Three Cultures Converge In Toledo

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Europe » Spain » Castile-La Mancha » Toledo
March 20th 2002
Published: May 2nd 2009
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Just a short, comfortable one hour drive from Madrid to reach this impressive city of 3 cultures. I have to admit that I had my expectations of Toledo, having seen too many paintings of the Spanish city. Yet, I was still awed by its sheer beauty. This place shouldn't be missed, and should be in everybody's list to visit after Madrid. Through many narrow alleyways, we passed many houses with Moorish balconies. These 'extensions' served as 'peek out' places for Muslim women staying indoors and preferring not to be seen. I can just imagine them sneaking a look into the vibrant street scene in Toledo's narrow alleyways while fiddling with their worry beads.

City of 3 Cultures

The mixture of artistic styles speaks volumes on how Arabs, Christians and Jews once lived together in this former imperial capital. Much like the mixed settlements found in the walled city of Old Jerusalem ( check out my earlier blog: When Every Prayer Bead Counts in Israel). The maze of streets make up this city bound by walls and accessed through various gates. We entered through the main gate, the Bisagra Gate, and passed a number of synagogues, mosques and churches. The highlight of my trip to Toledo is easily the Church of Santo Tome , made famous by El Greco's painting "El Entierro del Conde Orgaz" which translates to "The Burial of Count Orgaz". By itself, this painting makes the trip to Toledo truly worthwhile. To this day, I can still imagine the many shades of black in this painting. El Greco is truly a genius. The sheer white organza over the black garment showed his genius to the fore. One can almost feel how thin and gossamer the organza fabric was. So with the lacy cloth adorning the necks of those depicted in the scene. El Greco lived out his sunset years in Toledo and truly paid homage to his second home as he immortalized the now famous vista of the entire township, the skyline dominated by the Alcazar and the Toledo Cathedral, and the many winding alleys and cobble-stoned pathways of this place so rich in history and steeped in culture.

Mudejar Style In Art and Architecture

All around the historic city, there is the mozarab (Christians who lived under the Muslim rule) and mudejar styles expressed in the art and architecture. The arches, ornately designed windows , and other architectural elements envelop you as you walk their streets. While viewing Toledo's famous cathedral, we saw many tourists shunted to the sides as cars weaved through the very narrow streets of this former capital of La Mancha, now declared a heritage site. (That is the 3rd time I used the word narrow). While waiting for the cars to pass, it was easy to get tempted to get inside some of the quaint looking stores selling mazapan and turrones. And so we allowed ourselves to be tempted and then and there, decided to leave space in our bags before flying home to load up on these goodies. While munching our new finds back into the square, we paused to take in the cathedral with its very flamboyant Gothic architecture. The doorway, with its 3 doors, depicted features of hell, forgiveness and judgment. It was reported that there was a time when indulgences were granted to penitents passing through the door of forgiveness or pardon. These days, it is almost always closed except for very special occasions.

A Hero's Sorrow

On a hill to the right of the Cathedral is the Alcazar, the military citadel. A most interesting story has been attached to this monument of art and heroism. The Siege of Alcazar recounts the heroism and supreme sacrifice in the name of patriotic duty of General Jose Moscardo Ituarte back in 1936. For 70 days, Moscardo held out for General Franco's Nationalist forces and defended the citadel. The Republicans then captured Moscardo's 16 year old son, Luis, and threatened to shoot him unless Moscardo cedes the citadel. Asking to speak to his son, Moscardo said "Commend yourself to God and die like a patriot" to which his teenage son replied "That, I can do". Truly, Luis is his father's son. Moscardo lost his son and up to his final days, wore a black cloak of mourning over his army uniform. The drama and the tragedy are now integral to any story relating to the cathedral.

Long after we left Toledo, we can't help wondering if the religious tolerance accounted for the very diverse character of this heritage site. Imagine the very Gothic Toledo Cathedral with Mudejar characteristics (claimed to be the 3rd largest in the world), or houses lining the alleys with their Moorish balcony extensions over your heads as you pass, as
Jamon Iberico!Jamon Iberico!Jamon Iberico!

Who can resist this?
well as imagining the interfaith harmony as Arabs, Jews and Christians all established their settlements here in this place where their respective arts and culture were allowed to flourish and blossom. The peace and harmony fostered by this religious tolerance may have encouraged many Arab, Jewish and Christian scholars to settle in Toledo and hone their crafts. Just like the Pax Romana where art and culture flourished, here is another example that indeed, "Peace Pays" .


22nd May 2009

How inspiring!!
Another great article and so rich in history. What a sad story about Luis...but you're right, imagine a time when each lived and let lived. Sorry to be out of touch for a while...job hunting is time consuming... Take care. Jeff

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