Evidence exists of an ancient monastery on the site of San Servando castle, possibly founded in the 7th century. In 1080, Cardinal Richard of St. Victor, a monk of the ancient Abbey of St. Victor in Marseille, was sent as the legate of Pope Gregory VII to the Council of Burgos held that year. One of his mandates was to ensure the adoption of the Roman Rite, replacing the ancient Mozarabic Rite used by the Christians of Iberia for centuries. He carried specific instructions for the restoration of San Servando and its adoption of Roman liturgical practice.
After surviving for several centuries under Muslim rule, when the city was conquered by the Christian army of King Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085, both he and his wife, Constance of Burgundy, became generous benefactors of the basilica and rebuilt the monastery.
On 11 March 1088, the king offered the monastery to the Holy See on the condition that it be permanently administered by the Abbey of St. Victor, along with all its goods and benefits. This arrangement was approved by Pope Urban II, who was elected the day after the documents for the donation were drawn up, on 20 February 1089. He entrusted the task to Cardinal Richard, by then himself Abbot of St. Victor. After that point, the monastery came under the authority of the Abbey of St. Victor and French monks began to occupy the Spanish monastery, introducing the Rule of St. Benedict.
King Alfonso saw the monastery as a bulwark of Christian presence in the region, and on 13 February 1099, made a donation of the Church of Santa María de Alficén, and of the community surrounding it, which was a traditional Mozarabic territory. He gave the monastery the objective of maintaining this identity among the populace. He further founded a monastery of Benedictine nuns to be attached to the church. Both monastic communities were charged with providing care and hospitality to the poor of the region and to travelers.
The monastery was destroyed by Saracen attacks in 1110, and the monks returned to Marseille. It was at this point that the Monastery of San Servando entered a new phase of its existence, as it became the possession of the Archbishop of Toledo and the cathedral chapter.
King Alfonso VIII gave the monastery to the Knights Templar, who converted the monastery into a fortress in order to protect the Puente de Alcántara against a possible Muslim attack. With the disappearance of the Muslim threat and the dissolution of the Templars in 1312, the fortress lost its importance and was neglected. Today tours of the castle are conducted about the alleged haunting of the site by a miscreant knight, Don Nuño Alvear, who supposedly died after being shown his many victims in a vision.
San Servando is currently used as a youth hostel.References:
The city walls of Avila were built in the 11th century to protect the citizens from the Moors. They have been well maintained throughout the centuries and are now a major tourist attraction as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can walk around about half of the length of the walls.
The layout of the city is an even quadrilateral with a perimeter of 2,516 m. Its walls, which consist in part of stones already used in earlier constructions, have an average thickness of 3 m. Access to the city is afforded by nine gates of different periods; twin 20 m high towers, linked by a semi-circular arch, flank the oldest ones, Puerta de San Vicente and Puerta del Alcázar.