Last weekend, some friends and I went to Toledo, about 100 kms south of Madrid. Toledo is an incredible city with a very interesting history. After arriving at the beautiful Renfe station (national train company), we walked into the city. Toledo is surrounded on three sides by water. Once inside the city center, we hiked up and down and while looking for the Cathedral of Toledo, ended up at Alcazár, the old fortress to the left. Unfortunately, it is closed for repairs for 6 years while a museum is being installed. The outside is quite impressive though, and we could see the fortress while walking to the town from the train station.
We then made our way to the Cathedral of Toledo. While pictures are not allowed inside the cathedral, no one followed that rule. The cathedral was amazing - it is so large with so many ornate rooms that it is very easy to get lost inside. There were a couple really interesting parts of it (the knowledge was acquired from randomly joining various tour groups inside the cathedral). There is one section of the cathedral where red hats appear to be floating. Beneath these hats is where former cardinals are buried in the crypts that are beneath the cathedral. In another wing, there is a prayer area with red candles and a table with a glass top. People from all over the world have written various notes and prayers and slid the pieces of paper underneath the glass on the table. Towards the back of the cathedral, there is a door called the Door of Pardons. You are supposed to walk through the door and down the stairs into the cathedral to be pardoned, however, the door is never open, so.... Additionally, it is a lie that you cannot wear shorts inside. All the tourists (except us, of course) had shorts and t-shirts on in the 100 degree weather.
After the cathedral, we walked around a bit and found a park with an incredible view of the valley and the town, as well as a huge rose garden. Then, we went to the church of Santo Tomé, where the famous El Greco painting is. The church is small but beautiful and the Greco painting was commissioned in honor of Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, a rich man in Toledo who paid for the renovation of the church and continued to support the church and its clergy. Upon his death, he asked to be buried in the most humble part of the church and his body was moved to the chapel in 1327 (see right). However, in 1562, his estate stopped paying the church. The church filed a lawsuit and won, then commissioning El Greco's painting where Don Gonzalo is being placed in his grave. After the church, we went to the Santa Cruz Museum. The outside of the building is beautiful, but the actual museum gallery inside has about 10 gigantic tapestries. This would be cool, except that the tapestries are very old and there are not any descriptions of them. However, the museum also has an incredible garden right outside.
Our last stop in Toledo was my favorite - the Mezquita Cristo de la Cruz (the Mosque of Christ on the Cross). Of the 10 mosques that used to be in Toledo, this is the only remaining one (there are still a couple synagogues, but we did not have time to visit these). The mosque is really small and, while it is not nearly as ornate as the cathedral, its history is fascinating. Its construction was ordered by Ahmad ibn Hadidi, a leading member of the ulema in Toledo at the time, and built by two architects: Musa ibn Ali and Sa'ada. The mosque was completed in 999. There is construction all around the mosque and I learned (once again by attaching myself to another person's tour) that there is a Christian graveyard that was discovered on the north side. Underneath the mosque, a 5 meter wide Roman road was found. Inside the main part of the mosque, there is a glass floor. It shows the excavation of a room discovered underneath that might have been a hermit's home or an additional level of the mosque. Inside the mosque, the original paint is flaking away, but one can still see some of the original Muslim artwork and calligraphy alongside the Christian paintings from when the Christians took over the Moors. َUnlike most other places, the mosque does not have a very museum-feel to it and you can walk around it as people did centuries ago (the cathedral has many sections gated off so that you can only view from a distance).