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, confirmation of private visits, 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: Friday 25 September, 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.
Seville gained great importance and prosperity in the 12th century when the Almohad dynasty of North African Berbers made it the capital of Muslim Spain (al Andalus); and again in the 16th century, when it became the Spanish entrepôt for silver and tobacco from the Americas. Its major monuments and most important works of art date from these periods and from the 13th and 14th centuries, when Ferdinand III of Castile wrested the province from the Muslims in 1248. Seville therefore boasts fine Muslim, Gothic, Mudéjar and Baroque monuments (‘Mudéjar’ is the term which denotes buildings built for Christians by Muslim craftsmen). In the 17th century it vied with Madrid as the centre of Spanish sculpture and painting. Zurbarán, Velázquez and Murillo all worked in Seville and the city produced a fine school of polychrome wood sculpture, examples of which are still used in processions for Holy Week (Semana Santa). In the 19th century, Seville became a picturesque setting for Northern European Romantic novels, artworks and operas, because of the popularity of Murillo’s paintings of street urchins, Seville’s famous bullfights, and the magnificence of its celebrations during Holy Week. (Overnight Seville)
Day 2: Saturday 26 September, Seville
- Welcome Meeting
- Santa Cruz Quarter
- Cathedral and Giralda
- Alcázar of Seville
- Welcome Dinner
Following a Welcome Meeting at the hotel, we make our way to the Santa Cruz quarter, Seville’s medieval ghetto. Despite its tiny streets, it grew in popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. Aristocrats built small palaces here, conserving the original, picturesque street plan. A walk through this quarter will provide us with a unique opportunity to discover the shape of old Seville.
Our walk will take us to Seville’s Cathedral. This huge building, which is the largest Gothic structure of its type in Europe, was built upon the foundations of the Almohad Friday Mosque by the Christian conquerors of the city. It retains the general plan and dimensions of the mosque and its courtyard that was used by the Islamic population for ritual ablutions. The cathedral boasts what is arguably Spain’s greatest retablo mayor, a massive gilt and painted wood retable occupying the whole of the chancel wall. It also contains a number of major Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque artworks and the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
The minaret of the mosque was built by the Almohads and is in the same style as those at Rabat and Marrakesh in Morocco. It is a monumental, square tower which houses seven superimposed rooms. Access is provided by a ramp up which the Imam rode a donkey five times a day to call the faithful to prayer. The exquisite brick patterns on its four façades assured its survival when Seville fell to the Christians. Upon it they placed a belfry (bells are anathema to Islam) and a weather vane, or Giraldillo, thus giving the cathedral tower its modern name, the Giralda.
This 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.
Tonight we enjoy a Welcome Dinner together at a local restaurant. (Overnight Seville) BD
Day 3: Sunday 27 September, Seville – Santiponce – Seville
- Archaeological Ensemble Itálica, Santiponce
- Museo de las Bellas Artes
- Hospital de la Caridad
This morning we take a short drive north of Seville to Itálica, birthplace of Roman Emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Founded by General Scipio in 206 BC during the second Punic War, Itálica is home to many Roman remains, including the Colossus of Trajan, ancient cobbled streets, and one of the largest amphitheatres in the Empire.
We then return to Seville to visit the Museo de las Bellas Artes, a large museum of Andalucian art which was refurbished for Expo ’92. The museum is located in the former convent of the Merced Calzada whose architecture exemplifies Andalucian 17th-century mannerism, designed around three patios and a large stairway. It opened its doors to the public in 1841 with the works from closed down convents and monasteries. Today it is one of the best fine arts museums in Spain, whose impressive collection extends from the medieval to the modern, focusing on the work of Seville School artists such as Francisco de Zurbarán, Juan de Valdés Leal and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
We conclude the afternoon visiting 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. (Overnight Seville) B
Day 4: Monday 28 September, Seville
- Casa de Pilatos
- Afternoon at leisure
- Flamenco performance (venue to be confirmed)
This morning we 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 afternoon is at leisure, enabling you to further explore the city’s medieval and Baroque precincts. You may wish to visit the Hospital de la Caridad, a 17th century hospital with a baroque chapel containing works by the 17th-century Spanish painters Murillo and Valdés Leal.
