In a country whose first inhabitants pre-date the Neolithic period, it’s hardly surprising Spain is endowed with a rich historical past.

In fact, for history buffs and lovers of ancient architecture, it offers a goldmine of riches highlighted today by eight UNESCO World Heritage Cities–more than any other country in the world. I recently had the great pleasure of exploring three of these marvellous centres that are exceptional monuments to Spain’s past.


Located about 100 km northeast of Madrid, Avila is a well-preserved city contained within a mile-long medieval wall. The construction of this stone fortification began in the 11th century and was completed in only nine years by nearly 2,000 men working daily–a remarkable feat considering its length and the rudimentary tools of the day. The wall is punctuated by nine gateways and 88 huge cylindrical turrets which nesting storks have found to their liking. Inside the wall the city’s wealth of architectural gems includes a monastery, temples, palaces, a museum, churches and a central square. Centuries ago the square was used for weekly public markets and special celebrations, however, on the dark side it was also the site of numerous executions during the 15th century Inquisition period.

Much of Avila’s fame today is centred around St. Theresa (one of Spain’s most renowned Saints) who was born there in 1515. During her lifetime she established a number of convents and churches both in Avila and across the country. In addition to its famous wall and St. Theresa monuments, the city’s crowning architectural edifice is the Avila cathedral that dates back to the 12th century and combines a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

Overall, visitors to Avila will find it’s a good walking city where almost nothing has changed in hundreds of years. Moreover, its designation as a World Heritage Site ensures it will remain that way.


Located about 100 km east of Avila, this is a beautiful city that’s impossible not to love. A university town, Salamanca’s enchanting Old Town section is steeped in ancient history and filled with architectural treasures. In fact, the famous Carthaginian warrior, Hannibal, captured Salamanca in 217 BC.
Much larger and busier than Avila, the city skyline is dominated by the 16th century New Cathedral, the 12th century Old Cathedral, plus the university and the Plaza Major–Salamanca‘s four main tourist attractions. Built in the Baroque style in the 18th century, the Plaza Major is one of Spain’s largest and grandest. Over the years it has been the site of markets, theatre, musical events and even a bull ring, but today, restaurants, cafes and shopping make it the town’s most popular gathering spot.

This city is truly a history and architecture lover’s dream. The two dominating cathedrals are predominantly constructed in Romanesque, Baroque, and Gothic styles and the architecturally splendid University of Salamanca, founded in 1218, is regarded as the city‘s jewel of Spanish Renaissance art. Ranked among the oldest and most prestigious schools in Europe, this is a must-see venue where Christopher Columbus once lectured.

The university is open to the public where visitors can see interior highlights such as a splendid library that houses manuscripts dating from the 11th century and 40,000 books edited between the 16th and 18th centuries.

While Salamanca has some of the finest historical and architectural treasures in Spain, it’s a city that contrasts influences from the pre-Roman era with those of modern times. Its latter day attractions include an Art Nouveau/Art Deco Museum, the Museum of Oriental Art as well as an exceptional Automobile Museum.

Ranked as one of the top tourist centres in Spain, the city also offers visitors wonderful restaurants serving traditional Spanish cuisine, terrace cafes, excellent shopping and plenty of nightlife.

Alcala De Henares

About 35 km northeast of Madrid, Alcala de Henares (meaning castle on the river Henares) was declared a World Heritage Site in 1998 and today it ranks among the best preserved ancient cities in Europe.

Its Old Town centre is medieval with winding cobblestone streets lined with period buildings, however, beyond this lies present day Spanish suburbia. The heart of the city dates back to 1 BC when it was established by conquering Romans and many centuries forward, in the 1480s, Christopher Columbus met here with the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isobella, to discuss financing his voyage to the New World.

To many, the city is best known as the 1547 birthplace of writer, Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s most famous literary icon. Arguably his greatest and best known opus is Don Quixote Man of La Mancha, generally regarded among the best novels ever written.

Not surprisingly, his name and historical importance is celebrated in various parts of town including street names, the Cervantes Train between Alcala de Henares and Madrid, plus the Museum Casa Natal, the 16th century house where Cervantes was born. The house has been turned into a museum containing period furniture and a collection of his works.

So important is Cervantes to Alcala de Henares that the city operates an interpretation centre dedicated to the author and his literary accomplishments.


For detailed information see or call 1-416-961-3131.

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