Since the use of artillery became generalized after
the 16th century, walls this high lost much of their functionality.
Since then, apart from representing the image of the city, they
have performed other functions for which they were not originally
intended, but no less important: they formed a sanitary barrier
against the plague, and acted as a tax barrier and as a customs
post. With the arrival of the 19th century, bourgeois pragmatism
put the survival of the Walls in grave danger. One of the Development
Ministers of the time, Pascual Madoz, recommended that the walls
be knocked down, arguing that “though this fortification
may have been impregnable in its day, today it is prejudicial
to the better and greater part of the population which lives outside
it”. Imitating what happened in other Spanish and European
cities which still had walls, the Council of Ávila decided
to knock down the walls
Verraco to facilitate trade between the suburbs and the centre. Fortunately, and paradoxically, limited economic activity, together with the extreme demographic decline of the city – which had only marginally more than 4000 inhabitants, when in the 16th century it had exceeded 13000 – prevented the work of knocking down the walls from being carried out. The declaration of the Walls of Ávila as a National Monument in 1884 saved them definitively.
Fundamental elements of the walls are the Alcázar Gate and the San Vicente Gate, the “cimorro” or cathedral apse, and the palaces which back onto the wall.
The Alcázar Gate
Is the most solemn element of the defensive whole. It is opposite the Great Market and next to the restored Homage Tower. It consists of an entrance arch which looks small alongside the two immense parallel towers which flank it. These towers are connected at the top by a spectacular bridge which extends beyond the line of the walls. This bridge, like that of the San Vicente gate, is unique amongst European city walls. Although it might be considered a kind of triumphal arch, there is no doubt that its principal function was to reinforce the defences of the gate. The defensive potential can be understood better if one takes into account that there were other defensive elements which no longer exist today, such as the drawbridge, the ditch or moat, and the barbican; the latter was a low barrier built parallel to the wall which was used to prevent wheeled weapons from approaching the walls and to make the sapping operations of the besiegers difficult. At each end of the entry passage were wooden doors plated with iron and reinforced with a bar. Between them was dropped the portcullis (a heavy iron grille).
The Cathedral "Cimorro"
To harass anyone who had managed to force the outer gate there were side rooms and a loophole in the upper part of the passageway which were used for throwing missiles at the intruders.
The San Vicente gate
Is similar to the Alcázar gate, but the fact that it has not suffered such ostentatious restoration gives it an appearance of complete authenticity.