Ancient fortress walls; narrow, rabbit-warren like streets, and as many churches as there are people, makes for an Toledo an interesting day trip…or two.
I’m a sucker for old stuff, particularly old architecture, art, anything historical. If it was built or made before Europeans arrived in my country, then it has a wow factor for me. The distant past is about the only part of the Christian faith that interests me, primarily because they’re very good at hoarding all the good stuff and inspiring some pretty amazing artwork.
Today, I went to Toledo, an often heavily hyped (generally well-deserved), historic city to the south of Madrid. It’s one of the few remaining fortress cities in Spain, and apparently, a fortified settlement already existed on the current site prior to the arrival of the Romans. Needless to say, it’s had its share of bloodshed, and you can see from the remaining Murallas (fortress walls) and gates that any forces managing to get past the first layer of defense (and that’s a BIG if), were nowhere near their ultimate prize.
By the mid-morning, numerous express trains, and dozens of tourist buses, had arrived from Madrid, disgorging thousands of snap-happy tourists, myself included. The locals were taking advantage of having an external audience, and were staging a protest in the Plaza Mayor about the cemetery, though unfortunately, it seemed most of the visitors were not Spanish speakers. From the train station and bus stops, they all flowed in thick streams down the narrow cobbled streets, disappearing into the nearest tourist destination, or scampering along behind tour guides who held identification banners aloft as they tried desperately to herd their flocks through the sites as quickly as possible, and maintain their schedule.
The day remained grey and drizzly for most of the stay, denying me the best views of the city walls and their decorations, and ultimately making it extremely difficult to get detailed photographs within the Cathedral (which didn’t permit use of a flash or a tripod). Nontheless, there were some pretty impressive works on display. The central altar was comprised of large slabs of granite and marble, all laced with gold. The clergy all have their own little hub in which to sit, reminiscent of the set in The Name of the Rose. Every seat in this chamber is adorned with little creatures and characters, individually carved into the arm rests, head rests and backs of each station. A massive pipe organ sits high above the clergy pen, and out the back, a small secure room contains artefacts and books from the 12th century.
To an extent, parts of this cathedral have fallen into ruin. Vast frescoes in one area have been allowed to crumble over the centuries, and sadly, the works of art that existed there have been lost forever. There are, however, plenty of other treasures that have been preserved, which is a good thing. Overall, I think the cathedral in Lleida has been better looked after over the years, but then again, I don’t know what has been removed (looted) from it previously.
The Alcázar, which is perched on the highest point in the city and clearly visible from the surrounding countryside, was closed for refurbishment (and by the looks of it, it’s been in this state for some time), so unfortunately I didn’t get to see the inside, though this may have been for the better, as I was struggling to get through everything else anyway.
One of the interesting differences between Toledo and other tourist towns is the souvenirs available. On every narrow street in the tourist zone (ie: within the walls of the city), there are numerous souvenir stores loaded to the hilt with a variety of weapons. Muskets, knives, swords, spears, shields and full body armour (including the metal chain mesh) burst from the stores, and I’d be inclined to suggest there are now more weapons in Toledo than at any time during its history as a fortress city.
Despite spending a day there, and roaming around most of the circumference of the old city, I left feeling I’d only seen a small sample. Toledo is far from a day trip, two, perhaps even three or four days is more realistic, especially if you’re a ruins or history freak like me.