses the magnificent Renaissance tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, their daughter Joan ‘the Mad’ and her husband Philip ‘the Handsome’. In the adjacent Sacristy is a dazzling collection of royal regalia and Flemish paintings. We then walk to the cathedral, one of Spain’s last, which was envisaged by its founder, Charles V, as a model of the heavenly Jerusalem.
We end our tour at the market centre of Islamic Granada where we shall visit the Corral del Carbón, a 14th-century warehouse and inn for merchants, which is the only one of its type to have survived in Spain. Despite recent restoration, the ground plan, the central water trough for animals, and the delicately carved brick and plaster gateway date to the Middle Ages. From here we shall make our way through the Alcaicería, an area of narrow gridded streets which were once part of the covered market (Arabic: al-Qaysariyya) of the Muslim rulers of Granada.
The rest of the afternoon is at leisure. In the evening we dine at the restaurant El Huerto de Juan Ranas, which enjoys one of the best views of the Alhambra from the Albaicín and serves delicate Arabic-influenced dishes. (Overnight Granada) BD
Day 7: Friday 28 April, Granada
- Alhambra & Generalife
- Palace of Charles V
- Time at leisure
The city of Granada grew up near the site of Roman and Visigothic Illiberis, later known as Elvira. During the Umayyad period, Elvira specialised in commerce due to its proximity to the port of Malaga. At the same time, its easily defensible location, nestling to the north of the Sierra Nevada, gave the city a taste for independence.
Early in its Muslim history Granada was a centre of opposition to the Umayyads of Córdoba. After their fall in the 11th century, the region was ruled by the Berber Zirid dynasty, who founded the walled city of Granada. During the era of the Muluk al-Tawa’if, Granada replaced Elvira and became an independent principality under the Berber Zirids. Their lands were later incorporated into the empires of the North African Almoravids and Almohads, with Granada serving as an Almoravid capital for a time. After the fall of Córdoba to Christian forces in 1234, Granada was one of the few major Islamic cities left in al-Andalus. In 1238, a local chief, Muhammad al-Ahmar, established himself in Granada, thus founding the Nasrid state which survived until 1492.
On a red sandy terrace above the city, the Nasrids constructed the magnificent Alhambra (Arabic: al-hamra, ‘the red’) palace complex, a testimony to the last flowering of Islamic culture in Spain and a model for then-contemporary Moroccan Marinid architecture. For the Christian monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the integrity of their state needed an end to religious diversity. Peaceful attempts at conversion were replaced by more aggressive actions that provoked an uprising among Muslims in Granada and beyond (1499-1502). A stark royal decree of 1502 required all Muslims to accept Christianity or leave the kingdom.
The expulsions of 1609-14 were the last act in this terrible drama. After the conquest of Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella showed an appreciation of Islamic art and architecture. They appropriated the Alhambra for themselves as a royal palace, a status it held until 1868. In 1495 they handed over another Nasrid palace to the Franciscans for use as a monastery. Their grandson, Charles V, added a massive Renaissance palace to the complex. After these additions the Alhambra fell into disrepair, suffering the ravages of earthquake, fire and war. In the 19th century, Orientalists seized on the Alhambra as a literary and visual setting for fantasies of the exotic East. In 1830, Washington Irving published his Tales of the Alhambra, and illustrators such as David Roberts and John Frederick Lewis both painted and sketched the ruined palaces. Ironically Spain again acted as a bridge between Europe and the Islamic world: many Orientalist travellers went to Spain as a prelude to crossing into Morocco, or travelling further east.
Fascination with the exotic flavour of the Alhambra assured its restoration as an important part of Spain’s heritage, and the Franciscan monastery was converted into a Parador in the 20th century. Today, we explore the Alhambra precincts, which include the fortress, the 14th-century Alhambra palaces, and the Generalife gardens with the summer palace and hunting lodge of the Nasrids. We shall visit the oldest part of the Alhambra, the Alcazaba (Arabic: qasba) the fortress of the complex, which affords a panoramic view of the Granadan plain and the Sierra Nevada. We shall also visit the Nasrid palaces.
