Good day to one and all whatever time it may be in the world when you read this.
This little series of posts is going considerably better than I could ever have hoped and that is due in no small part to me rediscovering my old notes which has been a great help. Strange as it sounds, my insomnia is doing me a bit of a favour for a change as I have been blogging for about 36 hours now and still don’t feel tired. Three posts in just over 24 hours is definitely uncharted teritory for me but I am actually quite enjoying it.
I’ll just make my standard suggestion here for any new readers and that is that this piece will make more sense if you start at the beginning of the series which you can do here. Usual “read more” button for the rest of you if you can stand any more of this.
I fear my rapid progress of late may slow considerably at this point as for some inexplicable reason I either never composed any notes for this day or else I did not manage to save them when Virtual Tourist was done away with (that being the site I originally wrote up this trip for). I can see a fair amount of research having to be done to find anything to write about here.
I mentioned in the last piece that despite having only been in Madrid for a very short time and only scratched the surface of it I ended up getting out of it on this day which may seem a somewhat perverse thing to do and it probably is, so why did I do it? A very good question and one that I really don’t have a sensible answer for as with so many questions about the way I travel.
I got the Metro into town just for another look round and got off at Banco de España, one stop before Retiro where I had begun before as that plan would leave me close to where I had finished exploring the previous day. Rather than walking along Calle de Alcalá as I had done before I took off at right angles along Paseo del Prado which I correctly guessed would probably go past the world-famous Prado Museum but before that I saw another museum which was of far more interest to me, the Naval Museum. I noted it for future refence and you shall be hearing about it in due course.
A short walk on down the Paseo and I had my first “find” of the day.
Another original report from my archives here, which I originally managed to get completely wrong!
“If you have read many of my other pages you will know that I am fascinated by war memorials and war graves and this is as true in foreign countries as it is in my own. Naturally enough then I just had to take a few images of the monument you see here although I did not know exactly what it was at the time although I made a stab at translating the memorial plaque and the eternal flame was a bit of a giveaway.
I have subsequently found out that it is the Monument to Fallen Heroes which is confusingly also known as the War Memorial, the Obelisk and Monument to the Heroes of May 2nd. It is all the same thing.
The Heroes referred to were insurgents in 1808 who were shot on this very spot on the orders of a General Murat. Whilst it looks considerably older, this monument was only erected in 1985 and unveiled by King Juan Carlos I on 22nd November of that year, as the image indicates.
I could not find a way into the monument as it was behind high fencing so apologies that some of the images are not all they might be. Worth a look if you are passing.
Update June 2015.
I always attempt to make my tips as accurate as possible and so I am grateful to VT member Ricori who has put me straight on the exact history of this monument. I quote his / her answer here by way of clarification.
“After several attempts to create a monument to all the anonymous fighters killed during the Uprising of May 2, 1808; in 1820 a competition for this purpose was convened. It was resolved the next year, with the winner project of architect Isidro González Velázquez (1765-1840).
The April 21, 1821, the first stone was placed, having to stop construction after the return of absolutism to Spain. It was not until 1836 when works continue, finally celebrating the inauguration on May 2, 1840, coinciding with the anniversary of the event.
The November 22, 1985, King Juan Carlos I reinaugurated the monument, honoring all fallen for Spain”.
Thanks for that and it is like I often say here, you never stop learning when you are on VT!”
That was the whole piece on Virtual Tourist and I am so annoyed I messed it up in the first place as I like to research things accurately! Still, no real harm done.
The next candidate worthy of an image was the amazing building you see above. I have heard of buildings and even cities being “green” but this takes it to a whole new level. I could not guess how long this took to achieve even with fast growing flora but I thought it was brilliant. It is called the “vertical garden Caixaforum and at 78 meters tall with over 250 species the statistics are impressive.
I just kept walking until I saw what you can see in the image above and my jaw literally dropped. One of my numerous passions is rail travel so I just had to have a look inside this wonderful and obviously recently refurbished station and it is stunning both inside and out. It is called Atocha and is the largest station in Spain, originally opened in 1851 but largely rebuilt and re-opened in 1892. During the rebuilt, which is largely of wrought iron construction, one of the consulting engineers was a certain French gentleman called M. Eiffel. You may have heard of his tower!
The pictures show you how beautiful it is, not to mention huge and it is immaculate except for the water feature which was obviously having a bit of work done. Apart from an excellent selection of catering and retail outlets they apparently even have a nightclub in here somewhere. I have been lucky enough to have been in some beautiful railway stations in various countries (the old Delhi station, the now disused Bangkok one and several in Western Europe spring to mind) and this is tight up there with any of them.
