“The rain and morning fog had left the cobblestones of the old bridge too slippery to jog on. I had to get to the other side of the Tagus River to get a real view. I turned and looked. The city itself sat on the hill like a medieval Oz, the river wrapped around it like a moat. There were two layers of castle walls, festooned with gargoyles, eagles and crests. On top of the bluff was the Alcázar, which looked out over the city’s patchwork of Manchegan red clay tile roofs and the spires and belltowers of churches. The bells started to peal, eventually crescendoing to an explosion of noise that sounded like the finale of a fireworks show. It was still very early in the morning. Holy Toledo, I thought.” Geoffrey Gray, New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/travel/in-toledo-layers-of-spanish-history.html
“Named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1986, Toledo is an outstanding museum city whose rich heritage owes almost everything to the Jews, Muslims and Christians who lived there, working and observing their religion side by side.” https://www.esmadrid.com/en/trips-toledo
TOLEDO WALKING LECTURE
“This lively square has long been the hub of town. From 1465 until the 1960s Zocodover was the scene of the city’s Tuesday market and successor to the Arab souq ad-dawab (livestock market), hence the name. It was also here that toledanos for centuries enjoyed their bullfights or, morbidly, gathered to witness public burnings at the stake carried out by the Inquisition. Sadly in recent years it has succumbed to the blight of fast food giants, with just one local terrace cafe remaining.”
CATEDRAL DE TOLEDO
“La Santa Iglesia Catedral of Toledo is dedicated to Virgin Mary in her Ascension to the heavens. Its construction began in 1227 under order of the Archbishop Don Rodrigo Jiménez mandate. The site was situated over the foundations of the Visigoth Cathedral in the sixth century, which had been used as a Mosque. Constructed in a Gothic style with a French influence, it measures 120 m long by 60 m wide and contains 5 naves supported by 88 pillars and 72 vaults. The side naves are extended behind the Main Chapel surrounding the presbytery and this creates an apse aisle with a double semicircular corridor. Its first architect was the French origin Master Martín, who made the outlines and began construction at the front of the temple.” https://www.catedralprimada.es/en/info/catedral/historia/
THE DESCENSION CHAPEL
“The Descension Chapel was founded by Enrique II and is located between the two smaller naves and the second pillar at the base of the cathedral. This is believed to be the real origin of the Cathedral, as the Main Altar of the Visigothic Basilica stood here. Tradition has it that it was here where Virgin Mary Descended to put the chasuble on Bishop Saint Ildephonsus.”
Worshipers and visitors to the Catedral touch a stone that the Virgin Mary is said to have stepped on.
TRANSPARENTE DE LA CATHEDRAL
“This is considered to be the pinnacle art work of the Spanish Baroque and it is incorporated on the back of the Main Altar with a Spanish and Genovese marble altarpiece that shows the Apotheosis of the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the middle of this altarpiece there is an oval window surrounded by Archangels, from where the Sacrarium becomes illuminated thanks to the apse aisle vaults breaking. This is where the Glory of the Main Saints is shown. This great art work was made by Narciso Tomé in 1732, promoted by the Archbishop Diego de Astorga, who was later buried in front of its altar.” https://www.catedralprimada.es/en/info/museos/transparente/
In the 1700’s, architects boldly inserted an oval window into an existing vault behind the main altar. It creates an impression of divine light illuminating the church.
“In front of the Main Altar we find the most beautiful Choir of all the European cathedrals, made to accommodate the cathedral Clergy: the Archbishop, Canons, Prebendaries and Chaplains. It consists of the higher stalls made from the seat of honour, on the right side by Alonso Berruguete and the left side by Felipe Bigarny. The lower stalls were carved by Rodrigo Alemán between 1489 and 1495 and they tell the story of Granada’s conquest. There are two big lecterns made in 1570 by Nicolás de Vergara the Old and his son Nicolás de Vergara the Young at either side. In the middle is an eagle lectern made by a German artist in 1425. A beautiful Gothic French sculpture from the sixteenth century called Virgin White, full of sweetness and beauty from the Mother, presides in the altar of prime. The Choir is enclosed with a grille worked by Domingo de Céspedes between 1541 and 1548.” https://www.catedralprimada.es/en/info/museos/coro/
Of particular note in the choir are the carved images of war. The wood carvings depict the Reconquista of España by Catholics, as they defeated the last cities of Al-Andalus.
SANTA MARIA LA BLANCA SYNAGOGUE
“This Mudéjar construction was built in 1180. It has five naves separated by pillars supporting horseshoe arches. In the 15th century it was converted into a church, although today it is simply a monument which is open to visitors.” https://www.spain.info/en/places-of-interest/synagogue-santa-maria-blanca/
This synagogue was built in the Mudejar (Moorish aesthetic without religious symbolism) style and then converted into a church. Santa Maria La Blanca stands as a memento the Convivencia, when members of the three major monotheistic religion cohabited in Spain. This Convivencia ended in 1492, when the Sephardic Jews of España were expelled or forced to convert to Catholicism. Their synagogues and property were seized by Catholics.
BRONZE AGE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE
FIU España hikes to a hill across the Tagus River from Toledo. On the Cerro del Bu hill is a Bronze Age archeological site.
El Greco painted his famous “View of Toledo” from this side of the Tagus River. Learn about the painting in greater detail on the Khan Academy website https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/xa6688040:spain-portugal-15th-16th-century/xa6688040:16th-century-spain/a/el-greco-view-of-toledo
BURIAL OF COUNT ORGAZ
Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco-The Greek) painted the Burial of Count Orgaz. The painting, in a diamond composition, depicts the burial of Count Orgaz’s body and his soul’s ascension to heaven.
Learn about the painting in greater detail on the Khan Academy website
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Ham, Anthony; Quintero, Josephine. Lonely Planet Madrid (Travel Guide). Lonely Planet Global Limited, 2021.
Phillips, Jr, William D.; Rahn Phillips, Carla. A Concise History of Spain (Cambridge Concise Histories). Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Shields, Graham. Madrid (World Bibliographical Series). ABC-CLIO, 1996.
Steves, Rick. Rick Steves Spain (Travel Guide). Avalon Travel, 2016.
EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly 08 June 2022
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