The wall of Ávila

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les remparts d'Avila

General overview

The Walls of Ávila were built between the 11th and 14th Century and are regarded as some of the best preserved mediaeval city walls in the world. They are the principal monument of the city of Ávila, the best known and the most visited. Admired for its grandeur, the dramatic city enclosure has a perimeter of 2,516 m with 87 towers and 9 gates which open to the city.

In 2008, the north-western area of the Wall was rehabilitated, creating a new gate with access for all, called Puerta del Puente (the Gate of El Puente).

Location

Surrounding the historic city of Ávila, Spain

Principal access interventions

At the Puerta del Puente, a lift and a series of ramps have been installed that allow easy and comfortable access for people with reduced mobility to a zone along the top of the rampart and to a route of more than 100 meters in length.

In addition to this physical intervention in the walls an accessible information point has been provided at the Puerta del Puente and in the tourist reception centre, complete with an accessible web portal, booklets in easy reading format and tactile models of the 9 gates and the walled ensemble.

Description

The Walls of Ávila are the best example of Romanesque military architecture in Spain and a unique model of medieval European architecture. The walls are a key attraction for visitors to the city: 27% of tourists claim that the main reason for their visit is to experience the walls and that this monument is the one that best identifies the capital (66%).

Find out more

Authors : Rosa Jiménez (Avila City Council technician), Delfín Jiménez (architect, accessibility expert) and Fionnuala Rogerson (architect).

All the photographs : Coyright City of Avila.

Challenges

Heritage significance and attractiveness

Ávila was inscribed in 1985 in the World Heritage List of UNESCO, in recognition of its Outstanding Universal Values that must be conserved and passed down as a legacy for future generations. In selecting it as a World Heritage Site the following reasons were given:

“For being an example of a fortified city, which has conserved its wall intact. The density of civil and religious monuments both inside and outside the walls make it an example of extraordinary value.

For being an example of repopulation started by the Kingdom of Castile, after the reconquest of Toledo. Highlighting the outstanding mediaeval character of the City of Ávila, with a combination of both religious and defensive elements.

The medieval walls and Romanesque churches outside the walls of San Pedro, San Vicente, San Andrés and San Segundo are the buildings that are expressly mentioned in the inscription as the main repositories of these values, and those that give it its name: « City of Ávila with its churches outside the walls »

The inscription of 1985, together with the declaration of it as a Historical Ensemble, is a recognition of the value of the city and the state of its conservation.

Some 200,000 people tour the ramparts every year, admiring the excellent views offered by the monument.

Approximately 75% are visitors from Spain and 25% are foreigners.

The work that has been successfully accomplished to date in the area of Accessibility has been recognized with the following awards:

  • 2008 Accessibility Award Castilla y León
  • 2008 Cermi.es Award
  • 2009 Reina Sofía Prize for Universal Accessibility to Municipalities
  • 2010 Star Initiatives
  • 2010 Konecta Foundation
  • 2011 Telefónica Ability Awards
  • 2011 Solidarity prizes ONCE Castilla y León
  • 2011 Progress Awards
  • 2011 First European City of Accessibility

Access challenges

People with reduced mobility were unable to access the ramparts and could not experience the route along the top of the walls or the panoramic view of the city.

Approach

In 2008 the mayor of the city fulfilled a personal challenge he had set himself: to build an inclusive city, enriched through diversity, and the dream of seeing a wheelchair user reach the ramparts of the wall.

“In this effort, we worked collaboratively, step by step, culminating in a work that has transcended our borders and allowed us to convert the emblem of the city, the Walls, into an inclusive monument. The Walls, conceived as a defensive belt and as a barrier against enemies, have now become an accessible place for both visitors and residents alike”.

Project

The entire process

The elimination of physical and architectural barriers and, above all, the elimination of mental blockages in those who did not fully believe that access was possible, is remarkable.

The new access to the wall at the Puerta del Puente
The new access to the wall at the Puerta del Puente. Coyright City of Avila.
The ramp leading to the adapted section of the ramparts
The ramp leading to the adapted section of the ramparts. Coyright City of Avila.
The lift, located discreetly at the edge of the former stables, intersects with the ramp landing where a resting point is provided
The lift, located discreetly at the edge of the former stables, intersects with the ramp landing where a resting point is provided. Coyright City of Avila.
The accessible route along the rampart
The accessible route along the rampart. Coyright City of Avila.
The accessible information point, with information in multiple formats – visual, audible and sign language
The accessible information point, with information in multiple formats – visual, audible and sign language. Coyright City of Avila.

Creation of easy reading booklets

In order to easily disseminate information about the wall among people with intellectual disabilities or with difficulties of understanding, two booklets have been developed in easy reading format, one that explains the history and describes the artistic importance of the wall and another that focuses on each one of its Nine gates.

Two easy reading format booklets.
Two easy reading format booklets. Coyright City of Avila.

Conception of tactile models

Tactile models of the 9 gates and one of the entire walled enclosure are located in the Visitor Reception Centre. These models have supplementary braille and high-relief texts. The Centre also has booklets explaining the history of each gate represented, one of the booklets is in text and the other in braille.

Tactile model
Tactile model. Coyright City of Avila.
Tactile model
Tactile model. Coyright City of Avila.

Conclusion

Due to its artistic and cultural wealth, the Ávila economy is mostly developed in the tertiary sector and especially in services related to tourism. Starting with this fortress a few years ago, and recognising the value of accessible tourism, the City of Ávila began to implement actions to improve accessibility focusing mainly on the artistic and heritage elements.

The pathway to achieving full accessibility is a route which is still incomplete, because making Ávila a city for all is an important challenge that requires time and commitment.

Undoubtedly the greatest recognition comes every day when a disabled person who visits or lives in Ávila can use the city in comfort and make use of goods and services, enabling them to live with autonomy and with equal opportunities.

Players and processes

Players

The works were led by the city council, along with the sponsorship of several entities and help from the central government. The Law on Historic Patrimony establishes the obligation to assign in public works contracts a contribution of at least 1% to works of conservation or enrichment of Spanish Cultural Heritage or to the promotion of artistic creativity, preferably in the work itself or in its immediate surroundings.

The enclosure where access to the accessible section of the wall is located belonged to the town hall and had been an old stables, possibly of mediaeval origin. It was therefore opportune, to use this space in which to locate the ramps and the lift without creating an inappropriate intervention or visually obstructing the panoramic view of the monument.

Pictures and maps