These are a superb example of Islamic vernacular architecture with its emphasis on the interior rather than the exterior, and the creation of discrete public and private spaces. Viewed from without, the palace is unprepossessing; its main façade is actually located not on the outer wall but within the Patio del Cuarto Dorado and therefore does not ‘announce’ the presence of a palace in the way that European palace façades do. Messages of power, however, were conveyed by the splendour and spatial organisation of the palace interior that consists of a series of rectangular courtyards centred around pools and fountains with rooms on each side. These courts are connected by corner passages, constructed to block the view from one courtyard to another in order to shield private domestic space, the harem (Arabic: harim), from intrusion.
The best-known courts of the Alhambra are the Court of the Myrtles and the Court of the Lions, which in different ways emphasise the bounteous and heavenly qualities of power. The Court of the Myrtles uses a great pool and trees, later replaced by hedges of myrtle, to evoke paradise, a favourite theme in palatial garden design, whilst the fine stucco-decorated arches and slender columns of the famous Court of the Lions are a skilful re-creation of nature in stone and plaster. The rooms arranged around the Court of the Lions: the Abencerrajes Gallery, the Hall of the Kings and the Hall of the Two Sisters – include some of the most exquisite decoration in the Alhambra. From the Alhambra palaces we shall walk across a terrace to the Generalife (Arabic: janna al-‘arif), the Nasrids’ summer retreat and hunting lodge.
In the gardens, which rival those of the Villa d’Este in Rome, the tinkling sound of the fountains was intended to complement the architectural aesthetics of the palace. We also visit the Renaissance palace of Charles V whose heavy classical forms contrast with the delicate architecture of the Alhambra. (Overnight Granada) B
Toledo - 3 nights
Day 8: Saturday 29 April, Granada – Viso de Marquez – Almagro – Consuegra – Toledo
- Palace of Alvaro de Bazan and Maritime Museum, Viso de Marquez
Today we travel north from Granada through the mountain passes which before Ferdinand III’s conquest of the Guadalquivir Valley separated the Nasrid kingdom from Christian Spain. We emerge from the Sierra Morena onto the flat expanse of the La Mancha plain where Cervantes set his masterpiece, Don Quixote. This area is given over to olive and vine cultivation and, above all, sheep and goat grazing.
Among the products of La Mancha are dry wines and the dry Manchego cheese with which they are drunk. Passing through the mountains, we shall see several small, fortified towns. Our first destination is the village of Viso de Marquez to visit the palace of the Marquis of Santa Cruz, Álvaro de Bazán, a magnificent example of Italian Renaissance inspired Spanish palace built between 1564 and 1588. Although its exterior is austere, its interior is fabulously rich, with fine frescoes and furniture. But this is not the only attraction of the palace, for it is also Spain’s major maritime museum and archive.
Don Álvaro de Bazáan was one of Spain’s greatest admirals. He played a decisive role in the Spanish defeat of the Turks at Lepanto (1571) and in Don Juan of Austria’s conquest of Tunis. He also developed the great fleets that brought silver from the Americas. These convoys were extremely successful. Don Álvaro recognised a possible English threat to Spanish convoys and argued for mounting a naval invasion of England. Delays by Philip II allowed Drake to attack the Spanish fleet in Cádiz (1587). Don Álvara was blamed and fell from grace before the Spanish Armada sailed for England in 1588.
On the plain of La Mancha we shall also visit Almagro, a town of Roman origin and the headquarters of the Order of Calatrava, the oldest and most important Spanish knightly Order. In the 15th and 16th centuries Almagro served as a centre for foreign wool merchants and financiers who exploited nearby mercury mines. It has a distinctive Plaza Mayor surrounded by houses with green wooden balconies of Flemish inspiration. It also has a 16th-century theatre, the Corral de Comedias, one of the oldest extant theatres in Europe, in which a great number of classic Spanish plays were first performed.
We shall have lunchtime at leisure in Almagro. After this, we travel across La Mancha to Toledo, visiting Consuegra, located at the heart of the Spanish territories of the Knights Hospitaller, where we shall see the windmills and castle associated in the popular imagination with Don Quixote. (Overnight Toledo) B
Day 9: Sunday 30 April, Toledo
- Hospital de Santa Cruz
- Mudéjar City Gates
- Cristo de la Luz
- Church of San Román
- El Tránsito
- El Greco Museum
- Santa María la Blanca
- San Juan de los Reyes
Toledo, located on a high promontory created by a bend in the River Tagus (Spanish: Tajo) is another Spanish city with a multi-layered past. Inhabited since pre-Roman times, Toledo, or Toletum, was a provincial town until the mid-6th century AD when it became the capital of the Visigothic kingdom, and its bishop served as head of the Spanish church. The much-restored Alcázar dominates Toledo’s highest point, an imposing architectural declaration of authority that has persisted here in different forms since Roman antiquity. Toledo was conquered by Muslim armies by 712 and ultimately became part of the Umayyad-ruled al-Andalus, losing its pre-eminence to Cordóba.
During the 8th and 9th centuries the inhabitants (Muslims, recent converts and Christians) of this important frontier city regularly revolted against the central authority. After the collapse of the Cordoban caliphate in the early 11th century, Toledo had a brief existence as an independent Muslim city-state until it fell to Alfonso VI of Castile (1085). Ironically, Christians who had lived under Muslim rule for centuries (now usually called Mozarabs, ‘Arabised’) practising the traditional Visigothic liturgy and speaking Arabic, now found themselves at odds with their new rulers.
Toledo, with its Jewish and Muslim minorities, became the intellectual capital of Christian Spain through the immense work of scholars who translated the books of the Islamic world from Arabic into Latin for the education of Western Europe. Muslim craftsmen created a distinctively Toledan Mudéjar style of architecture, characterised by decorative screenwork realised in brick on the exteriors of churches and bell towers. Toledan Mudéjar can also be found in palaces and churches as well as synagogues (Santa Maria La Blanca and El Tránsito) with stuccowork decoration that mimics, respectively, Almohad and Nasrid styles.
The cathedral, built on the site of the principal mosque, also bears many traces of Toledo’s multi-cultural medieval character, whilst the narrow twisting streets of the old city and its absence of open squares and public spaces perpetuate Muslim and Mudéjar urban-planning. After the expulsion of its minorities (Jews in 1492, Muslim converts to Christianity in 1609) and the loss of political status to Valladolid and Granada and, later, Madrid as capital (from 1561), parochial conservatism replaced Toledo’s cosmopolitan style. In the 16th and 17th centuries a pious aristocracy emerged in the city numbering many mystics in its ranks. Many aristocrats influenced by the Counter-Reformation’s emphasis on good works, spent vast amounts of money adding monastic foundations to the urban fabric, creating an imposing ecclesiastical cordon around the medieval core of Toledo.
On our first full day in Toledo we will see buildings from all periods of the city’s colourful history. We will begin with one of Toledo’s most interesting museums, the Museum of Santa Cruz, which is housed in an imposing Renaissance building, a hospital built between 1504 and 1544 for Cardinal Pedro Mendoza. In plan it is a great cross made of four massive intersecting halls. These halls have intricate wooden Mudéjar ceilings and constitute one of the finest interior spaces in Spain.
We then walk to the Mudéjar city gateways constructed on the site of earlier fortifications and Cristo de la Luz, a local mosque, dedicated around 1000, that had been built on the site of a former Visigothic church and which was converted into a Mudéjar church, after 1085, by the addition of a brick apse, built in the same style as the existing structure. We shall also visit the two former Mudéjar synagogues of Santa María la Blanca and El Tránsito.
Santa María la Blanca is a 13th-century building which bears a strong similarity to contemporary Almohad architecture further south, whilst El Tránsito is a 14th-century structure with stucco panels of a similar style to those in the Alcázar of Seville and the Alhambra. El Tránsito also houses a small museum that catalogues the Jewish presence in Spain.
