Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Holy Toledo!

I learned (thanks to Dad) that the phrase originated in Toledo, Spain. And so fitting! What a city it is! Tucked away in the mountains, it is a small, quiet "pueblo" full of history, architecture, art, literature, and lovely people. Toledo is about 4 hours from Salamanca, two hours south of Madrid, and I went with a group from the university. We were able to see many amazing sights.

If you read through my (slightly boring) history lesson, I'll tell you about my adventure!

Toledo was home to the painter El Greco, and la Iglesia de santo Tomé holds the most famous of his paintings: El entierro del conde de Orgaz (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz). What an amazing piece of art; it is a beautiful representation of Christian theology. The painting is divided into two parts. On the ground is a group of people mourning the loss of the Count. Included in this part are two of his favorite saints (Saint Augustine is one, I cannot remember the other...) El Greco painted his own son in the foreground, and he is the only one who is looking at the audience, but his hand is pointing upwards. As the priest is holding the Count's lifeless body, an angel is carrying his soul to heaven, where Jesus, the holy family, other angels and saints, including Saint Peter, are waiting. A beautiful reminder that we are created for heaven! This small chapel is no longer used for mass, but simply to display this piece of art.

Don Quixote made a stop in Toledo during his journey, and there is a tribute to Cervantes...

Spain has such a rich history, and Toledo is a good example of the transition between different religions. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all represented, often in the same buildings, and when one religion "conquered" another, the buildings were recycled, in a way. We went in a synagogue that also held remnants of Islam and Christianity; it also holds artwork which expresses the hope for peace between religions.

There aren't words to describe the Cathedral...I was in complete awe. Toledo holds the oldest cathedral in Spain, though the building has been reconstructed, and reconsecrated, many times. Even during the Muslim occupation of Toledo, the bishop was able to maintain his seat, for a time. Mudejar is a word which describes the Moors who remained in Spain after the Catholic monarchs reconquered the land. This group thus reflects the combination of two cultures, and often refers to the architectural style.Islam influence was added to the building, and though the current building was constructed in the 1200s, there are a few remnants of the Muslim occupation. The current cathedral building is now considered the pinnacle of the Gothic architecture in Spain. But as I was saying, the inside (where, unfortunately, photography is prohibited) is unbelievable. Not to mention, immense! I don't know how to begin to describe this building. The Blessed Mother appeared on the ground where the Cathedral is, and there is a piece of the stone on which she stood. Remarkable. I wish I could better explain to you what I saw....I guess you will have to come to Spain yourselves!

We were free to eat lunch on our own, and I dined with a few other students at a local bar/cafe/restaurant. I ordered a "house meal" and had the choice of an appetizer, entree, dessert, and drink. My drink choices? Water, beer, or wine. No joke. I learned in one of my classes that the reason the drinking age is lower in Spain is because beer and wine are not considered alcoholic beverages, but rather part of the meal. (In case you are wondering, I had water to drink, since it was only 2:00...) In true Spanish form, we arrived at our meeting place 5 minutes past the designated time, and our tour group had left without us! We went in what we hoped was the right direction, but ended up walking in a circle, without finding the group. We decided our best bet was to meet at the bus at 5:00, which was the time we were supposed to leave. We had a map of the city, and were told if we walked toward the river, through the city, we couldn't miss the buses. So, Maria (a bubbly Norwegian), Chris (an aloof Wisconsin boy, quite taken with Maria) and I set out for the river, on the opposite side of the city. We wandered through very narrow streets (so narrow, that when cars approached we had to stand in doorways so we wouldn't be hit!). Such a lovely, romantic town! Finally, we found the river and slowly made our way toward Puente de San Martin (an ancient bridge which we needed to cross). We were taking our time, stopping to talk to locals and take pictures. At 4:45 we were talking with two older women in extravagant fur coats, and mentioned that we needed to find the bridge. They casually told us it was quite a distance away, and we asked if we would make it there by 5:00. "Certainly not" was their response. I told them that not making it was not an option. They told us to run.

So, we took off running...uphill. Obviously, we wanted to follow the river. But at the top of a hill we reached some sort of private driveway. We were not sure what to do or where to go next (those of you who know me well can understand that I was panicking...think: itchy scalp). Around the corner came a car, so we waved them down, breathlessly explained our situation, and (with their permission) climbed in the back seat of their SUV. Sitting in empty carseats, we told them where to go (though we weren't sure, and they were not from Toledo, nor familiar with the bridge). As we were heading in what we supposed was the right direction, we passed our group!

They had just finished a tour of a Jewish museum, and were waiting for the guide. Much to our chagrin, the group wasn't quite as alarmed, or aware, that we had missed the entire afternoon. In fact, as I talked to my seat mate, he hadn't even realized we were missing! Though I wasn't laughing at the time, (I wasn't too keen on figuring out how to make a 4 hour trip back to Salamanca), our adventure makes for quite a story! And the pictures I was able to take, and quite places I saw, and the people I talked to are worth the stress...

I hope I did not bore you with the history! And I am sorry for such a long post! I have put pictures from the trip on Picasa, take a look!


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