Sunday, June 26, 2011

Toledo - May 19th

Why Toledo?

Toledo is known as a touristy place, because of its medieval city center. It just looked cool, as once was the capital of Spain before it was moved to Madrid. I figured also because it was so close to Madrid, it would be a good place to start our trip and be able to eaze into it, since it was relatively compact (all the sites are within walking distance of each other more or less).

Toledo probably has had people living there since at least the Bronze Age (3200-600BC), probably because of its natural defenses and location along the Tagus River. The city sits on a hill, surrounded on three sides by the river. In Roman times it was an important city (Toletum) and even today ruins of its Roman days can be seen. After the collapse of Roman authority, the Visigoths established their capital at Toledo around 580AD. The Moors invaded Spain from North Africa conquered most of modern-day Spain in the first years of the 700s. From then it was an important city in the Caliphate of Cordoba which was famous for having Jews, Christians and Muslims all living together. During the Reconquista (Reconquering) it was captured by the King of Castile and Leon in 1085AD.

The city eventually became less important when the capital moved to Madrid, and in later centuries served as a base for scholarship and even housed the infantry academy. It was this garrison that was besieged during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) in a famous standoff between those supporting various causes loosely united behind the Second Spanish Republican and the military garrison at the Alcazar who stood in support of the rebel military coup eventually led by Francisco Franco.

Above, the Alcazar during the siege in 1936, and below from the trip, rebuilt (same side).

So, that's roughly the backstory on Toledo. We started our second full day in Spain with a visit to the cathedral which was only a couple blocks from our hotel. Toledo has been the seat of the Church in Spain since since Visigothic period (ca. 600). They started building it in 1226 and the main gothic part was finished during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabel in 1493.

Huge pic alert!
Facade of the cathedral from the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

We went to the cathedral store across the street to the right and bought a ticket, then wandered around ourselves inside the cavernous interior. The pics below were sneaked with my iPhone's camera, and made the interior look much brighter than it really was. Seeing things that are hundreds of years old just boggles the mind, you can't even really accept that they are that old.

Looking down the nave towards the altar. The wall in the foreground is the centrally located choir.

Sneaking another pic around a big German tour group of the main altar. So ornate, the picture doesn't even do it justice. To see a huge well-done photo of this click this link:

After touring the cathedral we hunted down a European converter for my phone charger, ate lunch and rested for a bit, before walking a few blocks to the west to the Iglesia de Santo Tomé (Church of Saint Thomas). This smaller church (one of dozens in Toledo, not to mention all the convents and monasteries) was the parish of El Greco, one of the most famous painters of the era. El Greco lived in the late 16th-century and painted perhaps his most famous work there in 1586-88. Originally from Greece, El Greco (which means "The Greek" in Spanish) lived and painted in Toledo, and was commissioned to paint this portrait of a prominent Toledo count who had died a couple centuries earlier. Right inside the main door, on the right side of the entrance is The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, located above the said count's tomb. It is one of the few works to remain in place where it was painted, and not up in a museum somewhere.

The Burial of the County of Orgaz by El Greco.

Tour groups were starting to clog up the small room, but we did get a few minutes to stand in front and just look at it. The pic here I sneaked doesn't do it justice, so I'll link to a better version:

The painting is divided into two sections, a scene of the count's burial below, attended by two saints none-the-less who lower the count into his grave. Above heaven awaits as the soul, looking like a wispy baby, is guided through a tunnel made of clouds of sorts to be born into Heaven with Mary, Jesus on the throne, and all the saints waiting. It was painted during the Reformation, so you'll see a subtle nudge there with Jesus's right hand pointing towards St. Peter in yellow holding the keys to the Church, a symbol of the Papacy. El Greco painted himself into the crowd attending the funeral, the only one staring straight out at the viewer. It was cool to see, and would be the first of many famous masterpieces we would see on the trip.

The altar of Santo Tomé, the church with the El Greco painting.

Afterwards we walked along the southern part of the city, just getting lost and randomly strolling down interesting looking streets. Some streets were not really streets, but mere alleyways some in which you could touch both walls at the same time. Because Toledo is on a hill, it always seems like whatever way you go is always the steepest way up, and not to mention the streets aren't that smooth. They're paved with small rocks, so if one doesn't watch their step they could easily take a nasty spill, especially walking up and down all the hilly streets.

The Tagus River valley on the east side of Toledo, looking north.

We wound our way through the maze of streets to near the Alcazar and found a nice overlook of the river gorge, took a few photos, then wandered back to the main plaza and back to the hotel just checking stuff out. Here is an aerial view of Toledo, you can see how easy it is to get turned around:

For the rest of the day we basically window shopped, got a few souvenirs, got some more food from the market, etc. Just enjoying our time before heading out to Madrid in the morning. Here are a few pics to round up the second day.

A picture of Spanish police in the Plaza de Zocodover for Dusti. A small group of protestors had set up camp next to them, so figured they were there to keep an eye on things. Toledo is relatively small, about 80,000 people...but in Madrid the next night we saw the epicenter of the nationwide protests.

"Productos Tipicos de Toledo", stuff that the area is famous for. In this window you can see all the little marzipans that Toledo is famous for. I bought some almond covered ones called "imperiales" to bring back, mom and I ate them all. I forgot Dusti doesn't like nuts.

In this window you can see some of the famous Spanish hams hanging, and some cheeses...some is manchego, a typical Spanish cheese. Looks like some chorizo too, different than Mexico chorizo.

A meeting of several little streets along the "main drag" in Toledo.

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