This evening we attend a traditional flamenco show at one of Seville’s beautiful venues. (Overnight Seville) B
Ronda - 1 night
Day 5: Tuesday 29 September, Seville – Córdoba – Ronda
- Guided Walking Tour of Córdoba
- Mosque, Córdoba
- Synagogue, Córdoba
We depart early this morning to drive across the broad plains of the Guadalquivir basin to Córdoba, where we 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 for the Andalusian ‘white town’ of Ronda, dramatically sited on sheer cliffs above a deep ravine, with grand panoramic views framed by mountains. We spend the night in the Parador de Ronda, housed in a former 18th century town house; it is located in the historical centre alongside the famous Tagus River, next to the Puente Nuevo and the bullring. We also dine together in the Parador’s restaurant, which serves Andalusian specialties and fresh local produce. (Overnight Ronda) BD
Málaga - 2 nights
Day 6: Wednesday 30 September, Ronda – Málaga
- Private palace garden, Ronda (by special appointment to be confirmed in 2020)
- Puente Nuevo
- Bull Ring
- Muslim Baths
- Colegiata Santa María la Mayor (time permitting)
We start our day with special access to one of Ronda’s finest stately residences. The Palacio is an 18th-century renovation of an earlier 16th-century building, gifted to the current owner’s family by the Reyes Catolicos. Its impressive Baroque entrance displays sculpted figures believed to represent natives of South America.
The early 19th century artists David Roberts and J.F. Lewis both painted the dramatic view of the Puente Nuevo (new bridge) which spans the deep ravine, “El Tajo”, connecting the two parts of Ronda, the old Muslim town and the Christian district, the Mercadillo. The ravine was cut by the Guadelvin and the high bridge which spans it was built in the late 18th century. Of Roman origin, Ronda became an almost impregnable Muslim fortress city until it was taken by the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1485. It retains a Roman bridge which we cross to visit the Muslim baths, a reminder of its Islamic history.
In 1493, eight years after the Christian capture of the city, the Maestranza, or Company of Knights, was formed here for the supervision of bullfighting. Ronda’s bullring, the second oldest in Spain after that of Seville, was built here in 1794. In the 18th century Ronda’s greatest matador was Pedro Romero who is believed to have developed the classical bullfighting style of the School of Ronda. We shall visit the bullring which is in the Mercadillo. The old town preserves its Muslim street plan. Time permitting, we shall visit the Colegiata, built in the 15th and 16th centuries on the site of the mosque. It preserves a 13th century horseshoe arch and a minaret which was converted into a bell tower in the 16th century.
In the afternoon, we drive through the hills above the Mediterranean coast to Málaga. Our hotel is conveniently located opposite the cathedral and a few minutes’ walk from Málaga’s waterfront. (Overnight Málaga) B
Day 7: Thursday 1 October, Málaga
- Walking tour of Málaga including the Museo Picasso and Cathedral
- Museo Carmen-Thyssen Málaga
- Centre Pompidou Málaga
Málaga, (malaka: fish salting place), was founded by the Phoenicians around 800 BC. The city grew to become a major port in Roman times, exporting olive oil and garum (fish paste), as well as copper, lead and iron from the mines in the mountains around Ronda. Málaga continued to flourish under Moorish rule from the 8th century AD and became a prosperous port of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. The city held out against the invading Christian armies until 1487 and displayed equal tenacity against Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War.
We spend the morning visiting key sites in Málaga. Our walking tour will take in the Renaissance Cathedral with its fine Baroque façade, the remains of the Roman theatre and the exterior of Málaga’s Alcázar (citadel). We also visit the Picasso Museum, housed in a fine 16th-century palace built on 2500-year-old Phoenician remains. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga in 1881 and in 2003 a Picasso Museum was established here in response to the artist’s desire for his work to be exhibited in his city of birth; it features 233 paintings, sculptures and ceramics created between 1892 to 1972. This rich collection was donated by Christine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s daughter-in-law and grandson. The opening of the Picasso Museum initiated a revival in the cultural life of the city. The nearby Carmen Thyssen museum has a fine collection of old masters and 19th-century Spanish painting, which we also explore.
In the afternoon, we visit a branch of Paris’ famous Pompidou Centre, which opened on Málaga’s waterfront in 2015. Housed in an extraordinary post-modernist coloured glass cube, the Centre, like its Parisian parent, has a collection of 20th century art, including works by Robert Delauney, Vassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, René Magritte and Frida Kahlo, and also holds interesting temporary exhibitions. (Overnight Málaga) B
Granada - 2 nights
Day 8: Friday 2 October, Málaga – Granada
- Muslim Baths
- Capilla Real
- Corral del Carbón
- Dinner at the Mirador de Morayma Restaurant, overlooking the Alhambra
This morning we drive north through the Sierra Nevada, which acted as a barrier protecting Spain’s last Muslim kingdom, Granada, from Christian incursions. We shall gain a deeper understanding about the way the mountains isolated Granada from the grand views we will encounter along this road.
