Sunday, April 18, 2010


This past weekend my interest group took an excursion to Toledo, Spain, which is right in the middle, about 30 kilometers from Madrid. This blog won't be one of the more extensive descriptions because Toledo is an old, sleepy town lacking anyone under the age of 50, and although I feel extremely guilty that 1000 year old buildings don't hold my attention like they used to, I'm human.

On the way we stopped at Castilla-La Mancha to see a castle that was built by Christians on the frontier of reclaimed lands during the Reconquista. It's about 900 years old.

Had a great view of the small town as well as surrounding countryside:

These are pretty cool: the actual windmills Cervantes writes about in his epic Don Quixote where Quixote fights against giants that are really just windmills.

Friday afternoon we arrived in Toledo, which was one of the biggest fortresses during the Reconquista, and as such is a legitimate walled city.

For anyone wondering about the reconquista, a short summary is that it was the conquest of Muslim lands by Christians from northern Spain that marched southward over the span of about 700 years until the Muslims were expelled from Spain entirely in 1492.

Here's the town square:

First off we went to the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, where we climbed up the bell towers and looked out over the city, including the cathedral of Toledo:

Here's the inside of the Monastery:

Saturday morning we took the longest string of escalators I've ever seen up to the old city and got a great panoramic view of the city:

Then we went to a 1000 year old mosque that sits on the site of an old Roman temple. The Mosque is called the mosque of "Christ of the Light" because it was converted into a Catholic church at one point, and also has a really cool legend. The legend goes that at one point, King Alfonso XI came to Toledo and came to this church to worship, and as he faced the church his horse saw a bright light and knelt down in front of the church. Ever since, it's been known as Christ of the Light.

The white stone below actually marks the spot where Alfonso's horse knelt:

Another view of Toledo from the back of the Mosque:

Next, we visited the Synagogue of El Transito:

This synagogue is one of the oldest in Spain and serves as a reminder of how influential the Jewish population was in Spain before they started being burned alive during the Inquisition.

And as a perfect segway, here are chains of prisoners from the Inquisition hanging on the Synagogue of Saint Maria the white. This synagogue is only called a synagogue because it was built over an old Jewish place of worship. It's out of use now but in the past was a convent. I think they could've chosen more welcoming decor.

From the inside:

Next, we visited the grand cathedral of Toledo, which is, in the nature of every Spanish cathedral, grand. I only got in one photo before realizing that none were allowed, but it shows the ornate cloister in the center. If you're curious about the rest, you can look up pics of the cathedrals from Sevilla and Granada because the layout is the same.

Saturday night we went to the theatre and saw a play from Prague that didn't have much dialogue but had a lot of black lights and cool effects. It was about a fantasy adventure and at the end they rolled a giant blow up Earth into the crowd. Overall, very entertaining.

As we left the city Sunday morning, we took, yes, another panoramic view:

On the way home we stopped in the small town of Almagra to see a 1000 year old theatre and the national museum of theatre. Interestingly, there was a military parade going on in the town square:

1000 year-old theatre:

The trip was overall completely worth doing, but on the way home I was feeling ready to do things rather than just see things. My average spirits were lifted when I won a crossword competition on the bus, and the prize turned out to be a sword. Toledo is famous for its swords and actually supply swords to the US marines and Swiss guard at the Vatican. My sword was not quite as ornate, but I hope the picture gives you a feeling of how big it is. How I'm getting it home, I have no idea.

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