“Here were churches, castles, and medieval walls standing sharp in the evening light, but all dwarfed by that extraordinary phenomenon of masonry, the Roman aqueduct, which overshadowed the whole…’The Aqueduct’, said the farmer, pointing with his whip, in case by chance I had failed to notice it.” – Laurie Lee
When we had retired to bed the previous night there had been a clear sky so it was disappointing to wake up to the sound of falling rain and on opening the shutters a full examination of the weather revealed overcast skies and a rather soggy, looking sorry for itself, Ávila. But it was still early so we closed the shutters and slept on for an hour and hoped that it would improve. Sadly this was not to be and when we went down for breakfast it looked certain that this was going to be an umbrella sort of day.
Earlier in the year in Krakow Sue had overdone the alcohol one night and gone to bed feeling unwell but she was at least sufficiently recovered the next day to make it for breakfast but this morning Christine had had so much wine the previous night that she couldn’t face even a cup of tea let alone the fried eggs, tortilla and bacon and she excused herself from the breakfast room as soon as the plates were loaded up and started arriving at the table. The rest of us carried on and had another excellent meal and chatted like Methodist abolitionists about the evils of drink.
Even after we had finished breakfast an hour later she hadn’t begun to improve but although she was clearly unwell she decided that she would still accompany us on the planned drive to Segovia about sixty kilometers away and we all assured her that the fresh air would do her good and she was certain to start feeling better sometime soon.
It was still raining when we left the hotel and walked through the damp streets to the underground car park where we picked up the car and squeezed ourselves into the inadequate seats of the BMW but as we drove out of the city it started to brighten up a little and the rain thankfully eased off. To avoid the toll we took the national highway rather than the motorway option and this being a Sunday morning the road was almost completely empty and it was an easy journey.
To the south of the highway was the Sierra de Guadarrama and on the highest mountain in the whole range, the Peñalara, we could see snow covering the top of its two thousand, one hundred metre peak. The approach to Segovia was spectacular and still some way out of the city we could see it rising from the plain on a convenient outcrop of rock with a spectacular mountain backdrop and the Cathedral and the Alcázar reaching dramatically into the grey sky. The road dropped into the city and we found a convenient underground car park close to the Roman aqueduct.
The aqueduct is the most recognised and famous historical symbol of Segovia. It is the largest Roman structure still standing in Spain and was built at the end of first to the early second century AD by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometer from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town. This elevated section is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large, rough-hewn granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.
In the Plaza de Azeguego directly below the final, highest and most impressive section of the aqueduct there was a lot of activity as a band played and men in flamenco sombreros and black capes danced with local women and some of the locals and the tourist joined in. We weren’t sure what it was all about but it looked good fun and everyone was enjoying themselves despite the gloomy weather. We liked the Aqueduct and looked all round it from every possible angle. It is one of those structures that make you appreciate just how brilliant the Romans were. The fifteenth century professor at the University of Salamanca, Marineus, made the claim that ‘we should have no doubt that whatever memorable thing we come across in Spain is due to the Romans’ and although, six hundred years later, this can no longer possibly be true at the time it was probably a very fair assessment.