May 4, 2018
Not only does History come alive, surround and embrace when walking the crazy, winding, confusing, disorienting, steep, narrow, rocky and cobblestoned streets of Toledo – a reverence for all things Holy is evident wherever eyes land!
The almost brotherly coexisting of the Christian, Islamic and Hebrew cultures in Toledo, Spain, can be seen in its architecture where their respective styles are interwoven. “The Mudéjar style, a mixture of Islamic and Christian styles, predominates in the city, combining principally Romanesque structures and typical Islamic elements. Although one of the most popular legends refers to Hercules as the founder of the city, the fact is that Rome conquered a stronghold of villages in 190 BC and gave it the name of Toletum. A very important town developed while Christianity took hold around the first century, remaining until present day and maintaining, for better or worse, the Greco-Latin cultural legacy. In the year 569, after the fall of the Roman Empire at the hands of people’s from the North of Europe, Leovigildo, King of the Visigoths, established his court in Toledo. In 589, it became the political and religious capital of Hispania, after the abandonment of Arianism and conversation to Catholicism by the Visigothic king Recaredo. Although dating from old, Jewish presence was not pronounced until 712, the year in which the Moors conquered the city.
The Moors occupied Toledo for 373 years, a relatively short period, but their influence was enormous. In 1085, when Alfonso VI took the city walls with no bloodshed, many of the Muslim inhabitants decided to stay with the Christians and Jews. The harmony between the three cultures bore fruit as notable as the School of Translators of Toledo, renowned for having recuperated part of classical culture from various Arab documents. The Islamic legacy faded with time, and the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, expelled the Jews in the 15th century.
However, the cultural mix in the city had been determined and can still be felt today. With the crowning of Charles V in 1519, Toledo became the most important city in the world, known as the Imperial Capital. In 1561, Philip II decided to move the court to Madrid, initiating a period of political decline, but fortunately it had no effect on religious, artistic or cultural aspects. It was right at this time when Domenico Theotocopoulos, El Greco, the extraordinary painter born in Crete, decided to settle in the city and paint the majority of his universally acclaimed works of art.” From: Turespańa.
We decided to retrace our steps to see additional raved about places that we somehow missed yesterday. If its even possible to “retrace” given our perpetual state of being turned around and/or lost!! Bill recalls reading that the founding fathers designed their streets with the intent of confusing and disorienting enemies in case of potential siege! That philosophy worked on us!!
In the process we found a great spot, Café del Kasco, with a gregarious, English speaking proprietor, (in fact he spoke seven languages) who was engaging, happy to prepare for us huevos, jamon, coffee, yogurt and fresh squeezed zumo naranga (eggs, bacon, orange juice, etc). Chef Joel entertained us with stories of bullfighters and bullfighting – his obvious love for which was displayed upon every wall around us!!! With bellies (extremely) full, we set out.
We were amazed at how much we had missed, further supporting how truly vast the sights and sites here are!!!
The Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes was imposing and beautiful, with amazing views of the countryside. The monastery was built by Queen Isabela to hold the mausoleum of the royal family and was dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, whom the queen admired. However after it was built, the queen changed her mind and decided that the mausoleum would be placed in the Cathedral of Granada. The Franciscan order occupies the church today. Of interest and striking an emotional chord, one sees a multitude of chains hanging from the exterior walls, shackles of the Christians freed from slavery in the wars with the Moors.
The church of San Ildefonso is in Baroque style and of Jesuit construction and is huge and imposing.
The Hospital of Santa Cruz (now the Museum of Santa Cruz) was a home for foundlings and orphans under the patronage of Queen Isabela and was constructed over what were once the Moorish palaces of Aliana which no longer exist. We really enjoyed the museum – and it had a bathroom – much appreciated at this point!! Within were many beautiful works of art including several of El Greco’s. His “Assumption of the Virgin” is the most famous in the museum, which also has many other artists represented. The museum has an archaeological section that contains Roman, Visigothic, Arab, and Mudéjar remains as well as a section devoted to decorative arts.
The Alcazar had eluded us. I would look at the map and it just seemed that we had been all around it. I was baffled as to how we continued to miss it!! We went back to a walking tour that we had veered off of and gave the directional instructions another shot. The Alcazar is a big stone fort and palace on the highest point of Toledo. The emperor Carlos V ordered the building of the Alcazar, to be used as his royal residence. It was reconstructed in 1940. We discovered that today it is the home of the National Army Museum And the library AND practically across the street from our hotel!!! Some information that we had indicated that the Hospital of Travera is at the highest point in the city. It kind of is, on the north end of town. Some say that the Alcazar is on the highest point of Toledo. And when we came into town walking from the train station, we thought the Biblioteca was – which is actually the Alcazar!! This is an example as to why it’s helpful to have several resources and to have a bit to a lot of time to explore, patience and perseverance. Some pretrip planning goes a long way as well!!
Actually, we passed and paused to admire so many noteworthy and incredible structures but I grew weary of keeping track and decided to hit highlights, steal some detail and history from said resources and call it good…
When we were all tuckered our, we ordered a Vino Tinto at an outside café in Zocodover Square (accompanied by more potato chips, sounding so much more appetizing as “patatas fritas”) and watched people! Eventually we transitioned to a bench in the sun. I have been loving seeing the international parade of varying fashion! And, who is bundling up in layers, down parkas and scarfs and who is soaking up the golden rays on their skin. I for one am wearing shorts and a tank top, standing out as a tourist for sure!! Bill wishes he had donned his shorts and flip flops because the forecast is for rain virtually the whole time we will be in Barcelona.
We stopped by a sandwich shop Bill had scoped out, Viandas de Salamanca, to get breakfast/lunch of local cheese and Iberican ham for our trek out of town tomorrow and I also picked up some charms at the Pandora store to put on my bracelet. My sister, Dawn’s gift inspires me to commemorate my travels in this special way!
We had a nice amount of time to rest in spite of our busy last day in Toledo (because they eat dinner so damn late in Spain) and relished every minute of it!
It was a warm and pleasant evening, and after three days of getting lost and walking around this town we (mostly) walked right to our spot, Clandestine, for our 8:00 reservation. We were about twelve minutes early and, hahahahaha, they asked us to come back at 8:30 when they would be Sure to be ready. One has to leave American expectations of customer service at home! I have countless examples but try not to focus on them. Whaddayagonnado? It’s their country!
So we had seen a cute little spot down one of the steep, narrow lanes with outdoor seating, meandered our way back there and sat down for Another Vino Tinto (and more patatas fritos). Jacaranda Bar was a sweet find. We didn’t have much there, but the owner’s love of classical art was evident, the place was cozy and the tunes of Dylan and Van Morrison welcome.
The dinner and atmosphere were worth waiting for and the staff was friendly and attentive. We had a stunningly beautiful and equally as delicious Thai salad with “langostinos” (prawns) and saffron, poke style “atún” (tuna) with “arroz” (rice) and seaweed plus “verduras mixtas con huevos” (a dish of wonderful mixed vegetables with an egg on the top), including broccoli, snap peas, carrots, purple cauliflower, white and green asparagus and radish. So exciting to get a wonderful vegetable selection!!! We also had an outstanding bottle of local wine while Bill told our waiter about Washington wines and showed him pictures of vineyards (always the promoter!) and we were so stuffed we even declined “postres” (dessert!)
Never did have their “famous” marzipane…