10/17/07 - toledo

In today's excerpt - Toledo, great city of Spain, whose Muslim scholars helped bring the wisdom of the Greeks to Europe and thus planted the seeds of the Renaissance. It was there that Christian, Jew and Muslim lived in harmony - more often than not - until Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered the lands and brought with them the Inquisition:

"Toledo, navel of Spain, founded by Hercules, Roman city, imperial capital of the Visigoths, was the most important city of the Iberian peninsula. ... City of Three Cultures, in Toledo all of past Spanish religious history was compressed. The Visigoths had lost it to the invading Moors in AD 712, after the rough king, Rodrigo, had seen an Arab beauty named Florinda bathing naked in the Tagus and raped her. This outrage brought the African hordes north across the Strait of Gibraltar in a fury of vengeance. The Jews of the city, who had long suffered persecution under the Goths, had opened the city's gates for the invaders and were rewarded for their heroics by the Moors. After his defeat, a woebegone Rodrigo had lamented in self-pity and self-absolution that, 'I've given away my kingdom for a [whore]' ...

"In the nearly four hundred years that the Moors ruled the city, Toledo became a haven and a lure for persecuted Jews across the wide expanse of Mediterranean lands. The Jewish population of the city was among the largest in the peninsula. ... Toledo's reputation for openness as a haven of tolerance, and as a center for learning, especially of translation, spread far and wide. ... Thus dawned the golden age of Spanish Jewry, often dated to the years 900-1300. In this period, brilliant figures emerge. They included ... the great Maimonides (1135-1204), also known as Moses ben Maimon, who was born in Cordoba, whose book of Jewish law was a monumental achievement and whose works in religion, philosophy, and medicine earned him an everlasting reputation for range and brilliance. ... Alongside these great Jewish scholars were other notable figures who flocked to Toledo for its vibrant intellectual atmosphere, and for this cross-fertilization of civilizations. These include Averroes who ... became famous for his integration of Islamic thought with Greek classics, especially Aristotle and Plato. And there was Adelard of Bath, who ... translated Euclid's Elements from Arabic into Latin. ...

"Like Rome, the city rested upon seven hills. The Tagus River curled around the city's Alcazar, affording an approach by land on only one side. Within its warren of narrow streets and lanes, Jews and Christians and Arabs had lived side by side, alternating in rancor and in harmony; over the centuries. The flowering of cultural splendor and religious tolerance had come in the thirteenth century, during the reign of Alfonso X the Learned. During his splendid reign from 1252-1284, the three religions coexisted peacefully in harmony."


James Reston Jr.


The Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, And the Defeat of the Moors


First Anchor Books Edition


Copyright 2005 by James Reston Jr.


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