Thursday, June 7, 2007

Holy Toledo

Midweek, we caught a sleek, high-speed morning train to the Spanish hamlet of Toledo located less than an hour outside of Madrid and designated an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. Toledo served as the capital of the Spanish Empire before the Moorish conquest.

With our overstuffed backpacks in tow, we looked like we had enough provisions to last us a month, especially in comparison to our more economically-equipped fellow passengers. After an unmemorable ride where Vik’s once-dormant allergies resurfaced to wreak unfortunate havoc on his mucus membranes, we rolled into town and made our way to our hotel inside the hillside town’s tall stone walls.

With only twenty-four hours earmarked for Toledo, we quickly dropped off our luggage and made our way to the Cathedral, located in the town center. To our surprise, the town was abuzz with activity, as several well-heeled Spanish families and elderly couples milled about the streets. As we neared, we noticed flowers adorning windows, flags draping from balconies, awnings shading the streets and the pungent aroma of rosemary wafting in the air. We soon discovered that we had arrived in Toledo during its famed Corpus Christi celebration. After a policeman shepherding the crowds informed us that the Cathedral was closed for the day, we lingered for a bit, taking in the colorful festivities before setting off to explore the town.

From the Cathedral, we walked to the Iglesia de Santo Tome, which housed the famous El Greco painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. As we stood front and center, we overheard a nearby tour group’s guide explaining the different influences of the Italian and Spanish schools of painting in the piece, pointing out the faces of El Greco and his son found in the piece, and highlighting that the year depicted in the artwork commemorated the birth of the painter’s son. Afterwards, we went to El Greco’s Toledo homestead, Casa Del Greco, where we enjoyed a private viewing of his The City and Map of Toledo (so precisely painted that it was later used in Toledo's reconstruction) and the Twelve Apostles. Properly impressed, we continued on.

To its credit, Toledo boasts a harmonious co-existence between Jewish, Christian and Moorish cultures, a fact that we appreciated as we walked through the town’s three distinctive neighborhoods. We visited Santa Maria la Blanca, an Almohad style synagogue that resembled a mosque and was subsequently used as a church. As we walked to the Islamic part of town, we once again passed by the Cathedral, where city cleaners were sweeping up sprigs of burnt rosemary and tourists were lining up to enter the massive building.

Quickly getting in line to buy entrance tickets, we basked in our stroke of good luck. In minutes, we found ourselves inside awed by the sheer size of the altar and choir area. Kaberi especially admired the strategic positioning of a skylight that allowed the sun to enter and illuminate the painted ceiling. We also noted the large, ornate gold cross housed in the center of the church, which, earlier in the day, had made its annual journey through the streets of Toledo. Finally, we walked to the Alcazar and visited the only remaining mosque in Toledo, the Mosque of Christo de la Luz, a small, airy structure situated by the Puerta del Sol.

Our only meal in Toledo was at Adolpho Colleccion, a chic modern restaurant with an excellent tapas menu. The head waiter enthusiastically translated the entire menu, allowing us to make fully-informed gastronomic decisions. After ending our day with profiteroles and ice cream, we returned to the hotel via cobblestone streets and floodlit corners, satisfied that we had seen most, if not all, of Toledo’s cultural highlights.


aabtzu said...

glad you liked the Burial of the Count. i liked that one a lot too but sort of forgot about it until your post.

Donna said...

This entry made me relive my trip from Madrid to Toledo in 1973. No high-speed train then - just one that seemed to go for a while and then stop for a while. Delighted that you had such a pleasant day!