UNESCO sites near Madrid
Part 1. Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca and Alcalá
UNESCO World Heritage sites are selected for being ´cultural and natural treasures´ of the world that are of ´outstanding value to humanity´.
Spain has a number of UNESCO sites, and moreover many are located close to Madrid and are easy to visit from the capital. This week, we are focusing on three of the larger UNESCO cities near Madrid: Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca and Alcalá. We hope to inspire you to discover the treasures of these beautiful historical cities, and truly discover the real gems of Spain.
Toledo is a captivating city in which 2000 years of history shines through to greet you in every street, plaza and winding alley. Over centuries many different civilisations have made this city a central part of their kingdoms and societies, each with their own interpretation and use for the city, bringing numerous distinct cultures and histories together in one place today.
Toledo witnessed the rise and fall of the ancient Roman Empire, once acting as a Roman municipium city, leaving behind a Roman water system. The city was also the political and religious capital of the Visigothic Kingdom´s ´Hispania´, a period in which the Jewish community was present, but not official. It was only through the conquest of the city by the Moors and their religious tolerance that led to Toledo gaining its famous title of the city of 3 peoples: the Christians, Jews and Moors. This period was relatively short at just 373 years, but was hugely influential in creating unique concepts such as ´Mozarabe´ and ´Mudejar´ subcultures, mixing these group´s styles and creating new forms of architecture, art, vocabulary, literature and music. Despite the subsequent conquest of Toledo by the Christians and a suppression of other religious groups, this mix of cultures, religions and styles can still be seen all over the city today, and is a large reason behind Toledo´s UNESCO World Heritage site status. Of particular interest in the city are the Jewish Synagogue museum, the Gothic Cathedral, Renaissance palace and the El Greco art museum, as well as the beautiful architectural touches that you will find just by walking through Toledo´s streets.
You can discover Toledo as part of our exclusive gastronomic, wine and cultural tour, guided by a local bilingual wine expert: Toledo Tour. You can also look online to find out more about the city of Toledo before you visit, by going to the official Toledo tourism web page, where you can find more information on what to do in the city, where to eat, and local festivals.
It was the Roman Empire that created one of Segovia´s most iconic architectural symbols: the Roman Aqueduct. Standing tall even today, the Aqueduct pays tribute to the excellent civil engineering work established by the Roman civilisation, allowing water to be carried to the city of Segovia for baths, latrines and fountains.
Segovia is also famous for the real Disney castle. The Alcazár castle, with its towers and blue domes, is said to have inspired Walt Disney is his design for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, which became one of the most iconic symbols for Walt Disney. It is possible to visit the castle, which is surrounded by mountains and flora, as well as go inside to explore its rooms and courtyards.
Also the city where Isabela I was crowned the Queen of Castille in 1474, Segovia has an impressive Gothic Cathedral, where you will find beautiful stained-glass windows and old carved choir stalls, as well as a chapel and museum.
Segovia has a real mix of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassical architecture, and is also home to a number of historical and art museums. It is a perfect city to stroll around, whilst you enjoy its gastronomy, wine, or even try its speciality roast lamb dishes at one of the city´s famous ´Asador´ restaurants.
You can visit Segovia as part of our fantastic gastronomic, wine and cultural Segovia Tour from Madrid.
Salamanca is a stunningly beautiful old University city, with one of the oldest Universities in Europe. It is well-known for its spectacular architecture, primarily that of the decorative Churrigueresque style, and has historically been the location of choice for the most prestigious architects, decorators and sculptors. The city is full of beautifully ornate buildings, set also in Barroque, Rennaisance and and Gothic styles, which can be seen throughout the whole city.
It is, however, the University to which the city of Salamanca owes much of its marvel. Founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX, the University of Salamanca is the oldest higher learning institution in the whole of Spain, and one of the oldest in Europe. The University had already earnt a reputation as being one of the best Universities in Europe by 1250, a mere 32 years after its establishment, and just four years later in 1254 was given the title of being one of the world´s four great universities by Pope Alexander IV and granted important privileges by King Alfono X, linking the Christian church and the University inextricably.
Most notable is the collection of University buildings, which have beautiful facades and towering stone arches. There are a number of intricate sculpture patterns to look out for, particularly the skull and frog design, which if you find will bring you good luck for your exams, and a tiny astronaut worked into the bottom of the New Cathedral during renovations, a modern interpretation of an architect signing his work in a more original way.
More important sights to see are the two Cathedrals, the Casa de Las Conchas house (with its façade covered in stone shells, see above), local churches and the Plaza Mayor with its history and tradition. You will also find a number of traditional restaurants, particularly serving locally cured meats and cheeses.
Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá fulfils three of the World Heritage site criteria as set out by UNESCO. In 1293, Sancho IV of Castile gave the Archbishop of Toledo permission to create the General School of Study in Alcalá. This was the beginning of the University that has since made Alcalá de Henares famous. Alcalá was the first city to be completely designed and then constructed solely to support this University, as well as being the first city designed around the concept of ´the City of God´ (Civitas Dei), an idea which has consequently spread throughout the rest of the world in the construction of new municipalities. The city is also historically famous for the linguistic advances carried out in the area, such as the work of Cervantes, and his masterpiece Don Quixote, and the basis for modern linguistic analysis and modern dictionaries.
Alcalá today offers a wealth of beautiful architectural gems to discover. Among its ancient churches and Christian convents, you will find the Palacio de Laredo, which was constructed by architect and subsequent major of Alcalá from 1891-1893. The Palace was designed with a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Pompeian, Modern and Mudejar (a blend of Islamic and Spanish) styles, paying true homage to Spain´s architectural history.
Stay tuned next time for Part 2 of our ´UNESCO sites near Madrid´ posts, which will focus on the smaller and very individual towns of Cuenca, Ávila and Aranjuez. If you would like to do a holiday with these fantastic locations, take a look at our Madrid, Toledo, Segovia tour, which has options to add other cities like Cuenca and Ávila.
Be transported from the bustling city to the charming countryside on this Madrid wine tour. This tour includes visits to 2 wineries and wine tasting, as well as a 3-course lunch where you can taste traditional high quality food. Discover Madrid wine region with a friendly local guide and relax in a luxury air-conditioned minivan. This is a unique tour with a small group size for a more personal experience. Max. 7, average group 4
This private tour combines 4 fantastic experiences in one. Discover the impressive monastery complex of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, enjoy local wines at a family-owned small winery and taste high quality local gastronomy with a knowledgeable local guide. The tour includes a visit to one of Spain´s best hidden gems: the Bulls of Guisando, a fantastic example of art that dates back to the 3rd century before Christ! Enjoy amazing views and travel back in history with this unique tour from Madrid
TOURS RUN ONLY AS PRIVATE FOR THE TIME BEING - An amazing tour to Toledo and much more!. Visit La Mancha and the windmills of Don Quixote, a winery that produces award-winning wines and enjoy a high quality lunch. Visit Toledo city in the afternoon and 2-3 of its monuments, including the cathedral and a synagogue or the famous painting by El Greco, ´Burial of Count Orgaz´. A unique, tailor-made wine tour to Toledo from Madrid. Maximum 7 people, average group size 4 (TOURS RUN ONLY AS PRIVATE FOR THE TIME BEING)