The best solution for building the walls was granite, a material that was found in abundance next to the site on the ridges on which the defence construction was built and in the reusable materials found in the nearby Roman necropolis. For the Romanesque churches (12th-13th centuries), a softer material was sought to enable the sculpture work. Here, the so-called Caleno granite from La Colilla (a granite conglomerate), which is easy to work with, has a yellow colour with orange and reddish tones created by its ferrous oxide content, offered the beautiful dynamism that contrasts with the robust Romanesque style and characterises it in Ávila.
The Caleno granite quarries of the nearby village of La Colilla were associated with the history of Ávila's Romanesque buildings, observing the evolution from the Romanesque style to the Gothic style in large churches, such as that of San Vicente or the Cathedral itself, in which the ambulatory was built with a variant style of Caleno granite that was given the name of 'bloody' owing to its rich red and white tones.
Any visit to the mediaeval town should start with THE WALLS as the prime example of military architecture from the Spanish Romanesque and a unique example of European mediaeval architecture. Its layout is fundamental for understanding a town whose walls stood as a military defence construction, health protection barrier, tax border and support for other buildings.
It has a perimeter of 2.5 km, 87 turrets, 9 gates and 3 small gates and it runs around an area covering 33 ha. Those are the numbers of the fortress, but they are not enough to learn about a monument that is an essential document for understanding the town and how it works.
Attached inside the walls, opposite the Cathedral, there is one of the most significant and unknown buildings in the town: THE EPISCOPIUM, which was probably an ancient synod room or Bishop's Palace. It is the oldest Romanesque civil construction in the town.
Another fundamental item on the route is the CATHEDRAL, which was designed as both church and fortress and its apse, known locally as the cimorro and set in the walls, is the most imposing turret of the east wall.
Considered as the first Gothic cathedral in Spain, it stands on the remains of an original building that was devoted to El Salvador (The Saviour). In 1172, Alfonso VIII decided to extend the original building and commissioned the project to the French master builder, Fruchel. He was ordered to begin the consolidation of the current building in transitional Romanesque-Gothic style. After his death, a second stage of construction brought in new materials and the use of granite ashlars; the project continued in Gothic style.
Inside, visitors' attention is drawn to the retrochoir, the main altar, the ambulatory with the sepulchre of 'El Tostado' and the Cathedral Museum.
Another prime Romanesque church in Ávila is SAN PEDRO, which stands in Plaza del Mercado Grande. It was designed to the same principles as San Vicente, but its slow construction meant that the tribunes that had been planned were not built, that the tower was built on the northern apse and that the gable end had a front with no storiation finished off by a Cistercian-design rose window. Next to San Pedro stands NTRA. SRA DE LA ANTIGUA, which was rebuilt in Romanesque style but is originally from the Visigoth period.
Almost hidden, Plaza del Mercado Grande is also home to the late-Romanesque Church of La MAGDALENA, which was originally the church of a monastery and then a hospital, always devoted to the same saint. Today, it is the Church of the Convent of the Franciscan Conceptionists.
Very close to El Mercado Grande, Plaza de Nalvillos is home to SANTO TOMÉ EL VIEJO, which, after much transformation, has become an interest warehouse that is open to the general public and used by the PROVINCIAL MUSEUM OF ÁVILA.
The route takes us to the BASILICA OF SAN VICENTE, the leading example of the Ávila Romanesque style and, thanks to its measured proportions, a unique example of the Romanesque style in Spain. With its outside influences and the influence of the cathedral construction, it is also the propagator of the style in the town. It stands in the place where tradition situates the martyrdom and burial of Vincent, Sabina and Cristeta. The construction of the Basilica of San Vicente began around 1130 and continued until the end of the 12th century. The narrow upper end, with its three apses, stands on a liturgical funeral crypt. The storiated capitals of the main chapel, the sepulchre that tells the story of the saints, the west porch and the southern cornice, with a wealth of iconography, stand as the best examples of Romanesque sculpture in the church and also in the town.
And we move on to SAN ANDRÉS, which is one of the most unique churches in the Ávila Romanesque. The variety of the iconographic motifs on the capitals in its central apse is the largest in the Ávila Romanesque style.
Another two churches are situated nearby to the north of the town. They were built in Romanesque style and made way for the Mudejar influences. The first is SAN MARTÍN, which was rebuilt in the 16th century and conserves a tower built with an ashlar plinth and an upper body in brick, a bell-tower of Gothic tradition and the mark of the Mudejar masters. The pointed windows are of particular interest and are made of decreasing horseshoe archivolts set in a panel.
The second church is NUESTRA SEÑORA DE LA CABEZA, which was built in the town's late-Romanesque style. The sculptures that decorate the fascias in the presbytery are characterised by plaits with diamond-shaped tips and reveal the influence of traditional Islamic motifs.
A church of great tradition and importance for the town is the Shrine of SAN SEGUNDO, which is situated on the right-hand bank of the River Adaja and is devoted to the town's patron saint. Inside, it boasts a sculpture of St Segundo in prayer by Juan de Juni.
Through the Gate of El Adaja or San Segundo and continuing up Calle de Vallespín, we come to SAN ESTEBAN, a unique Romanesque church that has been conserved inside the walls and is one of the plainest examples. The apse is broken only by two small columns and the corbels of the eaves; the decoration follows the Cantabrian Romanesque style.
In the south of the town, in what was once the quarter with the largest Muslim population, stands SAN NICOLÁS, one of the town's late-Romanesque churches. Interestingly, a Vetton animal sculpture was reused in the plinth of the church tower.
Other churches in the town were built in the Romanesque style and later reformed in the late-Gothic style. This is the case of SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, located in El Mercado Chico, and SANTIAGO or the SHRINE OF LAS VACAS, which were built outside the walls.
And this catalogue of Romanesque churches would include others which have disappeared for various reasons: Santa Cruz, San Cebrián, Santísima Trinidad, San Pelayo (currently rebuilt in El Retiro Park in Madrid), San Silvestre, Santo Domingo de Silos, San Gil and San Lázaro.