In the afternoon, we shall explore the city of Granada on a walking tour. We begin by visiting the Albaicín quarter which nestles beneath the protective shadow of 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 make our way to the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel), built in flamboyant late Gothic style, which 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 also visit the cathedral, one of Spain’s last, which was envisaged by its founder, Charles V, as a model of the heavenly Jerusalem. Nearby is the commercial and religious centre of Granada: 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, and the Alcaiceria, an area of narrow gridded streets which were once part of the covered market (Arabic: al-Qaysariyya) of the Muslim rulers of Granada.
Tonight we dine together at the restaurant Mirador de Morayma, located in the Albaicín quarter with splendid views of the Alhambra. This elegant restaurant housed in a traditional carmen (urban villa with a garden), features traditional local cuisine and ecological wine produced at the restaurant’s own country estate in the Alpujarra region. (Overnight Granada) BD
Day 9: Saturday 3 October, Granada
- Alhambra & Generalife
- Palace of Charles V
- Afternoon at leisure
Today we visit the Alhambra (1354-1391) and Generalife (summer palace and villa of the Nasrid rulers) to study the architecture and garden design of Nasrid Granada. We visit palaces and villas in the complex that centre upon the Court of the Myrtles, the Court of the Lions, and the Generalife. The first complex – comprising of the Patio de Machuca, the Mexuar, the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, and the Patio de Comares (Court of the Myrtles) – gives a sense of the disposition of an Islamic palace, the discrete, hermetic spaces of which bespeak Islam’s emphasis on privacy. This complex combines areas where the ruler sat in court or received ambassadors with a harem designed to isolate the royal household from the outside world. In essence the palace is introverted, its main façade secreted within the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, rather than turning outwards to announce to the outside world the palaces within, in the way of a Western façade. The Hall of the Ambassadors is an example of the spatial rhetoric of power, while the Patio de Comares used a great pool and trees (later replaced by hedges of myrtle) to create a paradisal, secluded core to the complex. Next to this group is the villa of the Nasrids, built about the Court of the Lions, whose fine stucco arches and slender columns are, some scholars argue, the architectural evocation of an oasis. Here we find rooms decorated with exquisite detailing, such as the Abencerrajes Gallery, the Sala de los Reyes, and the Sala de las Dos Hermanas, two of which have extraordinary stucco domes reproducing star bursts in the desert sky. Beneath this villa there is yet another villa, to which are attached the Royal Baths.
We then walk out across the pine-forested hills of the Alhambra Mountain to the Generalife, an exquisite villa retreat and hunting lodge of the Nasrids. Here we see gardens to rival the Villa d’Este outside Rome, with fine fountains whose sounds were intended to provide a poetic counterpoint to the architectural aesthetics of the Arab palace or villa. Finally, we shall visit the Alcazaba, the fortress of the Alhambra, which has a broad panorama of the Sierra Nevada.
The rest of the afternoon is at leisure so you can enjoy the beautiful environment of the Alhambra Mountain. (Overnight Granada) B
Toledo - 3 nights
Day 10: Sunday 4 October, Granada – Úbeda – Toledo
- Úbeda Pottery Quarter
- Chapel of San Salvador, Úbeda
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.
En-route we visit the small Renaissance town of Úbeda. We take a walk through Ubeda’s pottery making quarter and the handsome Plaza Vázquez de Molina, flanked by elegant palaces including the present day parador, which conceals a beautiful inner courtyard with a double gallery. We also visit the Holy Chapel of San Salvador designed by Diego de Siloé in 1536. It is rare in Spain to find a church built during a short period in a unified style without a large number of later accretions. This is particularly so of the interior, whose decoration and furnishings have altered little since its construction.
In the afternoon, we continue our drive to Toledo. 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 also famed for its dry wine and Manchego cheese. (Overnight Toledo) BL
Day 11: Monday 5 October, Toledo
- Toledo Cathedral
- San Román
- Santo Tomé
- Time at leisure
- Evening reception at private palace, Toledo
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.