Our program will also include visits to San Román (a 13th-century Mudejar church containing wall frescoes with Arabic and Latin inscriptions), San Juan de los Reyes (a fine Isabelline Gothic chapel and cloister originally commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella to serve as their funeral chapel), and the El Greco Museum, containing several of his portraits of apostles and saints, as well as the View and Plan of Toledo. (Overnight Toledo) B
Day 10: Monday 1 May, Toledo
- Toledo Cathedral
- Church of Santo Tomé
- Posada de la Hermandad (time permitting)
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning we visit Toledo Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral modelled upon Bourges Cathedral in France, like Burgos and León, but richer than either of these in its architecture and the works of art.
For almost 150 years after Toledo’s conquest in 1085, Christians worshipped in the re-dedicated great mosque. After it was demolished, construction of the cathedral began in 1227. Completed in 1493, the cathedral is overwhelmingly Gothic in style. However, even this self-consciously Gothic Catholic cathedral has distinguishable Mudéjar elements.
Since the 16th century it has been one of the few places where the Visigothic liturgy is celebrated. Later monarchs and state dignitaries embellished the cathedral by the addition of a rich choir, decorated with magnificent stall carvings that depict the conquest of Granada, and sumptuous chapels. We shall look at both the exterior and interior of the cathedral, noting in particular the opulent retablo mayor, the choir and the lateral chapels. We shall also visit the cathedral museum which holds a range of works by El Greco, Titian, Zurbarán, and Ribera, as well as Almohad banners captured at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. In the treasury we shall see an illuminated manuscript given by St Louis of France to Alfonso X and a massive Gothic silver-gilt gold monstrance (180 kilograms in weight; 3 metres in height) in the shape of a cathedral spire.
Another highlight today is the Church of Santo Tomé, home to El Greco’s famous The Burial of Count Orgaz (c.1586).
Time permitting, we also visit the Posada de la Hermandad, the 15th-century inn and headquarters of the Holy Brotherhood, which currently houses a Templar exhibition. This afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Toledo) B
Salamanca - 2 nights
Day 11: Tuesday 2 May, Toledo – Ávila – Salamanca
- Convent of the Encarnación, Ávila
- Ávila city walls
- Ávila Cathedral
- San Vicente, Ávila
This morning we depart early for Ávila, one of the many Spanish towns which began life as a Christian frontier post located in the medieval marches between al-Andalus and the tiny northern Christian kingdoms.
The architecture of Ávila reflects the martial and entrepreneurial spirit of its early inhabitants (soldiers of fortune, aristocrats of modest means and peasants) who were prepared to risk everything to profit from the freedom and opportunities afforded by life on the frontier. The town is encircled by strikingly complete late-11th century walls, whilst inside, the small fortified palaces of its late medieval inhabitants show the same desire for a good life as the late medieval houses of the Italian urban classes.
Ávila also possesses several fine Romanesque churches and later monasteries, including the Convento de la Encarnación, where Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, the co-patron saint of Spain, lived for 27 years in the 16th century. It was here that she experienced the spiritual ecstasies that she described in language whose vividness has influenced Spanish literature ever since.
Whilst in Ávila we will visit the cathedral, the Romanesque church of San Vicente, the Convento de la Encarnación and Ávila’s city walls. Declared a National Monument in 1884, the walled enclosure dates back to the Middle Ages. In addition to its obvious defensive function, the wall controlled the entrance of provisions and merchandise, and also isolated the city, guarding it against the potential outbreak of a plague or epidemic. It is shaped like an irregular rectangle, with crenellated towers and round turrets. It has nine gates that provided access to the city, of which the most spectacular is Puerta del Alcázar (Gate of the Fortress). A walk along the top of the walls provides spectacular views of the town and countryside.
At about 3:30pm we will depart Ávila and drive approximately 100 kilometres northwest to the town of Salamanca in the kingdom of Léon. This evening we dine together at our hotel’s restaurant. The charming Hotel Hospes Palacio de San Esteban is housed in a restored 16th-century convent in the heart of the historical centre of Salamanca. (Overnight Salamanca) BD
Day 12: Wednesday 3 May, Salamanca
- Salamanca’s Roman Bridge
- Old Cathedral (Catedral Vieja)
- Salamanca University
- Casa Lis (Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Déco)
- Plaza Mayor
- Afternoon at leisure
We spend this morning exploring historic Salamanca, home of Spain’s oldest university, founded in 1218. The university is built from the exquisite local golden stone used throughout the city which, as a result, is known as ‘La Dorada’, ‘the Gilded’.
