Today was another phenomenal day. We woke up early and after a tasty European breakfast of fresh croissants, crusty rolls, juice, and coffee, we headed out for a bus tour of Madrid. The architecture continues to impress us all! Our first stop was a park dedicated to the work of de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Until recently, it was the second most translated book in the world aside from the Bible. However, Harry Potter has since bumped it to the number three spot. Though the sun was shining, a chilly wind kept our stop brief.
Our next stop was the Palacio Real de Madrid (the Royal Palace). Originally a wooden fortress built by the Moors in the 10th century, Spanish royalty first used the structure during the 14th century. However, a fire destroyed the original building and it was rebuilt in the 18th century modeled after typical French Baroque fashion. Our tour guide, Letizia, led us through just a fraction of the ornately decorated 2800 rooms. The walls and ceilings were covered with intricate tapestries and gigantic frescoes. We had the opportunity to see everything from the royal dressing rooms to grand dining rooms.
After out tour, and a quick stop for lunch, we hopped back on the bus and made our way to Toledo. With eighty churches, the phrase “Holy Toledo!” originated with this small town of just over 75,000 residents. Upon arriving at Toledo, we met up with our local guide, Carlos, who proceeded to lead us through the winding streets of this ancient city. Known for its long history of religious tolerance, Carlos explained to us the harmony in which Muslims, Jews and Christians shared until the Moors and Jews were expelled from Spain in the 15th century when the Spanish royalty declared itself a Christian nation. Our first stop was the main square, Plaza Zocodover.
From there, we ascended the steep streets to Catedral de Toledo, a stunning cathedral that took over 200 years to build, spanning the 13th through 15th centuries. We sat in the pews outside the main chapel as Carlos explained how the intricately designed retable was detailed so as to relay the story of Jesus Christ to the largely illiterate population. Carlos gave a wonderful lecture on the history and art contained within the walls of this magnificent Gothic structure. While in the sacristy, he showed us the optical illusion on the ceiling created by painter Luca Giordano, who covered the entire ceiling with frescoes in less than 200 days. The walls primarily were filled with framed paintings by El Greco, though I was excited to see a Caravaggio and Raphael tucked into the corner.
On our way to our next stop we bumped into beautifully costumed locals who were preparing for the afternoon’s carnival parade. We passed them as we walked down another tiny road to the Church of Santo Tome to see El Greco’s pinnacle work, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. Carols explained in detail the legend behind the painting, as well as the painting itself. In the 14th century, a local knight, Don Gonzalo Ruíz, died and left money to the church. Local lore claimed that Saint Augustine and Saint Stephen descended from heaven to bury the count. To commemorate the miracle, in the 16th century the parish priest, Andrés Núñez, commissioned El Greco to translate the legend onto the wall of the church. The end result was a masterpiece filled with religious iconography, as well as portraits of Núñez, El Greco’s wife and son, and his own self-portrait that were cleverly woven into the painting.
We next visited the Synagogue of El Transito, which was constructed for the Jewish community in the 14th century by Moorish builders. However, because the Moors had never built a synagogue before, the building was fashioned after a Mosque. Used as a private synagogue until the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the 15th century, the building was then converted into a Catholic Church. In the 19th century, the building was used for military barracks. On May 1, 1877, the building was declared an historic site, and all Christian décor was removed. The building was restored, and in 1964 became the home of the Museo Sefardi, a museum housing the history of the Sephardic Jews in Spain. Though the interior of the building was sparsely decorated, and the Hebrew inscriptions on the walls crumbling, it was an impressive sight. Sunlight streamed through high windows, casting light on the beautiful stonework.
We headed back out into the streets and made our way to Puente de San Martin, a Gothic bridge built in the 14th century. As we walked across, we were taken aback by the incredible panoramic views of the old city of Toledo.
Our last stop in Toledo was the Artensania de Toledo, where master craftsmen still forge the swords and daggers made famous in Toldeo. We had the opportunity to watch a metal worker as he inlaid gold onto small medallions.
Once back in Madrid, we split into two groups. Kendra, Jenn and I took the girls and Spencer to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía while Corey, Daro and Marcelo joined the Pennsylvania group for shopping. The museum was filled with the works of modern artists from Picasso to Dali. I was especially happy to have the opportunity to see works by Rothko and Miro, as well as excellent photography by Spanish neo-realists. However, our primary reason for the visit was the chance to see Picasso’s famous Guernica. Completed in 1937, the painting depicts the horrors of war, specifically chronicling the bombing of the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. It was an impressive piece of work, to say the least.
We then took the metro to La Puerta del Sol to meet up with the rest of the group. Jesus led us to the underground La Mazmorra Meson for an incredible dinner of tapas and local music. The kids had a great time as musicians from the local university serenaded them. We enjoyed a feast of chorizo, calamari, tortilla espanolas and more! After dinner, we visited Chocolatería San Gines for chocolate and churros. Yum! Finally full, we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.
Tomorrow we leave for Barcelona!