Madrid day trip: Romanesque churches and a Gothic cathedral in Segovia

Segovia is an easy day trip from Madrid and has plenty of medieval and Renaissance buildings to capture the imagination. Yesterday I talked about the Alcázar, the city’s castle, and today I’m looking at Segovia’s many churches.

Most of the churches are Romanesque in style, like Iglesia de la Veracruz, which was actually built outside the city walls in 1208. The signage says this church was owned by the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, but local legend says it’s a Templar church. Who knows? The round floor plan imitates the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, something common in Templar churches, so the legend may be correct. Then again, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem would want to imitate that church too. Somebody call Dan Brown.

Romanesque architecture was hugely popular in Spain and many other parts of Europe from the 8th to the 12th centuries. In Spain it took the form of square towers punctured by arches like this one, and arched doorways filled with carvings of angels, devils, saints, and even signs of the zodiac.

The circular floor plan of Iglesia de la Veracruz is unusual. Most Romanesque churches had a rectangular nave like we’re familiar with in later churches. This gives plenty of room for stained glass windows, religious paintings, and other decoration. Many of Segovia’s churches are like art galleries!

%Gallery-128543%One actually is. San Juan de los Caballeros, which was founded by the Visigoths in the 5th century and later turned into a Romanesque church, became in the 20th century the workshop of the famous ceramicist Daniel Zuloaga. A museum highlights his work and there are interesting elements to the church itself, like rare remnants of early frescoes and well-preserved carvings on the facade.

Another fine church is Iglesia de San Martín, seen best from the Plazuela de San Martín. It dates to the 12th century and has a distinctive peaked tower visible from many parts of the city–a good landmark when you get lost in the maze of medieval streets! There’s a wonderful portico where every column capital is carved with a different scene. Weather has given the figures a kind of melted look, but you can still figure out what’s going on if you’ve read your Bible.

Next to the Plaza Mayor is the cathedral. Unlike most churches in Segovia, this one is in the later Gothic style. In fact, it may be the youngest Gothic church in the world, being started in 1525 and consecrated in 1768. It’s a bit chunkier than the soaring Gothic churches of France and Germany and so isn’t my favorite example of the style, but there are some nice touches like the main tower that turns golden at dusk and dawn, the intricate finials (those spiky things) at each corner and turret, and the many gargoyles and coats of arms adorning the exterior walls.

Most churches are free, but the cathedral charges a small fee. The churches are generally open all day except during masses. The times for those are posted on or near the front door.