Madrid and Toledo, Spain: 11th-14th January 2020.   Leave a comment

Following our successful trip to Southern Spain to see the Iberian Lynx and lots of birds (see previous post) Margaret and I decided to stay for in Madrid for a further three nights so we could visit some of the tourist sites.


So we would be close to the start point for our bus tour the following day we stayed at a hotel near the bullring, a little way out of the centre. We caught the metro to ‘Sol’ and walked the short distance via Plaza Mayor (above) to the Sunday Market at El Rastro.


Margaret had asked to visit this market, which was fine, only problem that it was bitterly cold, probably under -5 C and as we were going to spend the rest of the day indoors we didn’t take all our warm clothes.


Margaret managed ok but I just shivered for the duration and was so happy to find a shaft of sunlight between the building where I could thaw out a bit.


I needed a pair of woollen gloves not woollen cacti!.


With the temperature rising above freezing we set off for the Paseo del Prado, one of Madrid’s main and most attractive boulevards.


We continued on to the Reina Sofia art gallery which specialises in 20thC art where we were delighted to find that admission was free for seniors. We found most of the exhibits difficult to appreciate, being mainly abstract but there were a few exceptions (and it was because of these exceptions that we there) including several Salvador Dali paintings including ‘Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking’. Photo from Wikipedia.


and ‘Face of the Great Masturbator’. I am not a great fan of abstract modern art but I make an exception for Salvador Dali whose surrealistic masterpieces I really admire. Photo from Wikipedia.


However the most impressive of all was Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ – I hadn’t realised the painting was so big, it filled the whole gallery in both physical and emotional sense. I love the (possibly apocryphal) quote that Picasso, under house arrest in Paris in WWII, was asked by a Gestapo officer who had seen a print of his masterpiece ‘did you do this?’ to which Picasso replied ‘no you did’. Photo from Encyclopaedia Britannica.


From Wikipedia: Guernica (from the old Spanish name for the city of Gernika) is a large 1937 oil painting on canvas by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. It is one of his best known works, regarded by many art critics as the most moving and powerful anti-war painting in history. It is exhibited in the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. The grey, black, and white painting, which is 3.49 meters tall and 7.76 meters across, portrays the suffering of people and animals wrought by violence and chaos. Prominent in the composition are a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, death, dismemberment, and flames. Picasso painted Guernica at his home in Paris in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the request of the Spanish Nationalists. Upon completion, Guernica was exhibited at the Spanish display at the 1937 Paris International Exposition, and then at other venues around the world. The touring exhibition was used to raise funds for Spanish war relief. The painting soon became famous and widely acclaimed, and it helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.


We only spent an hour or so in Reina Sofia as we weren’t that interested in 20th century art. We returned to road name and continued on to the Museo del Prado. Photo from Encyclopaedia Britannica.


The Prado dealt with pre-20th century art and so almost every single exhibit was worthy of study and contemplation. There were works by El Greco, Goya, Raphael, Rembrandt, Ruben’s and Titian along with hundreds of other artists that I had hardly heard of.  Photo from Encyclopaedia Britannica.


However if I had to pick a single painting out of the whole collection it would be ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ an incredibly detailed triptych painted from 1490 onwards by Hieronymus Bosch. My late friend John had a book about the artist when we were at University together and I remember admiring it all those years ago. Photo from Wikipedia.


WE continued up the Paseo del Prado to the Plaza de la Cibeles …


… and continued on to the Puerto de la Alcala …


… and from there we caught the metro back to our hotel.


Today was the day of our bus trip to Segovia and Toledo. Segovia, dominated by the imposing Roman aqueduct, had long been on my wish list and Toledo sounded pretty good too. We had booked the tour in the autumn on the internet and discovering that the pick-up point was Las Ventas (the Bullring – see above), had stayed at the nearest hotel. The departure was at 0800 so we were there at 0750 and tried to board the waiting bus. However the guide said that this was the wrong company and our bus had departed at 0730. We rechecked the ticket, it clearly said 0800. Back in the hotel, we asked about car-hire, they directed us to a nearby place which opened at 0830 but it looked more like a repair shop to me and they looked mystified when we asked about hiring a car. We returned to the hotel but then at 0850 saw a bus outside with the correct logo. The guide apologised and said we should have been told about the change of time. Her bus was only going to Toledo, but after photographing our ticket and forwarding it to her boss we were allowed to board the Toledo only tour so at least we saw something and didn’t waste the day. Actually the Toledo only tour was really good, with quaint squares, interesting shops, a wonderful cathedral, a fascinating Jewish quarter with an old synagogue turned into a church, all set within a walled city high above a bend in the Tagus River. Back home, we made a written complaint and got a full refund, so we got a full day’s tour of Toledo for free.


On arrival at Toledo we climbed up the road on the other side of the Tagus River so we could get this panoramic view over the city. On the skyline right of centre is the fortress of the ALcazar of Toledo. To the left is the City Hall and behind it the cathedral.


We were taken down a series of narrow streets to see a series of beautiful churches, some markets and the Jewish Quarter.


Unfortunately as a year has passed since we did this tour (and I wasn’t taking a notes) a lot of details have slipped my mind. If anyone reading this can identify this church or spot any errors in the following then let me know in a comment.


This church had some beautiful detailed carvings …


We were shown shady courtyards with fruiting trees …


… quiet cloisters …


… with elaborately carved ceilings …


… as shown in detail here …


… and here.


