Saturday, September 1, 2012

Toledo and the Reina Sofia Museum

Toledo is a very beautiful city. This ancient city was once home to Christians, Jews and Muslims. The style of the architecture is quite distinct. It was originally a Roman city. It is surrounded on three sides by the River Tejo and by a wall on the other. The Visigoths made Toledo their capital after the Roman collapse. Toledo was even once the capital of Spain. It was quite beautiful but of the cities I visited, it was the most touristy. Not too bad though. Also, the local specialties sold in shops all over the city are marzipan, olive oil and steel armour.

Toledo has a beautiful Gothic cathedral where many cardinals are buried. The works of art in the place are quite beautiful. There are grates on everything because once upon a time, pilgrims could sleep in cathedrals and the cathedral didnt want anything to go missing. There was also a treasure room full of gold and silver from the Americas. A cross Mussolini gave Franco is also housed in the treasure room, as Franco regifted it to the cathedral. The art and architecture in the cathedral was rather awe-inspiring. Definitely the most beautiful church I've been in so far.

Toledo also had a beautiful former synagogue that was built in the Moorish style, back when different religions could coexist peacefully in Spain. After the Reconquista, the synagogue was converted with a church. In the 20th century, the former synagogue was occupied and turned into a stable. The invaders even went so far as to burn the wooden alter piece for firewood. Now it been restored as a museum of the original synagogue.

Toledo was also the home of the great Spanish painter, El Greco. His work is all over the city. We saw some of his paintings in the cathedral, including one which the church didn't want to pay for. It was in a room originally for the priest to dress before and after mass. The cathedral commissioned El Greco to paint the scene of Jesus Christ's clothes being removed by Roman soldiers before he is made to carry his cross. When El Greco finished, the cathedral didn't like it. The Virgin Mary was depicted, even though she wasn't there. Secondly, the soldier was wearing odd armor. El Greco explained that he wished to depict the Virgin Mary and pay tribute to Toledo's steel industry. El Greco pretty much did what he wanted.

We also visited an El Greco painting commissioned in tribute to a man, Señor Orgaz, who left all his money towards restoring a church. The church wanted to pay him some kind of tribute, so they commissioned El Greco for a painting on the wall over where Señor Orgaz was buried. El Greco promised the painting would take a year. The finished product took two years to finish but in the end, it depicted Señor Orgaz's burial by two saints and his soul's ascension to Heaven. El Greco also depicted the still-living king of Spain as one of the dead in heaven because the king had rejected him, forcing him to seek patronage from the church.

El Greco's paintings were not the only art I saw today. I went to the Reina Sofia, which is the modern art museum here. It's the home of Picasso's Guernica. Standing in front of that massive painting is quite the experience. There is only a guard and black tape on the floor preventing patrons from getting to close to the masterwork but people gave it a wide berth.  Looking at it really gives one a sense of the horror of the moment. Guernica is a Basque town that has the horrible distinction of being the first town ever bombed by air. The most terrible part was that it wasn't even a military target, as it was a market town. The shock of the devastation still affects the viewer, even though many years have past since Guernica's bombing. The sheer size of the canvas also broadens the impact of the painting, suggesting just how widespread the devastation was.

The Reina Sofia is also home to several paintings by Salvador Dalí. The museum is arranged by art movement so if you aren't careful, you may walk right by another Picasso, a Diego Rivera or a Joan Miró. It was quite the way to end my trip. Walking back from the Reina Sofia, I saw Neptune Square filled with Athletic Madrid supporters waiting to welcome their team home and celebrate their Super Cup victory with them.

Tomorrow San Sebastian.

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