Though I've traveled extensively, once in awhile I will do things without preparation. So I find myself in unfavorable situations and there's no one else to blame but me. Now I know never to walk around the walled city of Toledo without a map unless my plan is to happily get lost along its narrow and winding cobblestone streets. The Castilla region was also experiencing an extraordinary heat wave during my visit. So there I was walking in circles when the temperature was roaring past the 100° F mark.
A friendly cashier at the Burger King on Plaza Zocodover* informed me that the El Greco Museum is past the Cathedral but that it was quite a distance away. Armed with my cold drink, I followed the main street to the spire of the Cathedral of Toledo in hopes of finding the museum. (*What's in a name? Zocodover means place of animals and originates from the Arab word, suq ad-wadābb.)
Tympanum of the Puerta del Reloj
Cathedral of Toledo
I easily made it to the north portal of the Cathedral known as the Puerta del Reloj. You enter through a high iron gate. This is oldest of the portals and dates back to the 13th century. The tympanum is worth a stop for its impressive sculptures of the Virgin Mary with Joseph, Elizabeth and St. Anne on the right side and the angels hovering above them while on the left side are the sculptures of the Magi and an attendant for their horses. Notice the rosettes that surround each of the figures and the grey Corinthian columns that divide the niches. There are finely carved bas reliefs to be divined on this tympanum.
I trudged on past intriguing alleys after the brief stop at the Cathedral, but I was nowhere close to my destination. Though the old, walled city appears small and scaleable, it isn't so. Toledo covers the same area size as Boston. And there are many steep uphill climbs. I asked a street cleaner for directions to the museum and she told me to follow the road ahead of us which actually led away from the museum! (Am not sure if she did that on purpose though we had a nice conversation, or so I thought.) As the afternoon wore on, I was getting more and more discouraged and wilting from the extreme heat. I passed by several important landmarks but my heart was not set on exploring them. And while walking down a narrow passageway, I heard someone screaming so I stopped and waited a couple of minutes under a window where the screams were coming from believing someone was in trouble. After listening intently, I realized the scream was coming from a television set. Someone was watching a telenovela or movie. That was my reward for getting lost!
One of many interesting alleys
Some tourists walking ahead of me asked a store owner where the museum was and she said she didn't know. I wondered how she couldn't know when that is one of the main attractions in town? Was she just fed up with people asking her the same question all day long? And probably disgusted that no one was buying anything from her store!
I decided to follow a family who had asked someone else where the museum was and thankfully, they were not misled. It was heavenly to finally find the Museo del Greco and stay in the shade for a bit.
The museum is located in the former Jewish quarter of Toledo. In fact it is next door to the Sephardic Museum which is in the El Transito synagogue. And the Museo El Greco is on the grounds of the former palace of Samuel Levi, the treasurer of King Pedro I.
Toledo was once called the City of Three Cultures. Muslims, Jews and Christians coexisted harmoniously in this town for centuries. Such an inspiration in today's troubled world!
How to get there: Take the train from Atocha Train Station in Madrid to Toledo. It takes approximately 30 minutes to get there. From the Toledo train station, you can take the local bus or taxi to the walled town. Get off at either Plaza Zocodover (where the tourist office is located) or at the Alcazar.
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Images by TravelswithCharie