It was in here that things started going a bit sideways for me. I swear I had no intention of going to Toledo when I went in there, I just wanted to look at the place and take some images and it is one of these images that will help you understand what happened.
I glanced at the departure board and saw that the first train out was going to Toledo. Toledo, I’d heard of that, they used to make the best swords in the world and I knew it was a historic city but that was all I knew. I liked the sound of it though and that was all, I just took one of my mad notions. I wondered how far away it was as I genuinely did not have a clue and Spain is a big country.
The other problem was that you can see on the board that the train was leaving imminently so that wasn’t going to happen. I checked the timetable and found that it was only a 33 minute journey and it was really starting to sound like a plan now. I also factored in that my friend Siobhan had an engagement that evening so I would not have to rush back. Bingo. Two hours to wait for the next one but I was sure I could handle that. Toledo, here I come.
I bought my ticket and then headed out of the station because I don’t generally like eating or drinking in stations, airports or whatever. There is never any problem in Madrid finding somewhere to eat or drink and a three minute walk had me in the Casa Luciano ordering coffee and churros.
If you haven’t had churros you have not lived, I absolutely love them. They are like doughnuts and are often served with melted chocolate to dip them in. They are originally from the Iberian peninsula although they are much wider spread now. They are also very popular in the Philippines which undoubtedly reflects the long Spanish occupation of that country.
With that breakfast out of the way it was time for a real breakfast and I could have undoubtedly got a beer in there but I opted to wander back towards the station and find somewhere more bar-like. Operation achieved easily enough and a couple of very cheap beers later it was time for the station – again.
The Renfe train was spot on time, new and comfortable and relatively empty. With lots of space on my new SD card I even ventured a couple of clips of video which you can see here and here. No delays and we were deposited at Toledo on the minute and I was treated to my second unbelievable railway station of the day but for very different reasons, just look at the images.
Apparently funded by European money it was obvious no expense had been spared. Beautiful tiled floors and the almost obligatory tiled Spanish tiled walls, stained glass and wrought iron and joinery work that were obviously the work of master craftsmen. The exterior had obviously had a bit of a makeover as well. The station opened in 1920 and if I had seen nothing else in Toledo this alone would have been worth the trip. I did intend to see some more and so I headed out to be faced with, well, who knows what?
The what turned out to be an open-topped Hop on – Hop Off bus, a mode of transport I rarely use, probably for stupid reasons of travel snobbery, but for some reason I decided to go for it this day probably because I didn’t fancy walking all the way down to the Tagus river to walk all the way up the other side. It turned out to be a good decision and not overly expensive. There is an audio tour included in the price and you even get to keep the earbuds, I still use mine!
Fortunately it was virtually empty on a November midweek afternoon although it was a bit chilly on the open top deck which I did for photography reasons and Toledo is the most photogenic of cities. The bus was obviously there specifically to meet the train and so we set off fairly quickly.
We followed what I suppose you would call the South bank of the river although the city is built on a loop in the river and almost immediately the views over the old city were pretty spectacular. I was so glad I had got my camera woes sorted out as I would have been kicking myself if I had missed this opportunity. The driver did not rush and we stopped at a couple of viewpoints to get a few shots.
This is probably a good time to tell you a bit about the history of this fine old city and I promise I shall try to keep it as brief as possible.
Toledo features in history as far back as 193 BC when the Romans defeated a combined Celtic force thereby bringing the town under their control. It grew to be a sizeable entity with a circus that could seat 15,000. Obviously the Roman Empire eventually fell and they were replaced by the Visigoths, a German tribe who for several centuries ruled Southern France and much of the Iberian peninsula. In turn they too declined with the Moorish conquest of 711 -719 AD During their reign Toledo became a hugely important political and religious centre with the Bishop of Toledo being the principal Christian cleric in what is now Spain.
When the Moors came they did what they often did and moved the seat of power to Cordoba and Seville to mark the change in power. The Moors were an ethnically diverse force and prone to factional conflicts so Toledo was besieged by Berbers from Al-Andalus but they were driven off by other Moors sent from Cordoba. During the Moorish period the city did retain it’s importance as a centre of learning and literature and the Christians were also allowed to practice, retaining a degree of importance.
The Moors controlled Toledo until 1085 when it was recaptured by Christians under King Alfonso VI during what the Spanish call the “Reconquista” and it remains strongly of that faith until today. Even by Spanish standards there are a lot of churches in Toledo.
After the Christians took over there was nothing untoward done to the Islamic Moors and they, along with Christian and Jewish scholars became famous as academics and, specifically, translators. This gave rise to one of it’s nicknames as the “city of three cultures”.
It was not until the mid 14th century that the Christian church began it’s persecution against the Jews although this was considerably later than other parts of Spain. By 1525 King Charles V had established the Royal court in Toledo. About this time silk became a very important industry here and remained so until the late 19th century.