The university and Salamanca’s two cathedrals, the Romanesque Catedral Vieja, and the Gothic/Renaissance Catedral Nueva, form the intellectual and artistic heart of the city. As a university town, Salamanca was at various times home to St John of the Cross, Columbus, Calderón, Cervantes, Cortés, Lope de Vega, Góngora and Ignatius Loyola.
During our exploration we visit the Catedral Vieja; the University of Salamanca; the Plaza Mayor, one of the finest in Spain and a companion to the Plaza Mayor of Madrid; and the modernist palace Casa Lis, which houses the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Déco. We also walk down to the Tormes River to view the Roman arched bridge which leads into Salamanca. It features a statue of a male pig, an example of pre-Roman Salmantine art, which is of Celtic origin, and is portrayed over the shield of the city. From the bridge there is an excellent view of both the New and Old Cathedrals. It forms part of the ‘Plata’ (Silver) Roman road, that linked Mérida with Astorga. This afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Salamanca) B
Madrid - 4 nights
Day 13: Thursday 4 May, Salamanca – Segovia – El Escorial – Madrid
- Roman Aqueduct
- Segovia Castle
- Templar Church of La Vera Cruz (time permitting)
- The Escorial
We spend this morning exploring Segovia, a site settled since pre-Roman times. During the early Islamic period, Segovia stood in the marches between the Kingdom of Asturias and Umayyad Córdoba and may have been temporarily deserted.
In the 10th century, the Umayyad caliphs constructed a frontier fortress in the town that subsequently became part of the Ta’ifa kingdom of Toledo. Segovia became Castilian after the fall of Toledo. The transfer of the town from Muslim to Christian hands inaugurated a period of extensive construction. In the 12th and 13th centuries several Romanesque churches were added to the urban fabric, along with the Templar church of La Vera Cruz. In the 14th and 15th centuries the Muslim fortress was rebuilt as a Christian castle and, in the 16th century, a Gothic cathedral with unusual Classical domes was constructed.
At the entrance to the town you will see its Roman aqueduct, a remarkable dry-stone structure, partially destroyed in medieval times and rebuilt by Isabella of Castile in the 15th century. Segovia also has tower houses, comparable to the tower houses of San Gimignano in Italy. We will visit the cathedral and Segovia’s magnificent medieval castle, the model for Disneyland, which was extensively damaged by fire in 1862 then restored according to romantic 19th-century perceptions of how medieval castles looked. If time permits, we will visit the 13th-century Church of the Vera Cruz. This small shrine, modelled upon the octagonal Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, was built by the Knights Templar to house a fragment of the True Cross. After the order’s dissolution in the early 14th century, it was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller.
In the afternoon we depart for Madrid. En route we visit Philip II’s great palace and monastery, El Escorial, set on the southern slopes of the Sierra de Guaderrama in Spain’s heartlands. Philip II commissioned El Escorial to serve as a monarchical retreat in the vicinity of his new capital, Madrid. The complex was dedicated to St. Laurence on whose feast-day Philip’s army had defeated the French at Saint Quentin. It was designed by the Spanish Renaissance architect, Juan de Herrera, in his characteristic controlled and plain style.
The rectilinear plan and form of El Escorial reflect the influence of earlier fortified monastic architecture, but also echoes the grill upon which St. Laurence was martyred. At the Escorial we will visit the basilical church, the royal apartments and the library, one of the oldest libraries in the world, with an exceptional collection of books, codices and manuscripts in Arabic and Latin. We will also see the tombs of the monarchs of Spain and an art collection including works by Titian, Veronese, El Greco and Velázquez. (Overnight Madrid) B
Day 14: Friday 5 May, Madrid
We spend the day visiting the Prado, which holds one of the finest collections of paintings in the world. Among European masterpieces collected by the Spanish monarchs we shall study the works of Hieronymus Bosch and Rubens (Flemish school); Albrecht Dürer (German school); Raphael and Titian (Italian school).
