Travels

Mosques, fortresses and cathedrals

For the last 5 nights of our trip, we based ourselves in Madrid, wandering through the grand El Retiro Park, eating tapas and exploring the old part of the city. On our way from Seville, we hopped off the train in Cordoba in the pouring rain. We made our way to the Mezquita, Cordoba’s huge mosque-cathedral, which was built as a Visigoth Christian temple in the 6th century. With the arrival of the Moors in the 8th century, it was divided and used by both communities. By this time, Cordoba was the western Islamic capital. UNESCO calls the Mezquita “a testimony to the ancient alliance of art and faith.” Beautiful words that summarize it perfectly. The roof of this dazzling, enormous building is supported by 800+ columns, many of which were recycled from Roman and Visigoth buildings. In the 1500s, the mosque was destroyed to build a cathedral. We splurged on audio guides for the Mezquita mostly because they had a special kids’ tour. I listened to one kid segment about the mihrab and it was so well done. The adult version assumed the listener knows the Muslim faith — and I really don’t. I think the kids listened to almost all of the chapters before turning their audio guides into light sabers and walkie talkies.

Our next half-day trip was a 27 minute train ride to Segovia. In Roman times, it was a military base in need of water, so Trajan’s engineers pulled water 9 miles into town from a nearby river. This massive 2-level structure (2500 feet long; 118 arches) is dry-laid, which was as impressive then as now. Spaniards claim it could still work today. We walked from the aqueduct to the Plaza Mayor, the town center, which used to be the local bullfighting venue. Today it has a big market with the usual produce and the biggest olive and pickled vegetable stand I’ve ever seen.

From there we walked into the Segovia cathedral which stands high up from the plaza. It’s a beautiful building in the “flamboyant gothic” style and is Spain’s last major gothic building. The Alcázar (fortress) stands at the far end of town and looks like a fairy tale. In fact, it’s rumored to be the inspiration for the Disney castle.

And our final trip was 30 miles south of Madrid to Toledo, a medieval city that’s still inhabited, busy, communal – even though nothing modern has been built. In the 80s, the whole town was declared a UNESCO site. For several hundred years, Toledo was an important Roman transportation hub; the Visigoths took over when Rome fell, and then the Moors came in the 700s, and ruled until the Christians took over and made Toledo Spain’s political and religious capital until Charles V (or maybe Philip II?) moved the capital to Madrid in the 1600s. Spain was neutral during World War II, so didn’t get bombed out like the rest of Europe. Churches, castles, fortresses by and large are terrifically preserved.

Toledo has a gorgeous cathedral (the 4th largest in Europe), a very pretty, old synagogue, a beautiful monastery and a great Museum with beautiful grounds dedicated to El Greco.

It’s fascinating to learn how tolerant the Moors were of the people they ruled – and we found this in all three of these cities. Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together harmoniously in one community – eating the same food, dressing the same – the only difference was their religious traditions. That is until 1492 when Spain unified as a Catholic country and demanded the Moors and Jews convert or leave.

We have learned enough Greek to recognize it and know what people are saying. We saw a few Greek tourists in Spain – Peter was delighted with himself when he’d greet them with a “Γεια σας!” The Greeks were pleasantly surprised to get a nice, unexpected hello. And a Spanish woman today called him Guapo. He knew what it meant as the boys have been watching “Ferdinand” on every train ride.

Michael climbs everything in site. He did 100 laps around a the roots of a huge 300-year old magnolia and today scaled a wall and slid down a no parking sign pole. He’s also styling his hair. How did he get to 8 so fast?

Two weeks gone in the blink of an eye. Kinda like the last 10 months.

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