Today’s day in Madrid wasn’t in Madrid. That is, it started and ended there, but I took a day trip to Toledo. In Toledo, I kept myself busy by visiting the Santa Cruz Museum, the Toledo Cathedral, the Synagoga del Tránsito, and the El Grego Museum. I also took a tourist “train” ride and did a lot of walking.
I’m tired. Really tired. Expect even more typos than normal in this post.
Streets and Views
The train station where I arrived in and departed from Toledo is a charming Moorish building. The lower town around it, on the other hand, is meh.
But that’s just the lower part of town. Toledo is a hill town. The upper old part is charming and truly lovable.
On foot, getting from the train station to the historic centre at the top of the hill involves a short walk and a series of escalator rides. There are a couple of views on the way to the escalators that are spectacular. The plateau at the top of the escalators provides more great views.
Up top, I did a lot of aimless wandering. I also did some wandering that wasn’t intended to be aimless, but my aim failed. I unintentionally didn’t take the most direct route to my planned destination a couple of times. Toledo’s streets are confusing, even with GPS mapping on my phone.
I loved historic Toledo. I loved its narrow, low-traffic cobblestone and brick streets lined with old, human-scaled buildings, with retail and services on the ground floors. Even the bustle of tourists added to the charm. (I can’t really complain about the presence of tourists, being one myself.)
Santa Cruz Museum
The exterior walls of the Santa Cruz Museum still wear some war wounds from the Spanish Civil War.
The exhibit area within is smallish and welcoming, with vaulted, dark wood ceilings. The space is cross-shaped, but, unlike a Christian cross, the bars of the cross appear to be of equal length.
The collection is weirdly eclectic. The walls sport paintings and tapestries largely from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. The paintings include a small number of El Greco works, as well as some labeled as from his workshop.
That’s typical enough, but display cases and stands house statues, religious artifacts, small desks, the top half of a suit of armour, and old guns and crossbows. Go figure.
Exiting the exhibit area placed me in a very tranquil, square cloister with a garden (pictured below) at its centre. I sat there for a while.
A babbling fountain in the garden was very calming. That’s high praise coming from me. I’m never calm.
A staircase off the cloister led to an upper cloister immediately above the lower one. I climbed up to get a view of the garden below.
Much to my surprise, off the upper cloister I found a room with a decent-sized collection of ceramics. Included were beautiful tiles, bowls, dishes, vases, and the like.
I would never have seen the ceramics collection had I not decided to take a look at the upper cloister. If there was a sign for it downstairs, I didn’t see it. (That in no way means it wasn’t there. My specialty is overlooking things like that.) And the sign on the door to the collection was quite discreet. My discovery of the ceramics room was a product of pure serendipity.
After visiting the Santa Cruz Museum I took a 45-minute tourist “train” to get an overview of the sights of Toledo. “Train” is in quotes because it did not have steel wheels or run on tracks. Instead, it was two rubber-tired “train” cars hitched together and pulled by a truck cab with a cylinder attached to its front. It presented a poor impersonation of an old-style locomotive.
Rick Steves’ Spain tour book advised me to sit on the right side to see the sights. This proved difficult to maneuver. The doors were only on the right. The pitch between the rows, which each had room for four people, was far too narrow for anyone to squeeze by if I plunked myself down by the door.
When I boarded, there were only empty or full rows. I ended up on the left.
Rick Steves was correct. All of the sights called out by the recorded commentary were on the right. Hence, I didn’t take any pictures from inside the train.
Most of the route was outside the historic city, around the old walls. Some of the course was across the river from the historic centre. At one high point on the other side of the river, the “train” stopped so we could get out and take pictures of the panoramic view of the historic centre of Toledo. Hence, the picture to the right and the panoramic shot below.
The Toledo Cathedral (La Santa Iglesia Catedral) is gorgeous and grand. The ceilings are vaulted and striking, as they tend to be in cathedrals of that vintage. The choir contains two levels of beautifully carved, dark wood seats on either side.