This morning, we begin our tour of this splendid city with a visit to Toledo’s Cathedral, 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.
As well, our program will include visits to San Román (a 13th-century Mudejar church containing wall frescoes with Arabic and Latin inscriptions) and the Church of Santo Tomé, home to El Greco’s famous The Burial of Count Orgaz (c.1586).
This evening, we visit a beautiful palace and garden in the heart of Toledo with magnificent views of the Cathedral. The palace itself encapsulates the overlap of cultures, where Muslim elements coexist with the Jewish and the Christian, and holds an exquisite collection of art and antiques; in this magical setting, we shall enjoy an aperitif hosted by the owners. (Overnight Toledo) B
Day 12: Tuesday 6 October, Toledo
- El Tránsito
- El Greco Museum
- Taller del Moro
- Santa María la Blanca
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning we continue our guided tour of Toledo with visits to 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 houses a small museum that catalogues the Jewish presence in Spain. We also visit the El Greco Museum, containing several of his portraits of apostles and saints, as well as the View and Plan of Toledo.
This afternoon is at leisure and you may wish to visit the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, a fine Isabelline Gothic chapel and cloister originally commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella to serve as their funeral chapel. (Overnight Toledo) B
Segovia - 1 night
Day 13: Wednesday 7 October, Toledo – Ávila – Segovia
- San Vicente, Ávila
- Private palace, Avila (by special appointment)
- Evening reception at a private palace overlooking Segovia’s Roman aqueduct (by special appointment)
- Dinner at Mesón de Cándido Restaurant, Segovia
We depart today 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. 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.
Whilst in Ávila we visit the Romanesque church of San Vicente and view the Cathedral’s exterior. We also enjoy a special tour of a private palace hosted by its owners and view the family archives that have been collected over the centuries.
In the afternoon we drive to Segovia and check-in to our hotel ideally located in the centre of Segovia. This evening we enjoy exclusive access to a private palace overlooking Segovia’s Roman aqueduct, where we shall be hosted by the owners and enjoy a glass of Sangría in the garden. We then dine at a Segovia institution, El Mesón de Cándido, to feast on the town’s local speciality, roast suckling pig. (Overnight Segovia) BD
Madrid - 3 nights
Day 14: Thursday 8 October, Segovia – El Escorial – Madrid
- Roman Aqueduct
- Segovia Castle
- El Escorial
We spend the 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.
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 15: Friday 9 October, Madrid
- Plaza Mayor and City Centre walking tour
- Prado 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.
We then make our way to 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 16: Saturday 10 October, Madrid
- Real Jardin Botanico
- CaixaForum Madrid
- Reina Sofía Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
Our first visit is to Madrid’s Real Jardin Botanico, established by Charles III and designed by Francesco Sabatini and Juan de Villanueva, architect of the Prado. It is understandable that the ruler of a great empire in the Americas should be interested in collecting exotic species. Charles III, in fact, financed plant-collecting expeditions to Mexico, Columbia, Peru and Chile. Despite the fact that the garden lost many valuable trees in a tornado in 1886, most of its important exhibits remain. The garden is shaded by large specimens of tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), cork oaks, camphor trees, eucalyptus, olives, European field elms and mulberries, walnuts, nettle trees and crape myrtle, among many others. In 2005 a modern addition designed by well-known Spanish landscape architect Fernando Caruncho, with architect Pablo Carvajal, was commissioned to house the extensive bonsai collection of former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González. The new garden called the ‘Terraza de los Laureles’ consists of an elevated avenue, a central square with a pond and a small greenhouse, and provides a grand panorama of the historic gardens below.
We make a brief visit to Madrid’s CaixaForum to view an example of Patrick Blanc’s vertical gardens. This is not only the first to be installed in Spain but also the largest implemented to date on a façade without gaps, as it has a planted surface area of 460 m2. The vertical garden forms an impressive natural tapestry made up of 15,000 plants of 250 different species that have transformed one of the buildings adjoining the developed area of the CaixaForum Madrid into a surprising garden.
Our morning concludes with a visit to the Reina Sofía Museum, Spain’s national collection of 20th-century art . 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.
The afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Madrid) B
Barcelona - 5 nights
Day 17: Sunday 11 October, Madrid – Barcelona
- National Museum of Archaeology, Madrid
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
- High-Speed AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona
After a closure of several years for a comprehensive renovation and re-design of its display areas, Spain’s National Archaeological Museum in Madrid finally reopened in 2014. The collection mostly contains historical items discovered in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Egyptian, Roman and Greek holdings. Highlights include the bust of the Lady of Elche and the Treasure of Guarrazar, a carefully assembled cache of Visigothic metalwork discovered near Toledo in 1858. Most of this treasure is now on display and centres on a spectacular group of jewel-encrusted votive gold crowns, the most important of which is Reccesvinth’s crown with hanging gold letters that spell out his name.
We next 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.
In the late afternoon, we take the High-Speed AVE train to Barcelona, capital of Catalonia. (Overnight Barcelona) B
Day 18: Monday 12 October, Barcelona
- Parc Guëll
- The Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site
- La Sagrada Familia
- Casa Milà
Today 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.
First we drive to the Parc Guëll. 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.
The Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site is a masterpiece of early 20th-century Spanish architecture and the most important work of Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, who also designed the Palau de la Musica concert hall. Built between 1905 and 1930, the site originally housed the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, a revolutionary hospital complex comprised of 27 pavilions surrounded by gardens and interconnected by a system of tunnels that were used to transfer patients from operating rooms to the wards. Architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner believed that trees and flowers and fresh air were likely to help people recover from what ailed them more than anything doctors could do in sterile surroundings. Domènech also believed in the therapeutic properties of form and colour, and decorated the hospital with Pau Gargallo sculptures and colourful mosaics, replete with motifs of hope and healing and healthy growth. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the Hospital de Sant Pau was a functional hospital until 2003, and recently underwent a major renovation and restoration to transform it into a museum and cultural center.
We shall then 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.
Finally, we shall see one of Gaudí residences in the heart of Barcelona – the Casa Milà (also known as ‘la Pedrera’) – with its undulating roof, curious chimneys and important display of the architect’s work. St. George, his spear and the dragon appear in multiple forms in Gaudí’s work, and at the Casa Milà the chimneys are constructed in the form of medieval armoured knights. (Overnight Barcelona) B
Day 19: Tuesday 13 October, Barcelona
- La Rambla and Boquería Market
- Palau Guëll
- Maritime Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
- Evening performance at the Palau de la Música Catalana (subject to performance schedule)
We set off today along the magnificent boulevard of La Rambla, which leads to Barcelona’s historic port. Along the way, we visit the Boquería, a huge covered market dating back to the 12th century and neighbouring streets and squares, including the arcaded Plaça Reial (Royal Square).
We shall also visit the Palau Guëll which possesses one of Gaudí’s finest interiors, as well as Barcelona’s Maritime Museum, housed in the original grand buildings in which the Catalan fleet was constructed.
The afternoon is at leisure; you may wish to visit the nearby Museu d’Història de Cataluya or further explore Barcelona’s waterfront with its giant golden fish sculpture ‘El Peix’ by Frank Gehry.
Tonight we attend a performance 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: Wednesday 14 October, Barcelona
- Mies Van der Rohe Barcelona Pavilion
- Museo Nacional de Arte de Catalunya
- Fundació Joan Miró
Today we begin a tour of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, an iconic landmark of the Modern Movement. Originally designed for the 1929 World Fair in Barcelona as the German Pavilion, the structure is built from glass, steel and different types of marble. The building was disassembled following the closure of the exhibition in 1930, but it quickly became an important reference point in both van der Rohe’s career and the modern architecture movement as a whole. In 1980, Barcelona city officials hired architects to research, design, and reconstruct the pavilion using the same materials and precision employed by van der Rohe, and the new building was opened on its original site in 1986.
We then 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.
Our day ends with a visit to the Miró Foundation, which holds major late works by the artist. (Overnight Barcelona) BL
Day 21: Thursday 15 October, Barcelona
- Barri Gòtic
- Barcelona Cathedral & Cloister
- Picasso Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
- Farewell dinner at Montiel Espaigastronòmic Restaurant
This morning we take a walk through Barcelona’s old ‘Gothic Quarter’, the Barri Gòtic, a medieval quarter of narrow streets and urban palaces. We also 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 then explore the converted Gothic palaces which house the Picasso Museum. It contains 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 afternoon is at leisure before our program concludes with a farewell dinner at ‘Montiel Espaigastronòmic’, a small restaurant located near to the Picasso Museum, providing an artistic atmosphere with excellent traditional Spanish cuisine. (Overnight Barcelona) BD
Day 22: Friday 16 October, 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