1.29.2010

¡Holy Toledo Batman!

Last week we took a day trip to Toledo, which is about an hour and a half bus ride from Alcalá. When we arrived, instead of heading straight into the city, our bus driver took us to the top of hill that overlooks the city of Toledo, which is set on a mountaintop and is surrounded on three sides by a river (Rio Tajo). Everything was covered in the early morning fog, making the city look even more ancient and mysterious. Then the bus dropped us off at the bridge, which you have to cross to reach the city. Toledo is like a fortress...the bridge reminded me of a drawbridge over a moat, leading to the heart of a castle. Toledo has an incredible history, and it was once the religious capital of Spain and has been famed for being a place of coexistence between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. These different religions and cultures have influenced the art, architecture, and people of Toledo immensely.
 
 








Our first stop inside the city was El Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, which was founded by Ferdinand and Isabella and then dedicated for the use of Fransciscan friars. This was one of my favorite places...the architecture was incredibly detailed and the whole thing was just really beautiful. My favorite part was the courtyard with a garden in the middle, complete with citrus trees. It was very zen, and for a moment I contemplated becoming a monk.
Beautiful iglesia, courtyard, and sculpture

Well that thought lasted for about a second, and then we moved on. Next we headed to the Jewish quarter of the city, to the Sinagoga del Tránsito. The building and decorations were completely different from what we had just seen at the monastery. It was really beautiful, and interesting to note the differences in decoration and architectural style. The second floor of the synagogue is a museum, so we spent a little time looking at different Jewish artifacts. This particular Synagogue was originally built as the private synagogue by the king’s treasurer, Samuel HaLevi, around the year 1400. At the time it was a pretty big deal because there were laws prohibiting any synagogues to be bigger or more decorated than the Christian churches. But he defied these laws and the synagogue was bigger than many of the churches at that time. So there’s a fun history lesson for you.
 
Note the completely different styles and decoration
Next stop, Iglesia de Santo Tomé. The purpose of this visit was to view one of El Greco’s masterpieces: The Burial of Count Orgaz. El Greco is a very important artist in Spanish history, and Toledo is where he spent his later years and produced many of his mature works. This particular painting is probably the one he is known best for. It is a huge painting, and illustrates a popular local legend of the time. It was especially cool for me because last semester in my Civilization class we studied a lot of art, and I was able to apply that and recognize some key aspects in the painting. Who knew you actually learned useful information in school?
 
Now we move on to the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo. This cathedral is massive. It is considered to be “the pinnacle of Gothic style in Spain”, which is understandable because it is really something. From the outside, the cathedral is amazing. The architecture and the detailed sculpture and the pretty doorways are really cool.Then we went inside the main chapel, and it was stunning--all of the ornate decoration and just the sheer grandiosity of size left you in awe. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but I’ll try to snag some off the Internet so you can get a picture in your mind. There were so many paintings and stained glass windows and gold work- it was super intense.

 
Magnificent spire piercing the sky, amazing architectural detail, and a stolen picture from the Internet of the beautiful stain glass windows inside. 

After admiring the cathedral, we ate lunch on the steps of the Town Hall in Plaza Auntamiento (which is right outside the doors of the cathedral). Our director set us loose to explore the city on our own, and we had the plan to follow a walking tour in a travel book that another girl in our group had. However, when we combined the labyrinth of streets with our limited navigational skills, we ended up just walking around in circles and getting nowhere. So we split up into two groups that both had a different second best option. I had read something about a church where you could walk up a ton of stairs to get to the towers and have a great view of the city, so we set out to find that. By some miracle, we made it there, and I’m so glad we did because it was one of my favorite parts. The view was magnificent. We could see the spires of the cathedral, Alcazár, and just all the pretty houses and buildings in the city. The buildings are so packed together, it almost looked like they were sitting on top of each other. It was gorgeous!
 
The amazing view. Plus some posing. Plus a random man posing us.

Afterwards, Meredith had the idea to go to the torture museum. So we braved the winding streets again and managed to find the museum. It was really interesting and kind of cool, in a morbid sort of way. We saw many of the torture implements that were used on the heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. Let me just say: Ouch. Please don’t ever let me be tortured to death...just kill me, quick and painlessly.
Torturous chair of death. Plus masks of torture. Equals pain. Lots of pain.
After this, we mainly just wandered the streets. Toledo is especially known for two things: swords and marzipan. There were hundreds of shops selling hand-made swords and delicious marzipan. My little brother would have gone nuts and come home wielding all sorts of sharp objects. I was more into the marzipan. Marzipan is mostly just sugar and almond meal, and it can be shaped into all sorts of interesting objects, like animals and castles and such. I think it’s delicious, but most people either love it or hate it.

As the sun was setting, our adventures in Toledo were winding to a close. We stopped to snap a few more pictures on the bridge and by the castle walls, and then hopped back on the bus to return to Alcalá. We were all exhausted from the full day of walking and site-seeing, and it felt sooo good to get back to a warm house and a nice hot meal (Thank you Blanca!).
Saying goodbye to Toledo. 
Hopefully that wasn’t a blogging overload for you. Tune back in next week to read all about our adventures in the beautiful Andalucia!

1 comment:

Lorie Ann said...

Meg! I love your pictures! You are an AWESOME photographer!