When speaking about the town, Azorín said: "Ávila is the most 16th-century town of all those in Spain". This is confirmed, among other things, by the existence of a civil architecture of strong houses and palaces that were essentially built between the latter years of the 15th century and during the 16th century. This coincided with a social and economic boom in the town and brought, among other improvements, the refurbishment of the old mediaeval mansions or their demolition to build others in the new Renaissance style.
This heritage shows the splendour of the town and allows for an analysis of the evolution of civil architecture in Ávila from the late Gothic to the Renaissance style thanks to the building fronts and courtyards.
The location of these houses shows the way in which the Ávila families grouped together according to their lineage and, at the same time, responds to defence requirements since the knights were responsible for defending the town, a responsibility that explains why they were built near the walls.
Most of them are located inside the WALLS and follow the layout to form a second inner line of defence. They are built onto the walls or stand in plazas near the gates to the town.
The following are the most important in the town:
Royal Palace of Santo Tomás
One of the most important places to visit in Ávila is the palace whose construction was ordered by the Catholic Monarchs in the Royal Monastery of Santo Tomás. Although it is part of the monastic site, it is independent and has its own character. The reason for building a royal residence in a convent enclosure has to do with the journeys made by the monarchy and the close connection between convent life and the Crown.
The construction had all the rooms needed for the temporary installation of the court and was built around the cloister of the Monarchs. This cloister has 40 arches on the ground floor and 56 on the upper floor, decorated with typical Ávila beading.
It is a good example of architecture from the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century and harmoniously brings together the late Gothic and Mudejar styles. As a result, it is a clear reflection of the history and society of the day.
Today, the palace is used as an ORIENTAL ART MUSEUM AND A NATURAL SCIENCE MUSEUM.
Palaces and mansions inside the walls
House of Blasco Núñez Vela
Built by Blasco Núñez Vela, first Viceroy of Peru, and his wife Brianda de Acuña around 1541. The building has had a variety of uses: barracks for the militia and military academy and home of John Berry, Director of the Royal Cotton Textiles Factory; some rooms were used as factory workshops, offices and warehouses. In 1941, it was used as the Provincial Courthouse, which is also its function today.
House of Los Almarza
Built in the early years of the 16th century on the site of an earlier mediaeval building. In the 20th century, the building was used as a Convent by the Sisters of Mary. The original structure was changed and the most outstanding elements that were conserved include the main front, some of the windows on the front and the gate to the courtyard.
House of Superunda (Caprotti Palace)
The House of Superunda is dated between 1580 and 1595; however, like most Renaissance palaces, it was built on the site of an earlier building. It is possibly the building that has best conserved its original structure, since the refurbishment work was carried out while maintaining what had already been built.
In the 20th century, it was bought by the Italian painter Guido Caprotti, who had been associated with the town since 1916. Today, it belongs to the Town Hall of Ávila and, after its refurbishment in 2011, it is to be used as a museum for works by the aforementioned painter and for other cultural purposes.
Palace of Los Mújica (Tower of Los Guzmanes)
This building dates from the beginning of the 16th century and has an imposing corner tower finished off with trefoiled merlons and machicolations. It has overhanging lookout posts with loopholes on the corners, which shows its defence purpose.
It is used as the offices of the Provincial Council of Ávila and the former stables are now home to a Vetton Culture Interpretation Centre.
House of Los Dávila or House of the Marquis of Las Navas
This is the best example of a mediaeval Gothic-style palace in the city. It stands next to the walls and has a fortified interior. The courtyard is one of the most unique examples of our architecture and shows the importance of the Mudejar tradition, as in other places inside the palace. The front contains interesting windows, which were built in Renaissance style.
Palace of Valderrábanos
Located in Plaza de la Catedral, it has been turned into a hotel. The building has conserved its original front with an interesting figurative decoration dated at the end of the 15th century. The core of the tower, which was transformed in the 19th century, also probably dates from the 15th.
