We’re working our way into southern Spain, so out of Madrid we caught a quick 30-minute train down to Toledo. Given Mark’s family’s proximity to Toledo, Ohio, we had lots of good jokes about how this just didn’t seem like the Toledo we knew. Wikipedia, though, was helpful in explaining the difference: “Toledo most commonly refers to Toledo, Ohio or Toledo, Spain (the Spanish city being older, and the American city being named after it.)” Wow, thanks for explaining that.This Toledo has a long an interesting history and has served as Spain’s capital a few times. It first attained that status on the fall of the Roman empire, when the Visigoths (the western Goths) made it their capital until the Moslems conquered most of the Spanish peninsula in the early 8th century. In the late 11th century Toledo was the first major city recaptured it what became known at the Reconquista, the Christians’ reconquest of Spain that was completed 400 years later when Isabella and Fernando defeated the Moslems in Granada, their last toehold. (The victory in Granada took place in 1492, the same year Isabella and Ferdinand financed Columbus’s first voyage to America and the year they evicted the Jews from Spain. A really big year for them!) Then in the 16th century Charles I made Toledo the capital of his kingdom of Castille.
Toledo is known for a couple things. For me the most interesting is that the city was the home of the artist El Greco from 1577 until his death in 1614. Originally from the island of Crete his formal name was Doménikos Theotokópoulos but he was known both during his life and afterwards as El Greco, the Greek. He was always individualistic and controversial in his lifetime and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that he began to be seen as one of the great artists of Western culture.These days Toledo has certainly embraced him. There’s the El Greco Museum, to be sure, with a bunch of his paintings, but the Cathedral, an old convent, and another church also have several originals. Interestingly, some of the churches that commissioned work from him now have copies, with the originals in places like Madrid and Chicago. I’d love to understand, for instance, why the The Assumption of the Virgin was painted for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo but now resides at the Art Institute of Chicago while the church in Toledo has a copy. Did they just need the money and sell it? Did the fact that El Greco had fallen so far out of favor mean they just gave it away? Gotta figure that out some day.
At any rate, we saw a lot of El Greco and I loved just about all of it. Another thing Toledo has long been known for is the way the old city embraced all three religions in the Middle Ages and later and has been known as the City of Three Cultures. Prior to the expulsion of Jews in 1492, the Jewish quarter made up nearly a third of the city, with Moslems having a large section of their own. Today there is a museum of Jewish culture that’s worth a visit but as far as I can tell the Jewish quarter is pretty much entirely historic; Ferdinand and Isabella were pretty successful in expelling all of them.
So that was Toledo, lots of art and a little history. It’s also known for its steel production and, in particular, the production of swords, but that didn’t interest us much so we didn’t pay attention to it. Oh yeah, and a great trail along the Tagus River for walking and running that goes on for miles and miles. Some day we have to come back and do one of those multi-day hikes. Some day.