The latest two cities I had the opportunity of exploring in Spain were Segovia and Bilbao. Segovia, a small town nowadays, lies in the mountains just north of the capital of Madrid at an elevation of 3,000 feet. At the turn of the 16th century, Segovia was a booming city during the infancy of the country of Spain, housing kings and queens at its famous Alcazar and was the location of Isabel's coronation as Queen of Castile in 1474, which united the Kingdom of Aragon with Castile essentially creating modern-day Spain. Bilbao, at the same time, serves as an important port city in the province of Basque Country in northern Spain. Close to 1 million people reside in or around the beautiful, green city of Bilbao, making it the fifth largest in Spain. This post is not meant to compare the two but intended only to inform and delve into my latest excursions here in Spain.
Today, a meager 60,000 people inhabit Segovia, which had its best days following the Middle Ages when it served as a crucial trade route of cloth and textiles in Spain. As the Spanish Golden Era began to decline so did the prominence of Segovia, along with many other cities in the province of Castile, as a booming economic center. From 1574-1674, Segovia lost more than a third of its population.
However, Segovia's golden era facilitated the construction of several substantial works of Gothic architecture that I had the opportunity of visiting. But, it was the Romans who created Segovia's most well-known tourist attraction to date.
The Roman Aqueduct
Constructed in the late first century (1 A.D.), the Romans utilized this magnificent structure to bring water to the high altitude city of Segovia when it was just a Roman legion. Today, it is simply a tourist attraction but is a perfect illustration, on one hand, of the complex Roman infrastructure that was created during the Roman Empire and also how scientifically intelligent the Romans were when they created their infrastructure. It is one of the most well preserved Roman aqueducts still in existence today spanning nearly 800 yards outward from the city center.
Another famous landmark found in Segovia is the Arab-influenced fortress known as El Alcázar. Originally built by the Muslims as a fort, it was converted into a Christian fortification following the Christian reconquista of Segovia starting at the beginning of the 12th century. It served as both a residence for monarchs and an important fortress for several centuries. However, as Segovia began to decline the monarchy eventually was moved just south to Madrid. On a side note, if you think El Alcázar slightly resembles the castle in Disney World you'd be correct. Before building his Cinderella Castle, Walt Disney and his architect sought inspiration mostly from El Alcázar and the German castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria.
Overall, Segovia was a quaint, little touristy town with tons of history to go around. The city landscape is beautiful with the intersection of the aqueduct, the Cathedral domineering from the hilltop and the snow-covered mountains brightening the background of every sight. Here are some other sights that show Segovia's unique foothold in the mountains just north of Madrid:
The Cathedral of Segovia as seen from El Alcázar
The Cathedral is a prominent work of Gothic architecture
The city of Bilbao lies eight miles inland from the Bay of Biscay situated around the estuary of Bilbao, the river system that has facilitated the industrialist-port that Bilbao is today. Bilbao certainly can be characterized as an oceanic climate as one is bombarded by the green pastures that blanket this region of Spain. The city rests in a river valley which creates beautiful sights of the surrounding, green foothills. After spending a short weekend there I was impressed by three things:
1. Modern Architecture
2. The Subway
3. The Rain
The most well- known sight in Bilbao is its famous contemporary art museum, the Guggenheim. This modern-architectural masterpiece houses some of the most famous art works of the 20th century and today. There are works by Picasso, Matisse, Miró and Dali as well as monthly exhibits of contemporary pieces or historical analysis. Also, there is a pop art room that houses one of Warhol's famous depictions of Marilyn Monroe. Spending an entire day in the museum would be easy as there are works from several different contemporary eras.
Like in Catalonia, the people in Basque Country also speak a different language along with Spanish known Euskara. All the signs in Bilbao are first in Euskara then Spanish and then English. Honestly, I only heard the Euskara language maybe once as everyone was usually just speaking Spanish. Euskara is like nothing I have ever seen. It looks a bit like German but apparently no one really knows exactly where the language originates, some say Africa others say northern Europe.
Bilbao comes off as a very modern and industrial city; however, there is of course a historical part of the city known as Casco Viejo (Old Town). This part is reminiscent of all other Spanish 'old towns' but I enjoyed the dichotomy of seeing Guggenheim and the modern city during the day and then visiting the historical part at night. Bilbao has a certain charm to it. For some, it might be its beautiful green foothills or its Casco Viejo; but, for me it was the contemporary architecture and the modern feel of its newer parts.
Hasta la proxima.