IMPRESSIONS ON ARRIVAL
The train leaves you at the foot of the town before the quaint fortressed bridge of Alcantara. In these days of unpretentious exits and entrances, when we scarcely detect the outskirts of a city from the open way, or the suburbs from the heart of urban movement, the two castellated bridges, by which you enter and leave Toledo, have a strange and insistent air of feudality that at once captures fancy, and resembles the flourish of trumpets in martial dramas. Civilization instantly waves backward, and leaves imagination thrilled upon the shores memory is at the core history, a sad and spectral of wonderment and admiration.
Surely never was town, with all our modern needs of breadwinning and competion, of commerce and politics, of cheap, ambition and everyday social intercource, so curiously,magnificently faithful to its past. So precisely must Toledo have looked, barring the electric light, when the last page of its intimate history was written. Just so brown and barren, with its front of unflinching austerity, its stern wealth of architecture, the air of romantic elegance and charmed slumber it breathes upon sadness, with its look of legendary musing and widowed remembrance. So, unchanged, must it have been in its great day of hieratic glory, of Gothic rule, of Saracen triumph and of feudal revolt.
From the bridges, the road winds up the steep rock, upon whose summit this unique old city is built. The views at every turn of the winding path are entrancing. There is every strange effect to gratify the eager eye in search of the picturesque: an unsurpassed boldness of site, from the wide zone of the Tagus to the point of the cathedral tower pinnacled against the upper arch of heaven, project high rocks upon which odd and delightful passages, neither street nor lane, full of color and curve and varied line, are cut like sharp upward and downward strokes, over frowning ravines, and swelling by swift ascent from the yellow band of water below, that imprisons the town like a moat, and, along with the martial bridges, give the impression of being cut off from the big lively world, a prisoner in a city of dreamland. At once you yield yourself to the gracious grip of your enchanter and jailer. The eye rests in ineffable contentment upon the violent line of empty hills, yellow and brown and rose, turned violet by the sun’s retreat, and you feel no longing for the vulgar and bustling present you have left behind. Here to sit awhile and dream, not days but unending months, in the shadow of a mighty cathedral, in what a Spanish writer, with Iberian imagery, has called “a case of medieval jewels.”
It is a fitting note of environment that the landscape should be stamped by an ardent and ineffaceable desolation, incessantly exposed to devastating winds, swept by fierce rains and blinding dust and remorseless sunfire. Nature is neither instigated by contrast, nor softened by charm. Unsmiling in its arid austerity, it is grand by the magic of its simplicity. The audacity with which it reveals its nakedness in the glare of unshaded light that has burned its flanks a peculiar reddish-brown hue, sinks all impression of crudity, and becomes the supreme effect of natural art. It makes no pretense to shield the peril of its broken precipices with the beguilement of verdure, but lets them hack their murderous way to the river-brim without shrub or any vigorous sign of vegetation. Heavy and still, like the glittering light that fatigues the eye, it has, nevertheless, its secret, matchless captivation, such as Venice, its sister-town in strangeness (tho of softer and more alluring beauty, feminine to its stern masculine), and casts the mind, conquered, into the mazes of reverie. You may have come by a train into this mausoleum of petrified memories, you may sit at the usual table d’hote, but you can not feel modern; the present slips away, and forgotten is the march of centuries.
Of the town’s earliest history knowledge is merely the wildest assumption, and we have no reason to believe any of the legends handed down to us by historians as tradition. For instance, that obscure if venerable voice, asserts that when God made the sun he placed it over Toledo (previously made, of course) and planted the foot of Adam, the first king, beneath it at that particular spot of the globe. This is at least a fine testimony of the Spaniard’s lofty faith in the antiquity of Toledo. A less sweeping assertion connects the first light of the town with Tubal, the grandson- of Noah, who is sup-posed to have come hither after the deluge, and this view is naively supported by the verses of Gracia Dei, the chronicler of King Pedro: “Tubal, grandson of Noah.”
Few cities in Europe that for so long were accustomed to -opulence and power, have known a reverse so instantaneous, so complete, an extinction against which all effort, all hope, all aspiration have proved vain, as that which Toledo was crusht beneath, when Felipi Segundo chose miserable, ugly, undistinguished Madrid for his country’s capital, Until then the vicissitudes, the for-tunes of Toledo were those of all Spain. Even now in her ruin, the violent and imperious character of the race remains imperishably stamped on the harsh, sad mixture of beauty and ugliness of her conservative features. But the country itself takes no note of her. She has lived, she lives no more, except in the memory of historians for the fugitive admiration of the traveler.
Unchanged I have said she is in all respects; a perfect medieval picture in high relief against the background of civilized Europe. Nothing less civilized will you find along the least traversed byways of our modern world. Of her ancient splendors she presents such vestiges as to shame all that the ages have done for us. In beauty, alas, we have not progressed. That remains be-hind, along with many other divine things, the portion of this sadly used old world’s bright morning. Such vast centers as London and Paris are mean enough compared with what such a town as Toledo must have been when her semi-royal archbishops flourished and kings were proud and de-lighted if she but smiled upon them, more used as they were to her frowns and her visage of haughty revolt; when the Jews throve, great capitalists, and ruled the Exchange, when the Muezzin was heard over her’ narrow streets and the crescent floated from her towers, and her weekly markets in the Zocodover were so thronged that magistrates had to preside at the coming and going of strangers, such was the influx on all sides. If the town wears so unique and imposing an aspect after centuries of silence and decay, what must it not have been in each of its great hours of domination, under Goth, Moor, and Christian?