The Prado’s greatest treasures, however, are its Spanish paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. The rooms devoted to Velázquez include such marvels as Las Meninas, the Surrender at Breda, the Habsburg Equestrian Portraits, and the images of court dwarfs.
All periods and aspects of Goya’s career are represented here, from the early tapestry cartoons, through his war scenes, royal and aristocratic portraits to the profoundly pessimistic late ‘Black Paintings’. (Overnight Madrid) B
Day 15: Saturday 6 May, Madrid
- Plaza Mayor and City Centre
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
In 1561 Philip II made Madrid, lying at the strategic centre of Spain, the capital of his empire. Originally a Muslim stronghold protecting the approaches to Toledo, the alcázar was rebuilt by Henry IV as Madrid grew in the mid-15th century. Until the 19th century it remained a small city, flanked by great palaces, the Palacio Real on its western rim, and the Buen Retiro to the east. At its centre was the Plaza Mayor and a number of monastic complexes such as the Descalzas Reales.This morning we will walk to the Plaza Mayor (1617-1619). Like other public squares, this served as the setting for public displays from bullfighting and public executions to royal proclamations. Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is one of Spain’s finest. On one side, its even façades are interrupted by the Casa de la Panaderia, the headquarters of the bakers’ guild, which functioned as a ‘royal box’ from which the monarch and his family watched the events in the square. In the afternoon we will visit the brilliant Thyssen Collection, one of the finest private art collections in Europe, which has found a permanent home in Madrid. This collection includes Italian and Flemish primitive art; Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings; French and German works from the 18th to 20th centuries. A special feature of the collection is a wonderful group of Flemish and German Renaissance portraits and some masterpieces from the Venetian Renaissance. (Overnight Madrid) B
Day 16: Sunday 7 May, Madrid
- CaixaForum Madrid
- Reina Sofía Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
Our first visit today is to the extraordinary post-modern art museum funded by the Catalan bank, the Caixa de Cataluña. The museum is housed in a converted 1899 power station opposite the Prado. Acquired by the Caixa Foundation in 2001, this is one of Madrid’s few extant examples of historically significant industrial architecture. An insignificant gas station was demolished to create a small plaza between the Paseo del Prado and the new Caixaforum. A 24-metre high vertical garden, designed in collaboration with the botanist Patrick Blanc, takes up one wall of the square.
We shall spend some time inside this temporary exhibition space before walking the small distance to Madrid’s museum of modern art, the Reina Sofía Museum. Here we will see Picasso’s Guernica, which was painted in 1937 after the bombing of the Basque town during the civil war. At the artist’s behest, it was held in New York’s Museum of Modern Art until the end of the Franco regime in Spain. We will explore Picasso’s debt to the Spanish tradition in this work. This afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Madrid) B
Barcelona - 4 nights
Day 17: Monday 8 May, Madrid – Barcelona
- High-Speed AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona
- La Sagrada Familia
- Parc Guëll
- Casa Milà & Casa Batlló
Early this morning we take the High-Speed AVE train to Barcelona, capital of Catalonia. On arrival we visit a number of buildings designed by Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí’s work grew out of Barcelona’s strong commercial and bourgeois tradition of civic pride, expressed in the late 19th century in an ambitious project of urban expansion known as the Eixample. Gaudí was also deeply involved in designing buildings for the city centre and for the new outer suburbs of Barcelona.
Gaudí’s buildings re-interpreted traditional Catalan emblems such as St. George, the patron saint of Catalonia, and wove them into his own daring and idiosyncratic version of the Gothic revival style.St. George, his spear and the dragon appear in multiple forms in Gaudí’s work, from Casa Milà’s chimneys constructed in the form of medieval armoured knights to his undulating, multi-coloured tiled roofs which evoke the twisting torso of the dragon. We shall first visit Gaudí’s unfinished Temple de la Sagrada Familia, a building he considered to be his finest work and which has become an emblem of Barcelona. In the afternoon we drive to the Parc Guëll, designed by Gaudí.
