The Alcázar, built in the 12th century upon the foundations
of a Roman fort, is one of Spain’s most impressive castles,
and that’s saying a lot. Check out my previous post
about the Alcázar of Segovia and its interesting
collection of medieval artillery.
While I’ve blogged a lot here about the sites of Madrid, it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned some of the excellent day trip possibilities from the Spanish capital. My favorite is the small city of Segovia just on the other side of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. With a beautiful cathedral and castle, one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts in Europe, plus winding medieval streets and delicious cuisine, it’s a popular choice for a day trip or overnight stay. You can reach Segovia by bus in just over an hour.
An hour’s train ride from Madrid is a small medieval town that’s often overlooked by international visitors. Cuenca has been an important town since the 8th century and has heaps of historic sights as well as natural beauty.
Located in rough hills and on a spur between the deep valleys of the Júcar and Huécar rivers, it’s a naturally defensible position and was fortified by the conquering Moors in 714. There is little remaining from the Islamic era because after it was conquered in 1177 by King Alfonso VIII, the city was extensively remodeled by him and several later monarchs.
Spring has finally sprung here in Madrid. The sidewalk cafes are full, and those who can’t find a seat have set off to the countryside to go hiking. It’s a good time to leave the museums and galleries behind and take a look at what the surrounding area has to offer.
This past weekend my family and I visited Alcalá de Henares, a small city 40 minutes on the suburban train outside of Madrid. Its main claim to fame is being the birthplace of Cervantes, who has been in the news recently because Spanish archaeologists discovered his tomb.
Like many Spanish cities, it has its roots in prehistory and came to prominence in Roman times, when it was called Complutum. After the fall of the empire it was a Visigothic settlement and was later taken over by the Moors, who built a citadel (“al-qal’a” in Arabic, a common place name in Spain). During the Moorish period it was a thriving town with large Christian and Jewish quarters.