Avila History Facts and Timeline

(Avila, Castilla y León, Spain)

With its fully preserved medieval city walls, magnificent churches and stalwart fortress, the Spanish city of Avila is one of the most visually inspiring places in the country.

The City of Saints and Stones was the birthplace of saints, as well as being the burial spot of many Spanish Inquisitors. Today, the history of Avila is on display for everyone to enjoy through its centuries-spanning architecture that dots the UNESCO Old City district.

A Fortified City on the Hill

The history of Avila stretches back into the mist of antiquity, perhaps even appearing in the writings of Ptolemy, the Greek mathematician and geographer. Though its true origins are still debated, it is known that the Vettones, a Central Iberian civilisation, built one of their most important fortresses on the site in the 5th century BC.

The location of Avila is ideal for a fortified city. Today, it is best known for its outstanding medieval city walls that completely enclose the city. Built of brown granite in 1090, the nine gateways and some 88 massive towers remain in superb condition. The Gothic Cathedral of Avila was integrated into the walls between the 12th and 16th centuries, looking as much like a fortress as a church.

Repelling the Moors

The Avila that we see today is largely the result of construction in the 11th century. The famous fortified walls were built to keep the invading Moors at bay, as the city lies where the Christian kingdoms of northern Iberia and Muslims from southerly Al-Andalus battled for control of the entire peninsula.

El Cid

The last two decades of the 11th century were the time of El Cid, the legendary Spanish fighter who led the Christians against the Moors. In these warring years, the only thing on the agenda was battle, and sites like Avila enjoyed great acclaim for their fortresses and ability to fight. These were the glory years in the history of Avila, especially considering that Christian king Alfonso VI essentially drove the Moors from Spain during this period.

Churches and Saints

Between the 12th and 15th centuries, most of the beautiful churches in the Old City were constructed. From the Gothic Cathedral to the Romanesque Basilica of San Vicente, Avila is famous for the quality of its churches. In 1515, Saint Teresa of Avila was born here. She went on to become a major reformer of the Carmelite Order, a Spanish mystic, and eventually a Roman Catholic saint.


On the darker side of Spanish Christianity, Avila also played a role in the brutal Inquisition. The first Grand Inquisitor of Spain, Tomas de Torquemada, became synonymous with the horrors of that religious campaign. He finished his years here and is now buried at the Monastery of St. Thomas in the Old City.

Decline and Rebirth

This small city enjoyed major support and prosperity throughout the era of the Catholic monarchs who ruled Spain up until the 18th century. As their power waned, so did the role of Avila in Spanish politics.

Its heritage was preserved, and in the year of 1985, UNESCO named the Old City a World Heritage Site. Today, Avila is one of Spain's top tourist destinations and a thriving city in its own right, although its popularity is certainly helped by its relative proximity to Madrid.