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The Monastery Route in Ávila

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  • Santo Tomás Monastery Cloister © Turespaña

    Santo Tomás Monastery Cloister © Turespaña


Mysticism and beauty combine

Convents and monasteries speak of a time of wealth - financially, socially, culturally and religiously speaking. There are several in the province of Ávila, and some of them are still inhabited by members of the religious orders that founded them. A visit to these monasteries is an excellent way to get to know the attractive and varied corners of the province.

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It is an ideal route for a weekend or a few days more. We can start in the historic town of Madrigal de las Altas Torres. There we'll find the Nuestra Señora de Gracia Monastery. It was first built as a palace by John II of Castile (early 15th century) as a summer residence, and the queen that was to be Isabella I the Catholic was born there.

Currently there are several Renaissance rooms, the Mudejar coffered ceilings and the Cortes Room, the regal staircase, the Gothic cloister and rooms such as the Royal Chapel, the Ambassadors' Room, the Bastardas e Infantas Pantheon and the room in which Queen Isabella was born.

Then we'll head towards Piedrahita, 85 kilometres away. We leave the cereal fields and endless landscapes in the vast Castile to enter the mountains in the south of the province. In Piedrahita the main chapel of the old convent of Santo Domingo (late 14th century) is preserved, currently in ruins.

Our next destination is the city of Ávila, to which we get after travelling 60 kilometres in the Amblés Valley. The old city, declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, is surrounded by the imposing Romanesque walls (11th-14th centuries), the best preserved in Spain.

We'll visit four monasteries-convents. They are all related in some way to two of the most important mystics: Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross. The Monastery of La Encarnación, built in the late 15th century, was where Santa Teresa lived as a nun since 1535 (it houses a Museum of the Saint). Between 1572 and 1577, Saint John of the Cross also spent a period of time here as chaplain and confessor to the nuns.

The Monastery-Convent of Santa Ana, built in the 16th century, has a women's guesthouse. The cloister, the chapterhouse and the two churches stand out. The Monastery-Convent of San José was the first convent founded by Saint Teresa of Jesus (mid-16th century). Some rooms have been preserved, although the current church was built by the Herrerian architect Francisco de Mora (17th century).

The Monastery-Convent of Santo Tomás (1482) is situated outside the city. It has two excellent cloisters, El Silencio and Los Reyes; and the latter houses an Oriental Art Museum. In the church, some elements stand out such as the Gil de Siloé doorway and Pedro de Berruguete's main altarpiece. It has a large guesthouse.

Our next stop is the town of Burgohondo, 36 kilometres away. It is situated in the heart of the Alberche Valley, a beautiful natural spot between the Paramera and Gredos Mountains. The remains of the old Santa María Abbey are situated there: the Romanesque church (12th century), the tower and the 16th century cloister.

If we continue on our journey along the valley we'll get to the village of El Tiemblo (34 kilometres). In the municipality (9 kilometres away) we'll find the Monastery of Los Jerónimos or of Cerro de Guisando, an old site with several shrines, rebuilt in the 16th century. After the fire that destroyed it in 1979, the cloister and the Gothic chapel are preserved half in ruins. It is situated next to the famous Bulls of Guisando, a set of four granite sculptures that represent bulls or boars, made by a Celtic tribe, the Vettones (2nd century BC). 


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