Palace of the Marquis of Velada
This building is also located in Plaza de la Catedral and has been turned into a hotel. It is one of the most important 16th-century residences in the town and boasts a corner tower and a large interior courtyard. The chroniclers of Ávila have identified the rooms of Carlos I, Isabel of Portugal and their son Felipe II in this palace.
Former Bishop's Palace and Episcopium
Opposite the north door of the Cathedral, visitors can see the former Bishop's Palace and Episcopium. The Palace stretches to the Gate of San Vicente and only a few elements have been conserved, albeit out of context, such as the front of the building, the occasional column and the corner window of what is today the town's post office.
On the site where the palace was built, one of the town's most interesting civil buildings has been conserved next to the walls. It is also the only building to have been conserved in Romanesque style: the Episcopium, which was probably a synod room. It has been refurbished by the Town Hall of Ávila for cultural events.
Palace of Los Águila
This House was given to the State by its last owner, Doña Luisa de Narváez, Duchess of Valencia, and, after the work that is being carried out at the moment has been completed, it will become an annex to the Museum of El Prado. Its construction dates from the mid-16th century.
Palace of Los Verdugo
Essentially built between 1500 and 1530, it is one of the most interesting residences in Ávila. The grotesco artwork on the main window reveal the presence of the Plateresque style in the town.
It is currently used as the World Heritage Cities Building, the Municipal Archive and the Department of Heritage and Tourism.
Palace of Bracamonte
Located in Plaza de Fuente el Sol, the state of ruin of the building at the end of the 19th century and the necessary work that had been carried out on it meant that it lost part of its original structure. It conserves the 16th-century porticoed courtyard, with its double gallery, and it has particularly interesting decoration with the coats of arms of the leading Ávila families. It stands as a graphic document that explains the ties between the town's different lineages.
It is currently used as the Delegation of Culture of the Regional Government (Junta de Castilla y León).
Palace of Juan de Henao
This building conserves its original front, which has been transformed into a window, and the structure of its courtyard, which was redone around 1922. The original palace probably dates from the mid-16th century.
After its refurbishment, it was turned into the Parador Nacional de Turismo.
Palace of Polentinos
Situated in Calle Vallespín, its Plateresque front is the most important in the town. Built in the first quarter of the 16th century, it is today used as the Military Archive of the Army and has been home to an interesting Museum of the Service Corps since 2010.
Palaces and mansions outside the walls
House of Las Carnicerías
Thought to be by Francisco de Mora, it was built between 1590 and 1591 on the outside of the walls for use as a store for selling the wine that came into the town. It was also used for the two main butcher's shops. The move of the main butcher's shops led to a great amount of protest and they were returned to their original locations after a short period (Mercado Grande and Mercado Chico). In their place, the flour scales (used to control the grain and flower that came into the town) were moved there and remained in operation until the 19th century.
Its construction hindered ordinary traffic through the Gate of El Obispo, especially the cathedral chapter. The complaints led Felipe II to order, in 1597, the bricking-up of the Gate of El Obispo and the opening of a new gate through the House of Las Carnicerías, dividing the building into: one was used as a wine exchange and for the flour scales; and the other was used as an inn for judges and captains.
It is currently home to the Municipal Tourist Office and is one of the places where access can be gained to the allure of the walls.
House of La Misericordia
Known thanks to the relief on its front as the House of El Caballo (in English, the Horse), this building was once the Hospital of San Martín, founded and sponsored by the prebendary of the Cathedral, Rodrigo Manso, in the mid-16th century. Like the House of Las Carnicerías, it is built onto the exterior of the east side of the walls.
House of Los Deanes
This stately home was built in the 16th century in a Renaissance style as the residence of the Dean of the Cathedral. The courtyard is characterised by the presence of basket-handle arches made of brick and set on granite columns.
It is currently used as the Provincial Museum of Ávila.
Palace of Los Serrano
Built in 1557, this building belonged to the Alderman Pedro Álvarez Serrano. It has three floors, which is not common in the town.
It was refurbished as the Cultural Centre of Caja de Ávila (the local savings bank) and is used for congresses, forums and all kinds of exhibitions.