The Alcazar of Segovia is considered by many to be the definitive castle of Spain. Partially dating as far back as Roman times, Segovia Castle has served as a military base for both Arab occupiers and Christian crusaders, a royal residence and a military school. It has since been restored to its former royal splendor for tourism. Its postcard-perfect design and mountaintop location make it one of the most photographed castles in Europe. Located not too far outside of Madrid, the Alcazar of Segovia is easily reached by tourists and is one of the most popular and visited sites in Spain.
The site where Segovia Castle now stands may have been the site of a fortress as far back as the late Roman imperial era. It was certainly used as an advance base during the period when Arab Muslims occupied most of Iberia. Records suggest that the Arabian fort was a wooden structure built on older stone foundations. In the late 11th century, the city of Segovia was occupied by forces of the Christian Reconquista and absorbed into the Kingdom of Castille.
During the reign of Alfonso VIII, the Reconqustia made major advances against the Almohads in Southern Spain. He also expanded the Kingdom of Castille at the expense of his other Christian neighbors. In the late 1100s, Alfonso made Segovia his capital and completely rebuilt it as his primary, personal residence. It would remain a royal palace for well over four centuries.
Segovia Castle has had a colorful if tumultuous history. It was one of the earliest homes to the Spanish parliament, such as it was, in the 1200s. In 1474, the Isabella I of Columbus fame was crowned Queen of Castille and Leon here. By the late 16th century the Alcazar of Segovia had grown dated, and the royal court moved permanently to Madrid.
After the departure of the court, Segovia Castle was used as a state prison, primarily for political and other important prisoners. In 1762 it was turned into an artillery school for the Spanish military, and in 1882 was expanded into a full-fledged military college. It served in this capacity until the 20th century, when the civil war wracked the peninsula and the great Spanish colonial empire came to its final end. Now fully restored to its imperial grandeur, it is one of Spains most important and popular historic sites.
The Alcazar of Segovia is Spain’s answer to Germany’s Neuschwannstein. Built on a prominent, rocky hill overlooking the town, the Alcazar has been described as looking like an immense fortified ship, and from certain angles it certainly resembles the bow and forecastle of a medieval seagoing vessel. Consisting mostly of a large, single fortified palace and courtyard, the pinkish-white walls capped with blue-grey tiled roofs rising above a thick carpet of trees makes the Alcazar one of Europe’s great fairy tale castles.
The castle interior is no less spectacular. After spending well over three centuries as a prison and school, much of the interior was completely refurbished, and now more closely resembles the royal residence it once was at the height of the colonial era. Highlights of the interior include the restored throne room, from which Ferdinand and Isabella co-ruled the country after their marriage, and the castle’s art gallery featuring works dating as far back as the Renaissance.
Segovia Castle overlooks the city center of modern Segovia, approximately forty miles north of the capital of Madrid. The Alcazar is open year-round from 10:00am-6:00pm with later hours in the summer months (though parts of the castle are closed on Tuesdays). Admission is E4.00, plus E2.00 for access to the tower for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Web: www.alcazardesegovia.com (official website).
The area around Segovia appears to have been a magnet for fantastic castles. Just northwest of the city is the stunning and remarkably intact Coca Castle. Further to the southeast in central Spain are Mendoza Castle and Consuegra Castle, the latter of which may date in part to Roman times.