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Convivencia in Toledo

March 8, 2016

I know I’ve probably let you all down, my dearest readers, as I’ve fallen slightly off my once-a-week goal of writing blog posts. The reality is that I have three midterms this week and, as much as I love exploring new cities, this is still school!

Last weekend, we went on an IES Abroad field trip to Toledo, a city about an hour from Madrid that is known for having a strong history of three major religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, coexisting peacefully. While we don’t have an applicable word in English, the Spanish term for this peaceful coexistence and coinhabitance is called convivencia. As explained by my Art and Architecture professor, it’s more than just the three cultures living in the same place peacefully.

In Toledo, we were able to see quite a number of historical buildings with IES Abroad before wandering around the city ourselves. After a quick walk around one of the main squares and through tiny, winding streets, we headed over to the Catedrál de Toledo, or Cathedral of Toledo for a peek inside. It’s known for incorporating light into its structure and making it possible to light up what might otherwise be dark corners of a cathedral.

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Exterior of the Catedrál de Toledo.

It was constructed in a gothic style and is often known as the pinnacle of all gothic cathedrals in Spain. 

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Nave of the Catedrál de Toledo.

It was truly beautiful to see much natural light was able to filter into the church and light it up by day. One of the most beautiful aspects of the church, in my opinion, was a skylight cut into the ceiling in the ambulatory that illuminated the artwork surrounding it. 

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Skylight with certain art illuminated and other art shadowed.

We followed the visit to the cathedral with a few other notable visits – one to the beautiful Synagogue of El Transito, a Jewish synagogue built by Muslim workers (hence the Islam-influenced artwork) that has changed hands between religions over the year. We then headed over to El Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, a beautiful, peaceful monastery also intricately decorated with some fascinating arches that any art history professor would love to analyze.

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Here I am at the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes.

My Art and Architecture class had discussed the Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz in class, so I headed over a bit later with a few friends to see the mosque built in 999 and how it had held up over time. The mosque itself is TINY – it has nine very small vaults each decorated differently in patterns of three and nine (a play on the year it was built) and was later on expanded by Christians into a church. Now, it’s a museum, but holds the same architecture as it used to, as well as its location next to the old city wall of Toledo. 

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Exterior of La Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz. 

While the mosque itself seemed ridiculously small, especially for having an entrance fee, we had some great views of parts of Toledo from the gardens behind the mosque. Someone pointed out an old hospital outside the city walls and when we asked why it was so far from the heart of the city, we learned that many years ago, when people were seriously ill, they were specifically taken to a hospital outside the city walls. Everyone lived in such close proximity within the walls that the only way to avoid spreading severely contagious diseases was to quarantine patients outside the city walls!

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Our view from the gardens behind the mosque.

For now, I’ll go continue to study for my midterms, but I hope to get another post up by sometime next week about my upcoming trip to Lyon! Then I’m off to Budapest, Prague, and Copenhagen again with my family for Semana Santa,my spring break. Look out for more posts and lots and lots of photos!

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