The Local Area

A bit of local history, architecture and mysticism


Piedrahita is a small mediaeval market town in the Province of Avila with many of it historic buildings carefully renovated for modern use. It is an area which has frequently been fought over in by gone ages and has been populated by the Vetons, Celts, Romans, Visigoth, and Moors. Architectural remains and their influences can still be found around the province. After the Moors were pushed south (918AD in Piedrahita), various castles were set up to protect the feudal barons personal interests.

The Gran Duque of Alba

D onFernando Alvarez de Toledo.jpg

From 1366 the family Álvarez de Toledo took control of the local area. In 1507 the Gran Duque of Alba, Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo was born in to the family in Piedrahita. He is celebrated in Spain as a great military figure and never lost a battle. Although considered hero in Spain, in the rest of Europe his reputation was that of a bloodthirsty tyrant because of his ruthless Governorship of Flanders.

The stone cross monument at the roundabout celebrates his birth. Up until 2007 this monument was to commemorate the deaths combatants in the Civil War (on Franco’s Nationalist/Fascist side). No longer seen as politically correct, its new use might also be considered less than appropriate considering the Gran Duques human rights record. His name is still used in Holland to frighten children as a bogeyman figure. I often wonder how the inhabitants of Piedrahita would really enjoy having their Great Duke back. The vast majority of us would be serfs subject to any of his feudal whims and cruelties. As pilots, we are still suffering his actions some nearly 500 years later, see Skywings Feb'07 Piedrahita the first 500 years - Steve Ham

The Palace

Photo of The Palace

The Palace - Larger image

During the mid 1700s a new palace was built. This building, although mainly destroyed during the occupation of the French Napoleonic forces in 1809, was bought by the Town hall from the House of Alba in 1931, and today is used as the town primary school. The French architect, Jacques Marquet, used the neoclassical style prevalent at the time in the court of France, giving us a small palace of Versailles tucked away in rural Castile. During its heyday in the late 1700s, it was the scene of many high-society meetings during the summer months. Goya, the celebrated Spanish painter spent a number of summers at the palace, and some of his important works reflect the surrounding countryside.

Mystic History

Santo Domingo Convent

14th Century Convent of Santo Domingo

The town has plenty of mystic history. It has a fully functioning convent of the Carmelitas Calzadas established in the fifteenth century. These are cloistered nuns, so few see what goes on beyond their cloistered walls but for pilots flying above. A large section of their garden is bordered by the original town walls (The section from the roundabout with the cross and arch to the petrol station). In 2007 work began to build a El Dia Supermarket within its Garden walls. Not perhaps the most fitting incorporation into a fifteenth century monument. Our own house’s external wall also would have been part of the original town’s perimeter and fortification.

On the road to take off you will go by another convent of Santo Domingo, built in the fourteen century, but now a ruin since used as the cemetery. The church in the main square dates from the thirteenth century. It houses scores of Stork nests on its roof and two of the many towns bars are nestled within its exterior supports.

Virgen de la Vega

One of the most important religious shrines for Piedrahita is that of the Virgen de la Vega. This isolated church to the north of town, built where there was once probably a Visigoth settlement is the home of the patron saint of the valley; the Virgen de la Vega.

virgen de la Vega

Most areas in Spain have their Virgin. Usually an impressionable young person, a Shepard’s daughter in our case, seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary at a certain spot. Upon that spot, a shrine is built, an effigy carved of the apparition, and the said vision named after the place. (in our case it is for the fertile area around the river -Vega). Sometimes miracles are attributed to the effigies and offers are made. Not really in the spirit of the 8th commandment perhaps. To ensure good flying weather an offer of eggs maybe considered prudent by believers. The Virgin is taken from her shrine in the second week of September (first Monday after Pentecost Sunday) for the local fiestas and carried on shoulders to the village. In May there is a Romeria at the shrine, where the town hall normally prepares a meal for all those attending. It is at a glide of about 9 to 1, so can be reached on our morning flight with a little thermic help.

View history from the air!

Arriving at Avila

Arriving at Avila - Larger image

Our sport gives us an opportunity to view these remnants of history from a unique perspective. To view the landscape from above, with its contours, rivers, roads and trails can give us a better understanding of the placements of ancient settlements with the associated problems of communication, defence and access to food and water. You may find yourself scratching on the hills in the Ambles valley and skim over the Iron Age Vetton settlement of Ulaca with is amazing altar complex carved from a single granite boulder. Access from the air is easy, but this high granite hill would have exposed its population to in the rigours of the weather and forcing them to make the steep walk up from the valley below each day laden with foodstuff and water. Obviously at that time, defence was of a higher priority.

Castro de Ulaca

Castro de Ulaca

Our daily flights are often marked out by their passages over gaps in the mountains which have been important routes for millennia, not only by man, for his armies, merchants, misionaries and livestock but also for migratory animals. The Chia pass (one of our take offs) has an old Roman road, going on to the impressive Pico pass on the other side of the Gredos mountains. An important trade route since Roman times, and for the last centuries an important transhumance road, along with the Tornavacas pass, on our routes to the east (Turn Point 19 on map). Sixty years ago would be packed with cattle being driven by horse between their winter and summer pastures.

Berrueco, a Bronze Age Settlement

Bronze age artifact

Some 30 km to the northwest of Piedrahita is Berrueco, an isolated mountain rising to 1354 m, with steep soarable faces on the its northwest, north east and southwest sides.

The most interesting artefact found at this Bronze Age settlement is a bronze figure of a woman with wings. I can imagine people millennia’s ago on this hill watching the vultures and eagles soaring around their town thinking how fantastic it would be to fly like the birds. They were in an ideal location to try it and just maybe the bronze figure celebrates such an attempt.

Think how lucky we are to have been born to an age when man's great dream of flight can so easily be accomplished with just woven fabric, the wind and the mountains which have been around well before man reached this valley and started to dream of flying above it.