Since visiting Toledo I have read that masterly novel by Blasco de
Ibañez, “The Cathedral,” a work of genius, which has brought the city
vividly to my recollection. I see the old dun-coloured houses on the
slopes, the gorge of the yellow Tagus, and the commanding steeple of the
cathedral, and I recall the Oriental landscape, viewed from the walls,
under a blue, burning sky in June. I know that the goats still wander
forth to their feeding-grounds in the early morning, returning at dusk,
with softly tinkling bells, that the guitar sounds melodious and low
outside the barred window when it is dark, that beggars, wrapped in
tattered cloaks, solicit alms “For the Love of God,” and that the voice
of the watchman rings clear at midnight, as he goes his rounds with his
lantern and keys, and a sword at his side.
“Romantic” is the word that describes Toledo; the setting of the city,
its labyrinthine alleys, its guarded houses, its Moorish fortress,
and its dreaming mood make appeal to the most apathetic of strangers.
The aspect of the city is hardly beautiful. It is too stern, too sombre,
even in sunlight, and it lacks the colour and gaiety of the Andalusian
towns. And yet Toledo is one of the most fascinating cities in Europe,
holding you with a strong spell, a grim, irresistible invitation to
remain within its gates. There is so much to behold, so much to think
upon, in this old Moorish place. The cathedral alone claims long days of
your sojourn, for it is a great monument, haunted with memories, and
richly stored with treasures of art.
Many legends surround the making of Toledo, one of them relating that
Tubal, grandson of Noah, built the city, and another that it was reared
by Jews driven from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. We know, however, that
Toledo was chiefly noted as the stronghold of the Catholic faith in
Spain, that it was in existence in the time of the Romans, held by the
Moors, wrested from them, and restored to the Spanish after many bloody
conflicts, and that it is now the seat of the primate. For four
centuries the Moors held sway here, and everywhere in the city they have
left their traces. Before the Moors, King Roderick the Goth sat on his
throne in the strongly fortified town, and thither came Tarik and his
hordes, coveting the rich capital. Later, the great Abd-er-Rahman
advanced upon Toledo, and laid siege, establishing a mighty camp on the
hillside facing the city, where he waited until famine compelled the
courageous natives to surrender.
In the days of its might Toledo could boast of nearly two hundred
thousand inhabitants. The city lost power when the capital of Spain was
transferred to Valladolid. It is now scarcely more than a museum and
resort of tourists and students of art. The streets are silent and
unfrequented; there is but little evidence of commerce, and the manners
and customs of the people have escaped the influences of to-day. Toledo
is indeed old-world, a veritable relic of antiquity, in spite of its
railway station and large hotel, often thronged with Americans.
The history of Toledo under the Moors is constantly recalled by the
gates, defences, and buildings that remain. We enter Toledo by two
arches and a bridge, over the swirling Tagus, and immediately we are, as
it were, projected into the period of the Moorish conquest. This bridge,
the Puente de Alcantara, was first built by the conquerors, but the
present structure, though Moorish in design, was made in the thirteenth
century. Older is the Puerta del Sol, a work of the Mudéjares, with the
typical horseshoe arches and towers.
The arch of the Zocodover, the bridge of San Martin, and the Church of
Santa Maria la Blanca each show the Moorish spirit in their
architecture. In the Casa de Mesa is a room in the design of the
Mudéjares, the reconciled Moors, who remained and followed their crafts
in Spain, after the reconquest of the country by the Spaniards. The
ceiling is a fine specimen of Arabian art. At the School of Infantry are
further traces of the Moors, while in the Church of El Transito will be
found treasures of the east. Many of the churches have Morisco towers,
such as San Roman, Santo Tomé, San Miguel, and San Servando. Santo Tomé
was once a mosque; it is now a Gothic church. The interior of El Cristo
de la Luz is typically Moorish.
The magnificent cathedral stands on the site of an earlier church which
the Moors shattered, erecting in its place a mosque. In 1227 Fernando
laid the stone of the present edifice; and over two hundred years were
spent in the labour of erecting and adorning it, while vast wealth was
employed in the work, and thousands of artists, craftsmen and labourers
employed. Under Mendoza and other prelates, Flemish artists worked in
The architecture is Gothic, with many traces of Baroque and Mudéjar art.
There is a very lofty and beautiful tower, with a steeple surmounting
it. The flying buttresses are exceedingly graceful; the eight doorways
of great beauty. A splendid façade, with a wealth of statues, faces the
west. It has three portals and a fine rose window, and is flanked by
towers. The Puerta de los Leones is noble Renaissance work, splendidly
sculptured with rich ornaments.
Entering the cathedral we are impressed by its vastness and the
simplicity of the aisles. But the numerous chapels are highly ornamented
in a bewildering variety of styles. The hand of the artist has been
lavish. We are dazzled, astonished, by the wealth of decoration, the
carving, the metal work, the jewels, the colouring. The choir stalls are
very beautifully carved work by Borgoña and Berruguéte. The choir, with
its jasper columns and decorations, is impressive. The carving of the
stalls is superb.
How shall the visitor know where to turn for those objects that appeal
to him, amid such a wealth of treasures? There are twenty-seven side
chapels besides the chief chapel, and in all of them are works of art
that will repay inspection. The retablo of the principal chapel is a
gorgeous piece of work upon which many artists expended their labour and
skill. Cardinal de Mendoza was buried here in 1495.