We are nearing the end of our time in Spain, just a couple of days left on our trip. My Missus is getting a little depressed at the thought of having to go back to the “real world”. We have one more tour left on our itinerary: a trip to Toledo. It is about a 50 mile trip from Madrid to the former capital city of Spain, so we have to get an early 9:30 am start. Typically, that is not late, but we still dragging from the flamenco show the night before. Anyway, we met our personal guide Rossana, our driver Juan, and we headed out.
It took about 45 minutes to drive from Madrid to Toledo. The drive was pleasant, with little traffic, at least by American standards. Upon arriving at the picturesque city of Toledo, the first thing we did was drive around the city. From different vantage points during the drive, we could see bridges built by the Romans, an Alcazar built by Moors, and a cathedral by the Catholics. In addition, there were several synagogues built when Jews inhabited part of the city. At one time Toledo was known as the “City of the Three Cultures”. Here Christians, Muslims and Jews lived together in peace. It is such a shame we can’t seem to do that in our world today.
Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca and the Jewish Quarter
Regarding the “Three Cultures”, the first place we walked to after the driver dropped us off was the Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca. This translates to “Synagogue of Saint Mary the White” in English. This building was once a synagogue in Toledo, built in 1180. As befits its strange name, it was constructed during Christian rule by Muslim architects for a Jewish synagogue. In many ways, it is the symbol of the “Three Cultures”, the type of cooperation we find so elusive today.
Leaving the old synagogue, we walked through the Old Jewish Quarter of the city. Although the Jews of the Middle Ages of Toledo were not required to live in this neighborhood, they did so by choice. According to our guide Rossana, this was simply because it was easier to keep the tenets of their faith (like kosher food). At one time, this quarter was one the richest in Spain.
Iglesia de Santo Tome
Leaving the old Jewish area of the city, we next visited the Church of Santo Tome. Like most religious buildings in Toledo, this church is old, dating back to the 12th century. In fact, it can trace its history further back than that. It was built on the site of an old mosque from the 11th century. Unfortunately there is little left of the Moorish style influence in the church. In the 14th century it was totally rebuilt due to poor physical condition of the church.
This church’s main claim to fame is that the great Spanish painter, El Greco, was commissioned to paint an homage to a worthy patron of the city. The result is his masterpiece, “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”. While viewing this large painting, Rossana explained the symbolism found in the painting and the story behind its commission.
We stopped briefly to listen to a class of Spanish school children practice their English on the church steps. Their teacher graciously allowed us to critique their English, and we enjoyed interacting with them. Then we continued our walk to main attraction of the city, the Cathedral of Toledo.
Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo
The Primary Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo is a 13th century Gothic style cathedral and is considered by many to be THE cathedral of the Gothic style in Spain. Construction began in 1226 under the rule of Ferdinand III and was completed around 1493. Built over a Moslem mosque, the cathedral has five naves so it completely covers the space of the old mosque. It is also one of the few cathedrals in Spain with a cloister which deviates from the Gothic style with some Mudejar arches.
For many years, this cathedral was the one that formed the divine right of rule for Spanish monarchs, much like Reims cathedral for the French kings.
Monstrance of Arfe
As part of the cathedral there is a Chapel of the Treasure. Held within this chapel is the great Monstrance of Arfe, in Spanish known as La Gran Ostensoria de Toledo. This item is a moveable monument made of silver and gold and bejeweled with gems. It measures over ten feet tall. The monstrance is famous for being used in the annual feast of Corpus Christi of Toledo where it is used in processions during the feast.
Exploring the City on Our Own
At this point, our guide left us to return to Madrid, leaving us to explore the city on our own. We visited some nice shops and tourist stores near the Plaza Zocodover. We had lunch at nice little place recommended by our guide Rossana called the Restaurante Nuevo Almacén.
Toledo is a maze of narrow streets and alleys leading to hidden little plazas surrounded by buildings. Exploring the city requires time and a good sense of direction, It was great to explore these back streets and find another set of shops and stores.
After a few hours looking around it was time to go back, so we met our driver and returned to Madrid.
Photos of the Day