During the Spanish Civil War the Alcazar was besieged for two months by Republican Forces (including many women) but the siege was unsuccessful and the city was relieved. Today the sword making industry I mentioned is much reduced but still exists and Toledo steel is still highly regarded. Well, that is the end of the brief tale so let’s go and have a look.
As we crossed the river on the modern bridge we got a good look downstream at the Puente de Alcántara which was originally the site of a Roman bridge which was completely rebuilt by the Moors in 866 although only a little of that structure remains today. Most of what you see in the image dates to the 13th and 14th centuries which is still pretty old.
Once over the river we drove past the old city walls which just about everyone who has ever controlled the city has had a hand in constructing. The Romans started it off when they defeated the Celts then the Visigoths used a lot of Roman stone to triple the walls in size. The Moors beefed them up a bit more and finally they were strengthened further after the Christians re-conquered Toledo. The walls are basically a potted history of the City.
Obviously if you have walls you need some means of ingress and egress forlegitimate “visitors” and this particularly fine example is the Puerta de Bisagra Nueva (New Bisagra Gate) and dates to 1559 when it was commissioned by Charles V. The man entrusted with the work was Alonso de Covarrubias who must have been a busy man as he was also responsible for the Alcazar and the Cathedral. This gate superseded what is now galled the Puerto Antigua (Old Gate).
The name Bisagra gives clue as to the Moorish origins of the original gate as it is a corruption of Bab-Sagra Gate of Sagra). I certainly would not like to have been trying to assault this armed only with a sword and a seige ladder. The second image shows the towers that reinforce the gate from the inside, presumably as guard quarters.
When we stopped for another photo-op I saw this rather fine looking building but I knew there was no chance of getting in for a look round because this is the main infantry training establishment for the entire Spanish Army and this unit has quite an interesting history.
An infantry college was initially formed in 1850 then temporarily moved out before returning to the city in 1875. In 1892 it was shipped out again only to be returned the following year and it was ever thus in any Aemy in the world – nobody can make a bloody decision and stick by it! I have briefly mentioned the seige of the Alcazar during the Spanish Civil War when it was destroyed so off the academy went to Toledo whilst no less than three Lieutenant Colonels of the engineer branch set about designing and building this place.
In an episode of aesthetic understanding not usually associated with “sappers” they designed it to harmonise with the Alcazar which sit across the river from it and I think they managed pretty well.
On again and more pleasant views of the river before driving past Toledo Castle aka Castle of San Servando which looks for all the world like a mediaeval military stronghold but actually started life as a monastery. There is evidence for a Benedictine presence here possibly as far back as the 7th century although it declined during the Moorish occupation. When the town was re-conquered in 1085 by Alfonso VI he was very generous to the monks and rebuilt the monastery.
The King’s largesse was undoubtedly partially due to his strong Judeo – Christian beliefs but probably more because there was one of the never-ending schisms ripping that religion apart at the time. Iberians nearly all worshipped using the Mozarabic Rite which is sometimes known as the Visigothic Rite due to the Visigoths controlling most of the Iberian peninsula as I mentioned above.
Obviously in it’s constant quest for domination the Roman Church was not going to have that and was doing everything in it’s power to stop other Judeo-Christians worshipping according to their conscience. The King was in the Roman camp and would only endow a monastery if it was the (Roman) Bendictines who occupied it. The King later also endowed a female Benedictine monastery nearby.
The good times did not last too long for the religious orders as Toledo was invaded yet again by Muslin Saracens in 1110 whereupon the monks high-tailed it back to Marseille. I can’t help thinking it would be a lot easier for them today as Renfe and SNCF, respectively the Spanish and French train operators, have recently started a direct service between Atocha where I had started that morning, and Marseille.
When the Saracens were eventually ousted King Alfonso VIII gave the building to the Knights Templar who turned it into the proper defensive structure you see to counter potential further Muslim aggression. Again the Roman Church comes into play and when they had the Templars arrested in 1312 on false charges, tortured and many of them burnt to death the fort fell into disuse.
It is a youth hostel now and I would love to stay in it if I can ever travel again. I love youth hostels and I am fascinated by the Templars, yes another interest of mine. I’ll even take my chances with the ghost said to haunt the place.
The next place the bus took us was the Alcazar but I am going to make an executive decision and break now as this post is getting long again. I have lots to tell you about the Alcazar and we have not even got to the Cathedral which is one of the finest I have ever seen nor even walked the Old Town. All that is before I even go on a pub crawl and try to get back to Madrid.
If you want to have a look at the rest of Toledo with me and see what sort of trouble I can possibly get myself into then please stay tuned and spread the word.