The World Heritage Committee, a branch of UNESCO, maintains a list of what it considers heritage sites. The criterion of selection is such that the site must be of extraordinary cultural or natural importance to the whole world, important enough that it need to be preserved for posterity. Spain owns more such sites than any other county in the world, behind only Italy that has forty three to its name. Spain has forty heritage cities and there are thirteen heritage cities.
Cordoba or Cordova is an ancient city which lives and breathes history. Its street still bears testament to all the diverse cultures that have occupied them through history. Such was its diversity that it acted as one of the capitals of the Roman Empire during the ancient times, an important part of the Byzantine Empire and a capital of the medieval Arab Empire under the Umayyad Dynasty later. In 1984 UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage Site. The greatest symbol of its ancient power is the Great Mosque of Cordoba, also sometimes called Cordoba’s Mosque-Cathedral. With its origin going as far back as the Roman and Visigothic period, the main structure of the mosque was built during its time as an Islamic capital. However, after the re-conquest during the Middle Ages the mosque was converted into a cathedral. Thirteenth century churches, a fourteenth century synagogue, and the fifteenth century Walcha Cave are all great architectural examples of their times. Cordoba is also the birth place of Seneca.
Spain’s highest provincial capital, Ávila received its Heritage City status in 1985. The eleventh century brown granite wall that was built by the Moors is the city’s most famous site. More than eighty towers and nine doors enclose the old part of the city. Though there is much to see outside the walls, inside are some priceless gems from history. The Gothic cathedral that almost looks like a fortress and the Romanesque churches of San Vincente, San Segundo and San Pedro are sites not to be missed. Don’t forget to taste the egg yolk candies called yemas de Santa Teresa named after the patron saint of the city on a visit here.
The wealth of monuments in Cuenca include the famous Casas Colgadas or the Hanging Houses so called because of their precarious position on the edge of a gorge and the Basilica and Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace.
A part of the historic Silver Route, Cáceres was declared a World Heritage site in 1986 for its Old Town. The ancient walls of the city seem to have managed to keep time outside its boundaries. The result is a medieval town preserved in its authenticity. The mix of Baroque architecture as in the Convento de la Compañía de Jesus, of Gothic architecture as the Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Muslim architecture of the Torre del Bujaco among other styles also present here make this city an ideal contender for the European City of Culture title to be decided in 2016.
Salamanca, dating back to the pre-Ancient Roman period is situated in Western Spain. Its Old City received the distinction of being a World Heritage Site in 1988. An impressive example of a Renaissance city, Salamanca’s old sandstone buildings gives it a spectacular golden glow earning it the nickname ‘the Golden City.’ Such is the history of the city that the New Cathedral was begun in 1509. Salamanca is also the designated site of the Spanish Civil War archives.
Merida is a comparatively recent addition to the list, its Archaeological Ensemble being included in 1993. The Archeological Ensemble includes more Roman monuments than any other city in Spain. The Puento Romano is a bridge still in use. Classical plays are still enacted in the Roman Theater and Amphitheater. Other monuments include the Temple of Diana, the Arch of Trajan and the remains of the Circus Maximus. Museums and the Morerias archeological site, along with the ancient remains make this city a great tourist spot.
The Old Town and the Aqueducts of Segovia were added to the UNESCO list in 1985. The Roman Aqueduct here is the largest of its kind in the world. A 16th century cathedral is still the highest point of its skyline. The city’s medieval wall and the Alcázar Castle at its northwest end are the other venerable attractions.
8. Santiago de Compostela
Added in 1985 the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela is set around the Cathedral and Raxoi’s Palace. The Cathedral has been, and still is, the final destination of the Camino de Santiago, an important pilgrimage continuing from the medieval age. Winding through narrow streets the tourist is treated to some magnificent old buildings belonging to various architectural styles.
Toledo’s distinction is not in just being a two thousand year old city but in that it has been an important city in world history throughout those years. It received its Heritage City distinction in 1986. A heterogeneous mix at the crossroads of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Toledo has much to show for its rich history. Situated on top of a mountain and the highest point of the Old Town, the Alcázar of Toledo was once used as a Roman Palace and is an important historical site. The Cathedral, the central marketplace and the Zocodover are other must see stops.
Other heritage cities of Spain include Tarragona, Alcalá de Henares, San Cristóbal de La Laguna and Eivissa/Ibiza, all of them unique and precious in their own right.
Photo of the Mosque of Cordoba, Spain by bongo vongo