There is a huge crowd that has gathered right in the middle of the square in Segovia in Spain, cheering to the music while some dancers are setting the rhythm for the evening. They seem to be in the midst of a local festival. The energy is in the air as the entire town lands up in this little square, greeting each other and joining in the pageantry.
However, I turn my gaze away from the crowds and look at the massive aqueduct that cuts across the length of the town, basking in the evening sunlight. Standing tall and silent, it is the showstopper of Segovia, looking larger than life and reminding people of the days the Romans built it , way back between the 1st- 2nd centuries.
We find a place to stand near the aqueduct as the festivities gather momentum here. The presiding deity of Segovia, Our Lady of the Fuencisla is getting ready for a procession and is heading back to her monastery after her brief stay at the Cathedral in Segovia. We are unable to find a vantage point but a couple of older women show us the way as we get a glimpse of the spectacle.
The evening light is beautiful as the entire aqueduct, often referred to as the aqueduct bridge glows, the rays of light shining through the 166 arches .A symbol of Segovia as seen by its presence on the city’s coat of arms, the Romans had originally built it to bring water from the mountains to the town. But legends of course attribute it to a devil’s handiwork.
A beautiful maiden had struck a deal with the devil who had promised her water to her doorstep as she was tired of carrying water across the city. She had to part with her soul if the devil kept his side of the bargain before the rooster crowed. The girl prayed to the Lord after realizing her mistake who answered her prayers by sending out a storm and delaying the process. As dawn broke, the devil had failed by just a single stone block. The Segovians however forgave the girl and sprinkled holy water on the arches and accepted the aqueduct.
In reality however , the long aqueduct bridge runs for 15 kms until it reaches the city and it was built with huge granite blocks from the Guadarrama mountains, located another 17 kms away, without any concrete or mortar between the stones..
We walk around and see the setting sun glow as the lights of the cathedral come up .It is the last Gothic cathedral to be built in Spain, way back in the 16th century. It glows even brighter as twilight comes up and I walk aimlessly and stare at it endlessly. It is my first day in Segovia and I have already struck a bond with the city.
Morning dawns and I watch the first rays of the sun caress the mountains, lighting up the entire monument-scape. The entire city sits on a craggy limestone rock and it seems to be ringed in – first by the mountains and then by the city walls guarding an old town inside their fold. I can see the mountains slowly unveiling themselves in the dawn, as the monuments stand out to announce their presence. The aqueduct is there, right in the centre as a cluster of steeples and church towers surround it.
But my eyes now look upon the Alcazar or the Fortress that stands apart from the crowd of monuments. The tourist brochure compares it to a ship made of stone, with the two rivers – Eresma and Clamores surrounding it as it stands tall amidst the multi hued landscape . A montage of green, blue, ochre and brown colours fill your eyes as the palace rises above all other monuments , basking in the morning light.
Alcazar , the fortress and the palace was probably of Arab origin , built on the remains of a Roman fort. None of the old structure however remains today. What we see in front of us is a towering structure from the Middle Ages that was once the home of the emperors of Castiles, including their favourite queen , Isabel 1. The palace is now a veritable art gallery that takes you on a pictorial journey of its own history, along with that of the town.
As we drive around the landscape it opens out into the mountains and one of them in silhouette is referred to as “Mujer Muerta” or the Dead Woman. There are many stories, but one of them stays in my mind . It speaks of a sacrifice of a mother who gave up her life to stop her warring sons. The story goes that while the sons were getting ready for a bitter battle, the mother prayed to God to take her life instead. A snow storm suddenly interrupted their fight and they suddenly saw a mountain arise out of the plains, covered with snow. Locals say that the sons go there every evening to kiss their mother, whenever they see the clouds gather around the summit.
Our drive around Segovia gives us a better understanding of the history of the city that has seen several influences . A town of Celtiberian origin , it was part of the Roman empire but was abandoned during the Islamic invasion, only to be repopulated again in the 11th century by Christians. As you wander through the walls of the city, you realize it was once a prosperous town with a robust textile industry and the old Jewish quarter gives testimony to the same.
The day almost ends as we come back to the town . I head to the square and watch life pass by at Segovia. A century old confectionery shop beckons me and I meet a lady who has been making “el ponche segoviano” a traditional Segovian delicacy for years. As I munch on a piece of the Segovian punch – a delicious cake made of egg, flour, marzipan, topped with cream and sugar , soaked in alcoholic spirit, I look around and see the walls which is filled with pictures of old Segovia and how the town has changed over the years. The sun goes down and I return to my room, having had a taste of Segovia.
Segovia is barely 90 kms from Madrid and you can either drive or take a train to this quaint town from the Spanish capital. From India, you can fly to Madrid via Turkish Airlines, who sponsored our trip.
This article was published in Rediff.com.