Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Side Trip from the New to Old Capital

Tuesday, May 17

On Tuesday, I decided to escape the hustle of Madrid in favor of Spain's former capital, Toledo, just forty minutes south on a bus.  Toledo is the good old mix of influences I had been accustomed to in the south.  Romans, Jews, Visigoths, Moors, and Christians all touched this strategic high point and left their mark.  Mosques, synagoges, cathedrals and monasteries are sprinkled throughout.  Toledo sits high on a hill and is surrounded by the Tajo River on three sides.  Entering the fort-like city feels like a time-warp; all the structures and narrow streets are well-preserved.  The refreshing part is that locals still claim their territory from the tourists. 

I started my visit by going to an art museum housing several originals from the town's artist-in-residence and Spanish legend, El Greco.  Meaning "The Greek," the artist was born in Crete and trained in Venice.  Although he had been hired to come to Spain by King Philip II, the monarch rejected his straying from realism.  I had first learned about and analyzed El Greco's style in Mr. Wilson's 12th grade Spanish course.  The artist elongates bodies and emphasizes each figure's hands.  Many works divide heaven and earth and include vibrant colors.  The textures really jump out too; you can sense the movement and silkiness of the religious figures' robes.  Despite the many figures that crowd his paintings, each one has a unique portrait.  I first admired the Assumption of Mary in the Santa Cruz Museum and the world-famous Burial of the Count Orgaz in the Santo Tomé chapel. 

El Greco - The Burial of the Count of Orgaz
(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:El_Greco_-_The_Burial_of_the_Count_of_Orgaz.JPG)

Toledo's other central attraction is the cathedral, one of the best in Spain.   I had seen countless now, but some elements actually surprised me on this visit.  The choir's benches had sculpted scenes of every battle in the Christian Reconquista of Spain, culminating in Granada.  Behind the altar, the church had commissioned a skylight after the construction was completed.  To blend in the new hole a baroque sculptural masterpiece was installed.  It reminded me of the grandiose baroque fountains I had seen in Rome.  Since the cathedral had taken so long to build in general, styles mix throughout.

I continued by enjoying the views outside looking across the river.  My final stop was the San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio, a monastery meant to house the tombs of Isabel and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs that united Spain under Toledo's rule.   But, they were buried in Granada instead to celebrate the final victory over the Moors.  Nevertheless, I was amazed by the monastery; it reminded me of the one I had seen in Lisbon.  Most interesting was the Spanish coat of arms sculpted from stone that dotted the interior.  Off to the side, a group of arrows bound together signifies the unity of Spain.  Franco later based his campaign on the same symbol, fearing that the unstable liberal government of the time would lead to the splintering of Spain.  Franco and the Nationalists had used Toledo and its skyline-dominating alcazar fortress to defeat the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.

Views of the Tajo River from Toledo proper

San Juan de los Reyes Monastery

I managed to get on the bus back to Madrid just as it started to pour in Toledo.  Back in the new capital, chosen by Philip the II during Spain's Golden Age, I strolled the Gran Via.  I returned to my hostel hungry and worn out.  I was still only eating yogurt, and I hoped that another long night of sleep would let my bad stomach recover further. 

To see pictures of Toledo, visit "Madrid Day 2 (5-17) - Toledo" at https://picasaweb.google.com/bradleywilliams39

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