“Do you really think it would be that hard to cross the river?” Whit asked.
“I mean, with arrows coming down on your head, yeah,” I said.
“You’d be slaughtered,” Sobhon agreed.
“But you could have guys up here, seeing down onto the walls.”
“There’s no way to alert them. You couldn’t be like, oy! oil cauldron, you know? No cell phones.”
“What about bells?”
“Bells are for the city. Bells are like, hey, they’re coming!”
“Smoke signals. I would have tons of smoke signals. It would be like, two torches retreat, one torch shoot the fire arrows!” We paused to imagine where we would put our smoke signals. Standing on a ridge outside of Toledo, looking down onto the river that winds around the hilltop city, you had to concede it would be very hard to seige.
The city rises steeply above the river, which protects it on three sides like a natural moat. The brown roofs hint at thin, winding alleys; the cathedral towers gleam in the sun. It’s the kind of city I imagined in my backyard as a kid after reading Eragon, medieval, full of high walls and stone streets to run through. You can see where the guards would have stood, watching the enemy encampments at the top of the hill. You can see the barred sewer exit where if this was Game of Thrones the Dothraki would have slipped into; you can see where the dragons would have landed.
“If it’s less than 400 years old, we call it new,” our tour guide was explaining. “If it’s between 400 and 1200 years old, we call it… [unintelligible, a Spanish noun] If it’s more than 1200 years old, we call it old.” He pointed at a building, “this house is old.”
“Car!” shouted Sergio, our extracurriculars coordinator who had joined us for the tour. The 25 of us flattened against the walls of the alley, leaving just enough room for a small sedan to pass through. I turned to David, my Spanish peer mentor.
“It’s true it is hard to attack this city, one car and all of us have to move, one arrow and…” I gestured wildly towards the walls. The tour guide had mentioned earlier that the narrow streets were built to repel invaders. David laughed, and patted me on the back. I was happy with my attempt, so I decided to repeat it, first to Sergio, then to another Spanish student. Topical jokes in Spanish are hard to come by; you have to get a full use out of them. In the front of the group, the tour guide was saying something about tolerance.
“…Arabic writing. In a Christian church. In the Jewish quarter. With a Roman foundation. Made from Visigoth stone.” I decided I really needed to figure out who these Visigoths were, they were popping up everywhere. “The Christians and Jews and Muslims didn’t always like each other,” the tour guide continued. “It wasn’t perfect. They weren’t all going over to each other’s houses for paella and sangria. But they lived together, and they tolerated each other.” I guess that’s a good legacy for a city to leave, maybe even better than having a moat with a current.
All that fun happened on our program trip to Toledo! If you’re in Spain I highly recommend a trip, it’s barely an hour from Madrid and boasts incredible history and great swords. Make sure you stop by the cathedrals (at night the towers are very pretty) and no matter how hungry you are, don’t get the street pizza. Just go to a restaurant, you’re in Spain.
Photos by Lhia Hernandez, Shreya Marathe and Sobhon Khairy