Religion, Power, and War in Toledo: A Three-Part Course with Clara Nchama

Religion, Power, and War in Toledo: A Three-Part Course with Clara Nchama


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With more than 2,000 years of history, this city positioned on a large rock has been known by three names: Toletum, Tulayytula, and Toledo. This course offers a journey through medieval and modern Spain through the lens of Toledo as we discuss Christian, Muslims, and Jews from Roman times to the Modern Age. As the saying goes: "If you don't know Toledo, you don't know Spain."

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Toledo was one of the most important centers of multicultural medieval Spain. It had a unique place in Europe due to the coexistence among Muslims, Christians, and Jews until the Jewish expulsion in 1492. Today, more than 500 years later, Toledo has become a symbol of tolerance. As the “capital of power” and the “nonofficial” capital of Spain at different times throughout its history, the city was the center of political and religious power.

Led by an expert in modern history and art, this interactive three-part course takes participants on a voyage through the history, monuments, and people who lived in fascinating Toledo. We will review aspects of its Roman past and Muslim heritage, learn about Renaissance works and buildings promoted by kings and religious patrons, and we will delve into the importance of the Jewish presence in the city (Toledo is considered the best testimony of Sepharad, the place of origin of millions of Jews).

Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants come away with an increased knowledge of medieval and modern Spain and how that past can be a reflection on today’s country.

 

Lecture 1: Origins of the city–Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, and the Mudejar city

We will begin by exploring the few, but important remains of the Roman Toletum, which will help us to understand its strategic importance and urban configuration. We’ll continue with an introduction to the Visigoths who, in the 6th century, moved their capital to Toledo, pushing the growth of the city. Two centuries later, in 711, the Muslims, in their expansion to the West, occupied the city contributing in a great way to its splendor.

Few archeological items, buildings or objects remain from that period, but we will look at the most spectacular: the old mosque known as Bab al-Mardum (Christ of light), one of the most important buildings still standing from the Andalusian culture at the time of the Caliphate, and that we can admire today as it was transformed into a Christian church. We’ll also study some examples of Mudejar architecture.

Lecture 2: Sefarad, the Jewish Quarter and the Jewish Presence in Toledo

Sepharad. The Iberian Peninsula. The cradle of Sephardic Jews. Toledo was one of the most important cities in Sepharad, which makes it a place of pilgrimage for Jews from all over the world. It is the Jerusalem of the West for millions of people in search of their roots. We will dedicate this second lecture to getting to know Jewish Toledo, the Jewish quarter, the Madinat al-Yahud, the largest and best-preserved of the ancient Sepharad. We will analyze its structure and development over the centuries, relevant facts and stories, and how the Inquisition and the different initiatives affected its inhabitants.

Of the nearly 11 centuries of Jewish presence in the city, we only have a small number of documents, and very few remain, but they are important enough to help us understand this historical period. We will examine two of the most important ones: the old Yosef ben Shoshan synagogue (later the Church of Santa María la Blanca) and the Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia synagogue (currently the Sephardic Museum).

Lecture 3: Politics, Religion, and Aar–Toledo as a Symbol of Power

Toledo has always been linked to power: power will be the main theme of the last lecture of the course. We’ll discuss the presence of political, religious, and military power in the city.

Political power was associated with two main characters. The first was Queen Isabella the Catholic - a decisive person and one of the most important art patrons. The second was her grandson, Carlos V, King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He chose Toledo as his capital, embellishing it using art as a symbol of his power, and turning it into one of the greatest centers of the Spanish Renaissance.

In 1561 Madrid became the official capital of Spain, becoming the new center of power, but Toledo remained in the hands of religious power, with archbishops and cardinals turned into cultural patrons. The so-called warrior archbishops give way to the men responsible for the most important art and educational and cultural projects in the city, including the enormous works in the cathedral, the "Dives Toledana", the first and most important in Spain. These men and other religious patrons around them helped to create an artistic environment that brought some of the greatest artists of the time into the city, including Domékinos Theotokópoulos, El Greco.

We will finish the course in the twentieth century, with a key event for the contemporary history of the country, that perhaps will help us better understand the Toledo of today: the siege of Alcázar during the Spanish Civil War. The importance of Toledo during the first days of the war was paramount, and the attack and destruction of this capital building, in a certain way, defined its image until the end of the Spanish military dictatorship, in 1975.

Originally from Equatorial Guinea, Clara moved to Spain when she was 2 years old. She holds degrees in geography and history and a Master’s in art history from Sorbonne University in Paris. With more than fifteen years of experience in museum education and management of cultural projects and as a history and art history teacher. Clara has worked at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (Italy), the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, and a number of institutions within the cultural department of the Ministry of Culture in Spain. She also has designed art and cultural tours for groups for more than 10 years. Since 2006, Clara is Assistant Curator of the Museums of the Ministry of Culture of Spain. And at the present, Works on her Ph.D. on the culture of Spain after the Franquism, while working as Public Programmes and Communication Coordinator at the Museo del Traje (Costume Museum) of Madrid, organizing events, lectures, group visits, and educational programs. Clara has been leading Context tours since 2012.

How does it work?

This is a three-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in Spanish history there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $105 for three lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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