Holy Toldeo!

 Yesterday Vi and I went to Toledo for the day with a large group of international students, mainly Erasmus.There were four buses full, so like 200 people. It was a four hour bus ride, which I did not expect, but then again I failed to read the ticket. We left at about seven am which meant I had to get up at 5:30 to shower and get ready so I could meet Vi at 6:15 to walk to the meeting place. About three hours in we stopped at one of those roadside restaurants. All four buses stopped. So of course the line for the women’s washroom was ridiculously long. We waited for about half an hour for the washroom. Madness. Sometimes I swear it’s better to be a man.

The Cathedral

But Toledo is beautiful! The phrase “Holy Toledo!” comes from the fact that at one point the fortified part of the city held 50 churches and numerous synagogues and mosques. It is known as the city of three cultures – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. First we went on a panoramic bus tour of the city, seeing it from the other side of the river that borders the south end (I think) of the city. The city is really old and legend has it that it was founded by Hercules, although archeology dates the origins of the city back to the Celts. Then the Romans constructed their city on the ruins of the old one they conquered and Toledo has been around ever since. Also, it is in the province of Castilla-La Mancha, the setting for Spain’s most famous book, Don Quixote.

After the bus tour we did a walking tour of the city topping at a few places. The most famous “thing” in Toledo I think, is the big cathedral. Unfortunately, Vi and I didn’t get to go in. It was an option during our free time, but that was never explained as to how we could do that, and we were really hungry when the tour was over, so stopping our rummbly tummies was more important.  We did see the outside of the cathedral and it is stunning. Spanish architecture is so beautiful, it’s crazy. After that we went to the Iglesia de Santo Tomé (the Church of Saint Thomas), which is where El Greco’s most famous painting is housed. (You can find info about El Greco here).

Next was a synagogue – la Sinagoga de Santa Maria de la Blanca. It has an interesting history, from what I can remember. Basically, when it was first built, it was a synagogue in the Jewish area of the city. Later it turned into a church, hence the name of Santa Maria. But on the inside, Arab architecture and style is very prominent. At that time the Arabs were the best architects around and their style is very distinctive. Inside the synagogue itself, there is only one symbol of Judaism in the whole building, a star of David, which is fairly hidden among the geometric facades of the building. There is only that one six sided star while all the rest are are eight sided.

The Synagogue

After the synagogue we headed to a monastery called el Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes. Originally this was to be the burial place of the catholic monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon  and Isabella I of Castilla, which is why the monastery has “reyes” (kings) in its name. But in 1492 which was a key year for Spain, things changed. That was the year that Columbus “discovered” America, Spain “reconquered” Granada, a city in the south that had been the last strongholds of Arab rule in Spain and the capture ended over 700 years of Arab rule in southern Spain, and lastly, it was the year the Jews were expelled from Spain, unless they converted to Roman Catholicism. It was decided that Granada was a more significant city and that when the time would come, the monarchs would be buried there. It was a beautiful church regardless.

Bridge San Martin

The second last thing we did was see one of the main bridges of Toledo, San Martin. Then we headed to a workshop where they created swords, jewelry, plates and more using  the ancient technique of damascening (damasquinado). From wikipedia: “Damascening is the art of inlaying different metals into one another—typically, gold or silver into a darkly oxidized steel background—to produce intricate patterns…” After the demonstration, (which I couldn’t see), we went to the store and basically had a bunch of fun taking pictures with the swords. They were so cool and very Game of Thrones-esque. The technique produces a stunning result and it is very easy to find damascening products in Toledo. 

Damascening technique

 After that we had about two hours of free time to walk around before we had to head back to bus and eat. Vi and I just ate, walked around, and bought some souvenirs. We got some yummy cake from a cafe that sold deserts that the nuns in a local convent bake and sell and then went to meet up with the buses. Someday I think I’ll go back to Toledo. It is a great place and there is sooooo much more to see. There is a Sefardí (Hispanic Jews) museum which my Hispanic-Hebraic culture prof recommended that we visit and I would LOVE see the inside of the cathedral. Next time 🙂

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