Tuesday, June 8, 2010


To Toledo this weekend, the first time in many years, even though it's not that far away. It's basically a hill almost surrounded by a bend in the Tagus, and it's been a pre-Roman fort, a Roman citadel, a Visigothic village, a refuge from the marauding Arabs and for centuries, the capital of one of the great Empires. It has one of the greatest of Spain's Gothic cathedrals, which in turn contains a number of very fine paintings, including a Caravaggio, an elegant and beautiful rendering of John the Baptist, and works by Titian, Reni, Rubens, Bassano and a lot of El Greco, who is all over Toledo.

It also has synagogues that used to be churches that used to be synagogues, art galleries that used to be churches that used to be mosques, where you can see frescoes partly covered over with plaster, capitels brought out again from under the Mudéjar carvings which had partly covered them, doors cut and closed and recut, moved from place to place to satisfy the demanding ceremonial requirements of the procession of religions that has past through them. There are monasteries with the sort of cloisters that make you want to renounce worldly pomp and pleasure (though perhaps not for long)- like St Juan de los Reyes with its whimsical gargoyles high on the inside walls (see photo for illustation of whimsy).

There is one of the greatest mediaeval fortresses in Spain, the Alcázar. There are lots of alcazares and alcazabas around Spain, and most of them are Arabic in origin, as they should be. This one isn't, despite the name. It's solid, fairly elegant without being in any way beautiful and has a lot of history behind it, some of itinteresting and important.

And there is the river, wrapping around the foot of the hill, winding between green, rocky cliffs and leafy paths, making you wish you were a trout (until you see all the fishermen, at least).

The last time I was there was a few years ago, helping an unscrupulous Irishman to sell dodgy cattle to the unwary (Spanish cattle farmers are very wary indeed, so it wasn't a great success). It doesn't really count as a visit, though. Before that was back in the early 90's and it was raining so hard you couldn't see anything much at all. And then you have to go back to about 1987, and a blistering August weekend while still a carefree student who thought that life consisted largely of drinking beer and holding maps the wrong way up.

There's a high-speed train out of Madrid-Atocha, now, takes you there in half and hour.

No comments: