There is more to Toledo than ancient history, its modern history is impressive too. For this was one of the more memorable battlegrounds of the civil war. Where Franco's nationalists held out in a bitter siege against an overwhelming Republican onslaught and the Alcazar was nearly destroyed in the fighting. No trip to Toledo is complete without a trip to the Alcazar(castle)and the views of the surrounding Castilean plain are sensational from its windows.
The four-cornered Renaissance Alcazar de Toledo is the pride of Spain. Originally built by the powerful Charles V, this served as a military garrison in a conservative town for hundreds of years but its great moment of fame came in the 20th century. When the Spanish civil war broke out most of Castile plumped for the republicans, however the military garrison at Toledo, headed by General Moscardo, threw in with the Franco's fascist nationalists and were forced to retreat to the Alcazar. The siege lasted three months with the republicans hurling everything at the building in an attempt to get the nationalists out. Franco had to divert an army to relieve the nationalists, which in turn gave Madrid enough time to put up the barricades and stay republican until the end of the war. But the siege became a symbol of the Franco regime and it was embellished and made into a legend. Even the National newspaper changed its name to Alcazar in its honour.
Although visible from most places in Toledo the Alcazar is still hard work to find due to the narrow winding streets. Once you have climbed the horseramp, now used by jeeps and military vehicles, you can pay your money and step inside. The Alcazar is still owned by the military and contains the Ejerito (Army) museum. You can wander around the rooms and see models and photos of the Alcazar after the siege and Franco greeting General Moscardo amongst the rubble. Upstairs was a room left in exactly the same state as it was on the last day of the siege - the ceiling was shredded, the walls peppered and along one wall was the famous telephone used by General Moscardo. The republicans had hold of his son and threatened to shoot him if he did not surrender the Alcazar. His reply was;
"I love you son, but die like a man for the glory of Spain..."
History is written by the victors and this incident gave a powerful propaganda tool to the eventual winners - the nationalists. Most of the musuem does date from the 1940's, and could probably do with an overhaul, but half the fascination is the way it was used to serve the Franco regime. As you continued to wander around in glass cases there were home-made grenades, huge books shredded by bullets, crude knives and a gruesome-looking operating table. The cellars of the Alcazar were left as they were, as barracks, civilian quarters and hospitals, and the sacks that people slept on were still kept on the floor. I noticed alot of grandfathers showing their grandchildren around the Alcazar. Whatever you think of the politics, it must have been a harrowing ordeal.
Needless to say, we came away from the Alcazar impressed and very thoughtful. If you come to Toledo, even for the day, you must visit to the Alcazar....