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Monday, January 1, 2018

Segovia's Medieval Treasures: Ayllón

Ayllón with its Martinete tower and Baroque bell gable of Santa María
All photos in this post 2017 Jessica Knauss 
Spanish mornings are long. We got on the tour bus at 8 a.m., having swallowed some churros or other fast breakfast food, and we thoroughly experienced Santa María de la Riaza, which would've been enough medieval art for any other day or week, and then made it to Ayllón, but it was still nowhere near lunchtime.

Ayllón's Plaza Mayor 
Although Ayllón has works of art from most time periods, our tour focused on Romanesque standouts and the Gothic expressions inside them, and we still had our hands overfull.

In fact, Romanesque churches were so abundant in the province of Segovia that—surprise, surprise—people in later time periods didn't value them, care for them, or even bother to keep them in one piece sometimes. The first monument we saw were the ruins of San Nicolás, which was converted into the gate of the municipal cemetery in the nineteenth century by demolishing everything but one doorway.

These fighters are so weathered, I would've misinterpreted them
without the expert guidance of Arteguías
They scavenged a few column capitals and placed them according to their own tastes. We took the opportunity to study them at length, identifying heads, angels, and medieval handfighters.

Another case of Romanesque reappropriation was Santa María la Mayor, a mostly Baroque edifice close to the Plaza Mayor with an impressive bell gable.

The lion attacks represent the way the flesh passes on. 

Left: Weighing souls.
Right: An angel holds up a monogram of Christ that has its Alpha and Omega letters transposed. 
On the northern and eastern outer walls of Santa María, restorers placed Romanesque reliefs that probably originated in the church the Baroque builders replaced. The figures include lions pouncing on humans, an angel with a special monogram of Christ, and an instance of weighing souls in judgment. Why did they place those last two so high?

In the gorgeous porticoed Plaza Mayor, the main attraction was the church of San Miguel. It's now used as Ayllón's tourism office, and is a museum of marvels, inside and out. The apse is partially buried under street level, but that put the corbels that much closer to our avid eyes.

Here we see many corbels depicting people at various tasks, including a delightful one with a stoneworker doing some fine detail carving with one of his enormous medieval tools. Note the intricate crosshatching above and the quatrefoil flowers between the corbels.

The southern entrance eroded quite a bit before they put a porch shelter over it. Its geometric decoration has heavy Sorian influence.

Different masonry styles and a mysterious balcony 
I'm really impressed with María Álvarez de Vallejo. She's an avid reader even now! 
Inside, the nave is almost square and may have been built on a previous mosque. The different stones used in Muslim and Christian construction are clearly visible in the bare walls. Highlights include a balcony with mysterious Gothic painting, various Gothic burial niches, and the alabaster tomb of María Álvarez de Vallejo and her husband, Pedro Gutiérrez, secretary and treasurer of the Marquises of Villena, Diego López Pacheco and his second wife, Juana Enríquez. It may have been made by the same artists who completed the alabaster tomb of Fernando and Isabel in the Royal Chapel in Granada. Most of the damage was caused by Napoleonic troops as they came through!

Ayllón is also home to several late Gothic palaces, their facades packed with heraldry symbolism and the Isabelline version of the decorative orbs we saw in Romanesque Santa María de la Riaza.

In another part of town, the Church of San Juan might've suffered the same fate as San Nicolás (or worse) if it hadn't been for the passion and financing of Ayllón's native son, Pedro. He loved the ruined church when he was a boy, and always hoped to own it one day. His dream came true when it was threatened with bulldozing, and he saved it.

He now lives there and presents art exhibits. A gracious and tireless host, I think he would've put us all up for the night if we'd asked. Many parts of the church are in good shape after Pedro's study and guesswork.

The interior courtyard is made up of a well-preserved Romanesque apse and, to the side of it, a Gothic funerary chapel with many elaborate niches and an unusual five-pointed star.


Outside, a ghostly Christ monogram that was obviously and idiosyncratically carved after everything else was in place graces the weathered Romanesque entrance.


A garden trellis is supported by sirens, saints, and serpents in the vivid column capitals.

This cat knows the best spots in photogenic Ayllón. 
After the wonders of San Juan, it was finally time for lunch. We ate a lovely Segovian meal of bean stew, lamb chops, potatoes fried in olive oil, a piquillo pepper, and a millefeuille-type pastry for dessert. I was suffering through my first cold of the season and would gladly have headed back to Madrid to sleep a long siesta in my comfy hotel room, but no, the wonders of the province of Segovia wait for no schoolyard disease. It was time to move on to Maderuelo, which will make up the epic grand finale post, coming soon. For a sneak peek, check out the Arteguías website.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Happy Holidays! Felices Fiestas!

Happy holidays from Spain! 
For this special holiday blog, I'm giving my faithful readers exactly what you want: pictures of a fantastic castle. Minimal explanation. These are my snaps from my trip to Ponferrada earlier this month. Enjoy!




When the Pons Ferratus (iron bridge) was built here to help the pilgrims to Santiago
in the twelfth century, the Knights Templar settled in to protect and care for the holy travelers. 



Most of the castle we see today was built during the time of Isabel and Fernando. 



The town built up around the castle during a period of neglect. 






















Let the end of the world find us dancing! 

How pedestrians manage the steep hills in Ponferrada. 

Knight Templar monument 

Caldo berciano: What they eat in Ponferrada. Yum! 

Your most trusted source for holiday gift-giving recommends Seven Noble Knights