The home of El Greco
Trip Start Sep 05, 2011
24Trip End Oct 08, 2011
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The city of Toledo was the former capital of Spain and is a beautifully preserved walled city. It has been declared a World Heritage site and is now protected from change. We also wanted to visit it because it was the adopted home of Domenikos Theothokopoulos, known to us as El Greco ("The Greek") and is home to many of his famous paintings. At the beginning of the 17th century El Greco left his native Crete and settled in Toledo
Unfortunately the Alcázar is closed while a new military museum is being installed, so we started our visit at the Santa Cruz Museum for a big dose of El Greco. His works are characterized by famous religious events, featuring subjects with somewhat elongated bodies (offering a more accurate perspective when viewed from below), and roiling skies full of dark clouds. The power conveyed by his composition and choice of colors was quite striking.
Our next stop was the town's impressive cathedral, which was shoehorned into the old town’s center leaving no good place to step back and take in the immensity of the structure. Like some other cathedrals, the choir area included a massive pipe organ and was enclosed as a little “island” within the main church area. But unlike most other cathedrals, the high altar was NOT up against the end of the exterior wall. It also was an enclosed “island” which had amazing gold-leafed wooden carvings of the life of Jesus on the free-standing wall visible behind the priest. Equally unusual was that the wall also had amazing decorations on the backside which were visible as one walked the cathedral's perimeter. The rest of the interior was lined with numerous ornate chapels, each purchased and decorated by the town’s most noble families of the 16th century and used as family cemeteries
The cathedral’s Sacristy was a great surprise because it was like a mini-Prado museum, housing masterpieces by El Greco, de Goya, Titian, Rubens, Velázques, Caravaggio, and Bellini. Our last stop was the Tesoro (“Treasury”) which held some amazing valuables, including a 10-foot-high, 430-pound monstrance. This is a tower which holds the Holy Communion wafer (the host) and is paraded around the town during the festival of Corpus Christi (“body of Christ”). This monstrance was built in 1517 of 5000 individual pieces held together by 12,500 screws. The outside was decorated with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and 400 pounds of gold-plated silver, while the inner part (which is a century older) was constructed from 35 pounds of solid gold…wow!
We left the cathedral and wandered the town's quaint, twisting streets to find the chapel of Santo Tome' which housed one of El Greco's most beloved paintings, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. It was very special to see, because it has been left in situ above the count's grave, right where the artist placed it 400 years ago. Before leaving Toledo, we stopped for a taste of the town's famous mazapan desserts. They come in lots of flavors, and we were especially tantalized by almond, pine nut, and chocolate
It was now time to catch the hop-on-hop-off bus which took us back to the train for our return trip to Madrid. It was an easy and on-time trip, reminding us how well train transportation works in Europe. Since this would be our final night in Spain, we packed our suitcases for the flight home in the morning, and then headed out to have a nice dinner to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. We had our best paella yet at El Caldero (“the pot”), a short walk back into the literary quarter. The meal was finished with a yummy chilled liqueur that is essentially caramel flavor and vodka mixed. It was so good that we bought a bottle from them on the spot and figured out how to bring it back to the States in our luggage. It should be a great way to remember Spain while sipping it in our hot tub in Novato.