Kasteel Well Week 6-7: Toledo & Madrid (Part II)
Our third day in Madrid actually had us leaving Madrid to spend the day in Toledo, which used to be the capital of Spain up until the mid-16th century. Before our buses pulled into the city center, we stopped at an outlook that gave us a view of the city of Toledo. Toledo was built upon a hill and the river flows around the base of the hill. In addition to being absolutely beautiful, this also provided a strategic defensive advantage to the city that was critical to the city’s importance and survival in medieval times.
At the top of the hill you can find the Alcázar – a medieval fortress that played an important role in the Spanish Civil War – which was our first destination. I was again on a tour led by Ralph Trost who wrote his final college thesis on the Spanish Civil War so he was very helpful in explaining the importance of the Alcázar in the war. We found a little café during our lunch break and had to fumble through ordering in Spanish but eventually we figured it out. Walking through the city of Toledo was completely different than other cities I’ve been to. Narrow cobblestone streets wind up and down the hillside, twisting the roads with the contours of the land. The buildings built in close proximity slowly changed architectural styles as you moved farther from the city center.
Our afternoon group had an “extended walking tour” as we took a few wrong turns on the way to the Cristo de la Luz mosque. The mosque was built between 999-1000 and was later converted into a Christian church. The very small building was decorated plainly compared to other religious institutions that we’ve visited in Europe. There was a cracking mural of Jesus on the ceiling that has seen some much better days, but there was no stained glass or anything spectacular about the building. For me this kept the focus on the true intent of the building. Adjacent to the mosque, there was a small terrace that provided a nice view over the city of Toledo.
After taking too many pictures on the terrace, we went back to the center of town and visited the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo (Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo). This gothic cathedral was constructed in the 13th century and was built over the city mosque that was torn down to build the cathedral. Similar to the Cristo de la Luz, the conversion was a display of Roman Catholicism’s dominance over other religions in Spain during the middle ages.
We had a little bit of time to wander around Toledo on our own before we met up with the whole group to head back to Madrid. We walked through the Jewish Quarter among other neighborhoods as we headed to the buses parked on the outside of the city. That night we met up with one of Rebecca’s friends that had transferred from Emerson and is now going to film school in Madrid. Along with one of his Madrid friends, our group set off to a local restaurant. We were very lucky to have them with us because our Spanish speaking skills were not advanced enough to place an order at this restaurant but having them there to translate made it very simple. It was also refreshing to be able to laugh with someone new about the trials & tribulations of life at Emerson.
My alarm clock in the morning marked our final day in Madrid. Most groups started off by spending about an hour or so walking through the Buen Retiro park which used to be a royal garden but is now a public park. The main attraction within the park is easily the Crystal Palace which was constructed of only glass & iron. I was required to go to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Queen Sofia Museum) to view an exhibition for my History of Photography class. Places Where We Live by American photographer Robert Adams was on display in its first stop in Europe. We spent about an hour in the exhibition analyzing, taking notes and taking pictures for our assignment. Before we left the museum, we had the opportunity to tour another exhibit so we went to the Picasso section. The museum’s crown jewel is Picasso’s Guernicawhich is a very large painting – 3.5 meters (11.5 ft) tall and 7.8 meters (25.6 ft) wide – that focused on the bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. It is widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of Spanish art in history.
We all returned to collect our luggage from the hotels and said goodbye to most of our friends as we were all heading off into separate directions for our travel break. It was strange saying bye to people because it felt like we weren’t going to see them for a long time even though it was only going to be a week. But finally our group was off to the airport to catch our flight to Barcelona! ¡Adiós Madrid!
As we did so much over travel break, I broke the week up into more posts so I didn’t write a novel. Links to all of the parts are here: