El Escorial Y Toledo
Key: * = see accompanying picture in the Escorial Y Toledo Album
Today we traveled. After a refreshing one hour bus ride, I woke up to the quiet city of El Escorial. This is still considered part of Madrid, but it is further North. El Escorial is where people go in the summer to get away from the city heat, much like the relationship between Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona.
Our tour of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial was led by a chipper older man named Ferdinand. His style was fast, but funny. He would give us many historical facts and descriptions, and then tie them all together with a funny anecdote or joke. Escorial is a monastery commissioned by King Phillip II in the 16th century Renaissance style*. The king originally wanted it built to hold the remains of his parents, Emperor Charles V and Empress Isabel of Portugal. Ever since, all the Bourbon kings and queens are buried here. The royal crypt is located directly under the alter of the church, much like the focus beneath the epicenter of an earthquake. And sure enough, there are a few unmarked tombs for the current King's grandparents to be buried in. Right now they are in the decomposing room waiting for their final resting place.
One of the more fascinating aspects of Escorial is the private library of Phillip II, which houses some of the oldest texts and manuscripts still around today, only outdone by the Vatican in Italy. It contains manuscripts dating back to the 5th century, including ones written in Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic.
The church is beautiful and quiet. We stepped onto the cold grey stones and I immediately looked up at the beautiful and intricate frescoes. These were painted by a disciple of Michelangelo and depict famous scenes from the bible. Ferdinand explained how the drink "bloody mary" had its origins from Saint Mary. He asked us, "and what do you call a bloody mary that has no alcohol?" We answered, "virgin Mary... oh!" And he said, "Yes, but I call it a bloody shame. Más vodka por favor!"
After our return to Madrid, my friends and I went out to dinner. We decided on a pizza parlor but I had a chorizzo since I ate pizza for lunch. After, we went to a famous churro restaurant in Madrid and I enjoyed my first churro dipped in luscious and silky chocolate! But the chocolate is where all the magic is because without it, a churro is rather plain. That night, my friends and I walked about the town and bar hopped. Many people are lined along the streets at night offering you tickets to certain places and free drinks. We always said, "no gracias... gracias pero no," etc. But we finally decided to take up one of the offers and it turned out very well! I asked one of the men why he would offer so many free things, wouldn't the bartenders be mad that they are losing money? No, he said, you are making us money because you will attract costumers! Haha, I understood.
I waved goodbye to Madrid the next morning and we were off to holy Toledo! Now, you may be laughing, but Toledo is where the phrase "holy Toledo" comes from. Toledo became the capital of Spain and one of the greatest centers of religious culture, including the seat of the Cardinal Archbishop of Spain in the 13th century Gothic cathedral. Toledo was known for its religious toleration for many years and served as a hub for Jews, Moors, and Christians alike. But in 1560, the King moved the capital to Madrid in an attempt to separate politics and religion. How modern!
In order to enjoy Toledo, you need to be muy delgada! The streets are so narrow (no room for Molly's wheelbarrow ;D), that the sides are carved out to allow enough room for the old carriage wheels to round the corners.*
There used to be 10 synagogues in Toledo, but there are only two standing today and we visited Santa Maria La Blanca. As you can tell from the name, this synagogue has had great Christian influence since its completion in 1203 and even has a cross above the bima. Just outside the synagogue is a tile on the ground with a word written in the shape of Spain.* Our guide asked us if anyone knew what this was, and I said those are Hebrew letters! She said, "bueno, 20 points for you! Can you read it?" So I read out, "tzfardeh." "Bueno! Another 20 points for you!" This inscription referred to the tzfardic Jews of Spain. Que guay! Inside there are many Moorish arches, revealing the Islamic influence in this synagogue's creation. However, there is only one lone Jewish Star in the whole synagogue. But I found it!*
We saw the famous El Greco painting, "The Burial of Count Orgaz," y es muy interesante. Pull up this painting to look on as I describe it to you. Andrés Núñez commissioned this painting because it was a custom to help the noble-born in their burial, and Núñez wanted to be remembered for having done so. Try to find the only two people looking directly at you. The first is a boy in the lower left and the second about five people in from the left in the first row of standing men. It is believed that the man is El Greco himself and the boy his son. Now look at the heaven part of the painting. Do you see how they have represented a soul? It is in the form of a newborn baby, suggesting an afterlife or perhaps reincarnation.
"The Burial of Count Orgaz" is painted onto the side of the Church of Santo Tomé, which no one knew about until El Greco's painting made it popular. This cathedral has a different feel from the other churches I visited so far in that this is not one large room with pews facing an alter, but rather, it contains many sections and passageways to travel down. We went onto the balcony where the choir usually resides. There were benches built for both the boys' and mens' choir. When they are in the up position, little seats appear for the boys to lean on during a long service. However, from the congregation's perspective, they are hidden and the boys appear to still be standing. When they are pulled down, they become a larger seat for the adults. Behind one of the choir benches lies a hidden door to reach the organs. This is the only place where you will see organ pipes coming out of the wall vertically and horizontally.
We viewed other famous El Greco paintings in another room off to the side of the cathedral. When I looked up at the ceiling at the frescoes, another Hebrew word immediately caught my eye. "Where is the girl who could read Hebrew? What is your name?" "Rachel." "Vale. What does it say, Rachel?" It took me a moment or two because the writing was small and, well, it was on the ceiling. But I made it out and said, "God, right?" "Sí! 100 points for you! It says Adonai, which means God. Bueno."
It was amazing to me how so much detail, in the frescos and sculptures, murals and carvings, were so far away, disappearing into the high ceilings. These beautiful pieces of art would never be fully appreciated by anyone below because of their distance. But I guess this was part of their beauty. They were so grand, yet so unreachable.
When we returned to the city center, we sampled marzapan made by the nuns in Toledo.* Muy delicioso! We then had free time for almuerzo. I ate lomo a la plancho con patatas fritas, ensalada mixta, y huevo frito.* To drink, vino tinto -- tinto el sotillo embotellado por grupo de bodegas vinartis. vino de mesa.
And with that good taste in your mouth, I will leave you. Next stop, Granada!
Hasta la próxima,