Santa María la Blanca, the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing, is now owned by the Catholic Church.


When the catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the Moors in 1492 they also acted to convert or expel Spain’s Jewish population. From Wikipedia (again): Following the Alhambra Decree in 1492, to eliminate their influence on Spain’s large converso population and to ensure its members did not revert to Judaism, many Jews in Spain either converted or were expelled. Over half of Spain’s Jews had converted to Catholicism as a result of the religious persecution and pogroms in 1391. Due to continuing attacks, around 50,000 more had converted by 1415. Those who remained decided to convert to avoid expulsion. As a result of the Alhambra decree and the prior persecution, over 200,000 Jews converted to Catholicism and between 40,000 and 100,000 were expelled. An unknown number returned to Spain in the following years. The resulting expulsion led to mass migration of Jews from Spain to Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean Basin. This can be seen with Jewish surnames as they began to show up in Italy and Greece at this time, like Faraggi, Farag and Farachi a surname which originates from the Spanish city of Fraga. The edict was formally and symbolically revoked on 16 December 1968, following the Second Vatican Council. This occurred a full century after Jews had openly begun to practice their religion in Spain and synagogues were once more legal places of worship under Spain’s Laws of Religious Freedom.


So this former synagogue is now a functioning catholic church.


We paid a brief visit to some Roman ruins.


… before heading to the cathedral.


The Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo (or Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo to give it its full name in Spanish), is a truly magnificent building for more details see here


From Wikipedia: The retable of the Cathedral of Toledo is an extremely florid Gothic altarpiece; it is one of the last examples of this artistic style, which was disappearing as the Renaissance began to take hold in Spain. Commissioned by Cardinal Cisneros, the work was begun in 1497 and finished in 1504. Among the architects, painters and sculptors who collaborated in this collective masterwork were: Enrique Egas and Pedro Gumiel (design), Francisco de Amberes and Juan de Borgoña (estofado: the technique of finishing sculpture of wood with gilding and punched patterns, and polychromy), Rodrigo Alemán, Felipe Vigarny, Diego Copín de Holanda y Sebastián de Almonacid (religious images), and Joan Peti (carving and filigree). The retable rises to a great height above the altar; it includes an important statuary and a magnificent, delicate filigree of balusters, spires, small dossals, and chambranles, all done by Joan Peti. It consists of five continuous panels, the center panel being the widest; it is five storeys tall, and the lines of separation are stair-stepped. The themes of the central panel from bottom to top are: the figure of a seated Virgin and Child plated in silver on the predella, above this the tabernacle and a Gothic monstrance carved in wood, then a depiction of the Nativity, and above that, the Ascension. The whole culminates in a monumental scene of Christ’s crucifixion at Calvary. Further themes of the life and passion of Jesus are represented on the other panels.


Again from Wikipedia: One of the most outstanding features of the Cathedral is the Baroque altarpiece called El Transparente. Its name refers to the unique illumination provided by a large skylight cut very high up into the thick wall across the ambulatory behind the high altar, and another hole cut into the back of the altarpiece itself to allow shafts of sunlight to strike the tabernacle. This lower hole also allows persons in the ambulatory to see through the altarpiece to the tabernacle, so that they are seeing through its transparency, so to speak. The work was commissioned by Diego de Astorga y Céspedes, Archbishop of Toledo, who wished to mark the presence of the Holy Sacrament with a glorious monument. El Transparente is several storeys high and is extraordinarily well-executed with fantastic figures done in stucco, painting, bronze castings, and multiple colors of marble; it is a masterpiece of Baroque mixed media by Narciso Tomé and his four sons (two architects, one painter and one sculptor). The illumination is enhanced when the Mass is being said in the mornings and the sun shines from the east, shafts of sunlight from the appropriately oriented skylight striking the tabernacle through the hole in the back of the retable, giving the impression that the whole altar is rising to heaven. The fully Baroque display contrasts strongly with the predominant Gothic style of the cathedral. The cathedral is also illuminated through more than 750 stained glass windows from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, the work of some of the greatest masters of the times.


More magnificent sculptures, …


… and ceilings.


The choir must sit in these sumptuous surroundings …


… shown in detail here …


… and here.


Chapterhouse of the Cathedral of Toledo …


… plus, of course the cloisters, were admired in their turn.


There was time to admire the shops and get something to eat …


… and to admire the city’s ancient skyline …


… and enjoy the panoramic view …


… before returning to our bus for the drive back to Madrid.


On our final morning we had time to stroll in the Parque del Retiro …


… enjoying the lakes, statues …


… and fountains …


… some of which were rather bigger than others!


We had a look at the impressive Palace de Cristal …


… which seemed to be used to house exhibitions …


… but all we saw were these coloured banners.


Of course I took my binoculars with me and was able to add two species to the trip list, both introduced, Monk Parakeets from South America, a bird that has been introduced to the UK, but fortunately hasn’t become established …


… and the familiar Egyptian Goose from Africa, which is established and spreading rapidly in the UK.



The ornamental parts of the park were a bit bare being as it was still early January, but we enjoyed our brisk walk on a chilly morning. Later we returned to the hotel and got a taxi to the airport.

Our few extra days in Madrid and Toledo worked out very well. We really enjoyed the two art galleries in Madrid and the tour of Toledo. Of course it was a shame we didn’t get to Segovia but if we had our time in Toledo would have been much less. I still hope that one day we can fit in a tour of Segovia but with the current travel restrictions nothing is certain.

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