Sponsored by the Güell family of bankers, the park represents a failed attempt to create an exclusive garden suburb overlooking the city of Barcelona. Within the park stands an eclectic range of buildings, grand terraces, garden sculptures and vaulted halls covered with Gaudí’s extraordinary mosaics, made from discarded shards from a ceramics factory.
Finally, we shall see several of Gaudí residences in the heart of Barcelona and its 19th-century suburbs including the Casa Milà (also known as ‘la Pedrera’) with its undulating roof, curious chimneys and important display of the architect’s work; and the Casa Batlló, where the roof takes the form of the spine of a dragon. (Overnight Barcelona) B
Day 18: Tuesday 9 May, Barcelona
- Barri Gòtic
- Palau Guëll
- Museu d’Història de Catalunya
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning we will start with a walk through Barcelona’s old ‘Gothic Quarter’, the Barri Gòtic, a medieval quarter of medieval streets and Gothic palaces. We shall also visit the Palau Guëll which possesses one of Gaudí’s finest interiors.
We then continue to the harbour where we shall visit the splendid Museu d’Història de Cataluya. This museum provides a great introduction to the whole area with maps, plans and interactive exhibits.
The afternoon is at leisure; you may like to see Barceloneta and the huge fish by Frank Gehry. (Overnight Barcelona) B
Day 19: Wednesday 10 May, Barcelona
- Fundació Joan Miró
- Museo Nacional de Arte de Catalunya
- Evening performance at the Palau de la Música Catalana
Today we begin with a visit to the Miró Foundation, which holds major late works by the artist. After lunch we visit the National Museum of Catalan Art whose collections give a breathtaking overview of 1000 years of Catalan art. The highlight is a magnificent assembly of Romanesque wall paintings removed from churches in remote Pyrenean valleys. Besides an impressive Gothic display, the renovated museum houses paintings from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection as well as Old Masters from the Cambó bequest and Modernist paintings.
Tonight we attend a performance of Bruckner’s ‘Romantic’ with Basque conductor Juanjo Mena, the BBC Philharmonic and Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder. The performance will take place at the Palau de la Música Catalana, a concert hall built between 1905 and 1908 by another modernista, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, as a headquarters for the Orfeó Català. The building, funded by popular donations, constitutes a symbolic and sentimental heritage of an entire city that identifies with its history. (Overnight Barcelona) B
Day 20: Thursday 11 May, Barcelona
- Barcelona Cathedral & Cloister
- Farewell lunch at Montiel Espaigastronòmic Restaurant
- Picasso Museum
- Time at leisure
This morning we visit the old cathedral of Barcelona, a Catalan Gothic building characterised by the delicacy of its slender pillars. The cathedral contains an exquisite High Gothic choir, and several religious paintings, as well as a tranquil cloister lined with small chapels.
We shall then enjoy a farewell lunch at ‘Montiel Espaigastronòmic’, a small restaurant located near to the Picasso Museum, providing an artistic atmosphere with excellent traditional Spanish cuisine.
The converted Gothic palaces which house the Picasso Museum, nearby, contain works from many stages of Picasso’s life, from his adolescence to his old age. The range of works on display amply proves the point that, despite French claims that Picasso belonged to the School of Paris, much of his work was inspired by 19th century Spanish art. The museum incorporates adolescent works by the artist that demonstrate his extraordinary precociousness. There are paintings from his early Parisian period, demonstrating an early debt to Toulouse-Lautrec, and a number of masterpieces from the Blue and Rose periods. There is also a group of later works including Picasso’s highly individual studies of Velazquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas.
The rest of the afternoon will be at leisure to explore the medieval city, or you may wish to visit Barcelona’s Maritime Museum, housed in the original grand buildings in which the Catalan fleet was constructed. (Overnight Barcelona) BL
Day 21: Friday 12 May, Depart Barcelona
- Airport transfer for those travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour finishes in Barcelona. Participants departing Barcelona on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will transfer by coach to Barcelona airport. Alternatively, you may wish to extend your stay in Spain. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B