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Ávila (Municipality, Castilla y León, Spain)

Last modified: 2015-01-17 by ivan sache
Keywords: ávila | ávila |
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Presentation of Ávila

The municipality of Ávila (58,245 inhabitants in 2010; 23,190 ha; official website, unofficial website) is the capital of the Ávila Province. Located at an elevation of 1,131 m asl, Ávila is the highest provincial capital in Spain and the 9th most populous municipality in Castilla y León.

Ávila dates back to the citadel of Obila ("The High Mount") built by the the Vettones, a Celtic cattle-herder people; the Vettones are also known as the Culture of the Verracos, referring to the verracos de piedras (lit., "stone boars"), granite sculptures representing pigs, boars, wild boars and bulls found in several sites and shown on the coat of arms and flags of some municipalities of the Ávila Province. The Romans replaced the citadel by a big town named Abila/Abela, whose territory more or less matches the historical downtown. The tradition says that St. Secundus, one of the seven Apostolic Men, was the first Bishop of Ávila, a fact disputed by historians; the first documented Bishop of Ávila is Priscillian (d. 385). Ávila is considered to have been one of the early and biggest strongholds of the Visigoths in Spain, but the exact site of the fortress has yet to be documented. The town was also a main religious center; the chronicles say that the Santa María de la Antigua monastery was founded in 687 and housed St. Leocadia, the daughter of King Wamba.

Conquered by the Moors and renamed Abila, the town became a strategic place, fiercely disputed by the Christians and the Moors. King of Asturias Alfonso I and his son Fruela raided the town in 740-742 without seizing it. In the next three centuries, the town was probably destroyed by the successive Christian and Moorish raids, which made of the whole region a deserted area known as tierra de nadie (Land of Nothing), serving as a buffer zone between Castile, Asturias, León and the Muslim states.
After the reconquest of Toledo in 1085, King Alfonso VI commissioned his son-in-law Raymond of Burgundy to resettle the area and to protect the reconquerred lands. The towns of Ávila, Salamanca and Segovia were resettled during this period. In 1250, Ávila had 6,615 Christian, Moor and Jewish inhabitants. The town became a religious and military stronghold; in the 12th-13th centuries, the Ávila knights were involved in all the military campaigns against the Moors. Accordingly, the town was granted different titles, such as "Ávila de los Caballeros" (Ávila of the Knights), "Ávila del Rey" (Ávila of the King) and "Ávila de los leales" (Ávila of the Loyal Men).

The Ávila walls, which still completely surround the old town, are among the best preserved town walls in Spain and Europe. The legend says that their building began on 3 May 1090 after a blessing ceremony led by Bishop Pelagius. The architects were the Roman Casandro Colonio, the French Florent de Pituenga and the Navarrese Álvar García; the building required 2,000 workers and was completed within nine years. Recent studies, however, have shown that the walls were built much later than believed, that is in the middle of the 12th century; the reuse of the foundations of the old Roman wall is not disputed, though. Additional gates were opened in the 15th-17th centuries, while the wall was restored several times, with a complete revamping made in 1987. The wall is 2,526 m in length, enclosing a nearly rectangular area; it is defended by nine gates, four posterns and 88 towers (30 on the northern side, 12 on the western side, 25 on the southern side and 21 on the eastern side). The height of the wall is quite even, with an average of 12 m.

Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada (1515-1582), better known as Teresa of Ávila, reformed the Carmelite Order and founded, together with John of the Cross, the Discalced Carmelites. Canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, Teresa was named Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. Her masterwork, El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle) has made of her both a prominent Spanish writer and a main Catholic theologian and mysticist.

Ivan Sache, 3 June 2011

Symbols of Ávila

The flag of Ávila (photo, Town Hall) is purple with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.

The coat of arms of Ávila (municipal website) is "Gules the chevet of the cathedral proper on it a child king standing holding dexter a sword and sinister an orb".
These arms were granted to the town in 1130-1135 by King Alfonso VIII (the Child King), originally showing a tower instead of the cathedral, with the writing "Ávila del Rey". In 1166, Alfonso VIII added the writing "Ávila de los leales"; sometime before 1350, Alfonso XI added a third writing, "Ávila de los Caballeros". In 1517, the tower was replaced by the cathedral's chevet.
The arms recall that Alfonso VIII, crowned when only three years of age, whose nominal power was challenged by nobles and his own uncle Ferdinand II, King of León, was put in the custody of the loyal town of Ávila until aged 15, when he started to restore the royal power.

The Ávila Cathedral (presentation), portrayed on the town's arms, was started in the middle of the 12th century, in late Romanesque style. The chevet of the cathedral was designed by Fruchel; the central chapel surrounded by a double row of secondary chapels is modelled on the French St. Denis Basilica.

The arms of Ávila appear as the inescutcheon of the arms of Ávila Province.

Ivan Sache, 3 June 2011

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