Written by Mila Colizza ’18 to recount Monday, March 13, 2017:
Although temperatures were predicted to hit 60° F in Toledo today, the wind chill combined with an overcast sky and occasional bursts of rain made for cold weather. Hiking boots and a winter jacket turned out to be good wardrobe choices for this journey, especially as the streets grew steeper. That said, no amount of biting weather could detract from the beauty of the historic city as our bus pulled up for a panoramic view. We drove down the left bank of the Río Tajo where it curves around red-roofed homes and stretches out to meet the remains of the Toledo’s walls.
We entered on foot at one of the city’s two remaining historic gates, where we learned about how the puertas were strategically built for defense from foreign invaders. As we walked through the narrow cobblestone streets, we absorbed the layers of nearly two thousand years of culture. We saw Roman stones that had been repurposed in Visigoth structures and overlaid by Arabic architecture or Catholic imagery. We saw cathedrals built by Muslims with distinctive keyhole openings and our guide pointed out ceramic tiles marking the streets of the Jewish quarter. In America, there exists no such amalgam of cultures and religions. We have no historical sites that reach quite so deeply over so many centuries and so many people. The magnitude of it is awe-inspiring to say the least.
What interested me the most, however, is the juxtaposition of the ancient with the modern. As we stood admiring the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, which the Muslims built in 999 BCE, several motorcycles and cars zipped by. The plastic signs outside of touristy stores clattered in the breeze. Dogs barked at us from behind a grate. Everywhere I found harsh reminders that no matter how constant, how solid, how ancient Toledo seems, it is still susceptible to the interminable progress of human civilization; and, although the current public restrooms, for example, are an unfavorable and – I think we all agreed – unpleasant addition to Toledo’s living history, there is something about the city, the frilly shops selling plastic fans and mazapán and the vans winding their way through too-narrow alleyways, that draws me in. As humans of the twenty-first century, we are accustomed to only being semi-aware of our surroundings. We put our headphones in and keep an eye on our phone or we read a book for the hour-long bus ride, but Toledo commanded our full attention with all of its beauty and all of its imperfections.