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Toledo

Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the many treasures it contains of its past. It was the capital of the first state to integrate most of the Iberian Peninsula, Visigoth Spain. Under the Visigoths, Toledo was the site of several important historic councils where major points of Catholic doctrine were promulgated. Occupied possibly since the time of the Phoenicians and subsequently settled by Jewish colonists from the Roman Empire as early as 540 B.C.E., Toledo continued to be important in Moorish Spain.

The combination of cultures can be seen in the history of mosques, synagogues and churches of Toledo, with many fine examples of mudéjar (Moorish-influenced) art.

The magnificent cathedral was built over the course of several centuries (1226-1493) and blends styles including gothic, baroque and renaissance.
The cathedral of Toledo is the seat of the archbishop of Toledo, who is also the primate (or head of the Catholic Church) of Spain. The Cathedral houses many treasures such as the golden processional tabernacle at right.
Toledo has been known since ancient times for the quality of its arms, swords and knives. You can still find many examples of these products, so if you've been looking for just that perfect suit of armor, Toledo is the place for you.

Many artists made their homes in Toledo, including Garcilaso de la Vega and Doménicos Theotokópoulos, more commonly known as El Greco (1540 - 1614). In the chapel of the church of Santo Tomé, El Greco painted the Burial of Count Orgaz or El Entierro del Conde Orgáz (1586), one of his best and most reknowned paintings. It illustrates the miracle story of the burial of the good count, Don Gonzalo Ruíz, a patron of the church, when saints Stephen and Augustine themselves descended from Heaven in order to lay him in his grave.

In the painting, El Greco combines realistic portraits of important citizens of Toledo, including a self-portrait and a portrayal of his son in the foreground, along with a fantastical vision of heaven.

 

Segovia

Alcázar

Alcázar means fortress or palace; the word comes from Arabic, like virtually all Spanish words that start with "al-."

The tiny windows in the thick-walled towers of the Alcázar in Segovia testify to its history as a fortress. Constructed atop an ancient Roman foundation in the XII century, it was rebuilt in the XV and again after a fire in the XIX.

Many monarchs of Castilla-Leon resided in the Alcázar, including Alfonso X (el Sabio). In 1474, Isabel was crowned Queen of Castile here, as a painting in one of the halls illustrates.

Rooms are restored and furnished; of course, the original fittings were destroyed in the fire of 1862.

 

If you can afford to go out to eat well just once, try to do it in Segovia; it's a gastronomic capital of Spain.

Specialties like cordero asado (roast lamb), judiones (butter beans) and cochinillo (roast suckling pig) are unforgettable! They will set you back a pretty euro-penny, though. Budget at least 25 euros for your meal, more if you want beverages and dessert.

 

 

 

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Still extant is an altar painting of some grisly interest. It shows St. James Slayer of Moors (Santiago Matamoros); according to legend, St. James the apostle was buried in Spain where he had preached during his lifetime. When Spain was conquered by the Moors, St. James came down from heaven on his white horse to assist in the Reconquista. Before this painting the monarchs could meditate on the severed heads of their enemies.

The Alcázar houses a collection of armor and weapons.

A climb to the top of the tower means 256 steps! But it's worth the trouble because the view is fantastic.

An unusual Romanesque church with an octagonal shape you can see from the top of the Alcázar, the Iglesia de la Vera Cruz was built by the Knights Templar to resemble the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

 

Avila

Santa Teresa de Jesús was born and lived in Ávila, where she founded the Carmelite order. You can visit her home, which has been converted to a chapel, as well as the church where she took her vows. There are many churches, altars, statues and paintings depicting events from her life in Avila.

The nuns of Ávila make famous sweets you can buy in shops all over town; yema de Santa Teresa is one of them. It's made from egg yolks and sugar, is tender, rich and incredibly sweet. Sugared almonds are another specialty you may find more palatable!

Like the Alcázar of Segovia, Ávila provides witness to a past of war: the impressive walls, las murallas medievales, were built in the XI century. Cities retaken by Christian forces in the Reconquista were often fortified with walls like these.

Walking along the muralla of Ávila you will encounter these monuments to its builders, specifying the contributions of each group. During the Reconquista, there were mixed populations in many towns, although they usually lived in different areas.

 

 

 

 


While the campesinos labored to feed everyone, the mudéjares, Moors who remained in reconquered areas, were the masons and bricklayers, while the Jews donated the iron and weaponry to complete the wall. The knights and nobles patrolled the walls; it was not seemly for them to be seen working with their hands.

 

El Escorial

The Escorial is built in a rather austere Renaissance style, but is highly decorated. Felipe II, great-grandson of Ferdinand and Isabela, ordered the Escorial to be built after winning a decisive battle against the French at San Quintín in 1557. In order to be closer to the sacred spot he also moved the capital of Spain to Madrid.
  The ceiling of the magnificent library of the Escorial displays paintings representing the liberal arts and sciences.

 

 

Alcalá de Henares


Sancho Panza and Don Quixote wait for company on a bench in front of Cervantes' birth home in Alcalá de Henares as a tourist and a group of travelling musicians stroll by.

 

Just a short ride away from Madrid is Alcalá de Henares, birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, immortal author of Don Quixote. Alcalá is also one of the oldest university towns in Europe. The University of Complutense (now in Madrid) was founded here in 1496. Its name comes from Complutum, the ancient Roman name for Alcalá. It was here that Christopher Columbus began his campaign to convince Queen Isabela to finance his famous voyage.

You can tour the university and Cervantes' home. There are some beautiful churches and a lovely shopping district. Dining in Alcalá can be expensive but it's worth the cost, because the restaurants are great.


Don Quixote pledges his troth to Dulcinea.

The train ride to Alcalá is quite entertaining! Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Dulcinea all make their appearance and tell you their stories as you travel. Once you get to Alcalá you will also witness Columbus make his pitch to Queen Isabela and hear St. Teresa recite one of her prayers.


Columbus makes his case.


For the millionth time, she's just not interested.

 

Copyright A. Campitelli 2007