Attractive and/or grim chapels line much of the back and side walls of the nave. The inside of the main chapel, which is not against the nave walls but, rather, toward the back and in the midst of the nave, looked magnificent, as best I could see. But its front is guarded by ornate gates that were closed. So, “as best I could see” was far from perfect.
The backside of the curved back wall of the main chapel is stunning. I don’t say that lightly because I’m a little overweight, but that’s unrelated to the subject at hand.
The backside of the main-chapel wall is beautifully carved marble. That would be attractive enough, but what makes it truly stunning is what isn’t there. Above and behind the wall there’s a roughly oval hole in the ceiling.
Just to be clear, the hole isn’t damage. The hole was intentionally architected into the cathedral. The intent was to stream and focus light onto the sculpted wall to highlight it. It works. Beautifully. Although, being there on a sunny day, as I was, probably helps.
The Toledo Cathedral houses splendid artwork throughout as long-standing elements of the church. But the multi-room sacristy goes further. It’s now an art gallery displaying numerous works, including many by artists that even I, a plebeian art Philistine, heard of. Among them are paintings by El Greco, Goya, Titian, Bellini, and Caravaggio.
The audio guide included free with admission was very comprehensive. I spent a long time in Toledo Cathedral exploring the cathedral and listening to the recordings on the audio guide. As usual, I remember next to nothing of what I heard.
Not Climbing the Toledo Cathedral Bell Tower
Toledo Cathedral has a bell tower. I read that the view of Toledo and the surrounding area is spectacular from up there. Not that I’d know.
I usually climb any European church towers I’m allowed to climb. They typically have the best views in the city, whatever that European city happens to be. But there was construction at the cathedral when I was there. It didn’t obscure anything inside, but there was scaffolding outside, including around the bell tower.
To be honest, because his English wasn’t perfect and my Spanish is next to non-existent, I’m not sure if the ticket seller refused to sell me a ticket that included the bell tower or if he only advised against it. Nevertheless, I understood the obstructed vision part.
Whenever a climb a church tower, at some point before the top, I’m usually so exhausted that I start hoping for death. Therefore, I decided to not push the issue with the ticket seller. If I survived to the top only to find I couldn’t see anything, I’d want to jump. But the damned scaffolding might block me. Then I’d really be upset.
Synagoga del Tránsito
As you might have guessed, the Synagoga del Tránsito was at one time a synagogue. When built in the 14th century, it demonstrated the considerable tolerance of the time. It was a Jewish place of worship, built by Muslim tradespeople, with the permission of the Christians who were then in charge of Toledo. Things turned less friendly in the 15th century when the Jews of Toledo were given three options: Convert, leave, or die.
Today, the Synagoga del Tránsito houses a museum of Sephardic Judaism. The displays include various religious artifacts. Unfortunately, the placards accompanying the artifacts are exclusively in Spanish. I didn’t understand a word.
Slotted organizers hanging on one wall of each room contain laminated sheets of information in different languages. Although, the locations aren’t always conspicuous. I didn’t notice them until the second or third room. Plus, their narrative is general information about Jewish history, culture and practices, particularly Sephardic history, culture, and practices. They do not provide translations of the placards that accompany each piece.
There’s normally a fee for entry to the museum. However, for some reason, it was free when I was there on a Saturday afternoon. At first I thought it had to do with it being Shabbat. But that’s probably not it. The almost-next-door El Greco Museum was also free then, despite it normally charging a fee.
The museum offers a quiet little patio out back. Visitors pass through it and can sit a spell, subject to the availability of unoccupied seats. People who looked like they weren’t for moving occupied the few benches on the patio, so I didn’t sit there.
El Greco Museum
The El Greco Museum is a small art gallery. You can probably guess which artist it focuses on.
El Greco really liked apostles. Either that or the museum really likes collecting his apostle portraits.
One long wall almost exclusively displays apostle portraits painted by El Greco. I think there are 10 to twelve of them there, but I didn’t count. So I don’t know if there was a complete set of the Twelve Apostles. Come to thing of it, I don’t know if I would have noticed if the museum had any traders in its apostle card collection. So, it might be more than one or two short of a complete set.
The museum has a pretty little garden in front. I sat for a spell there.