Egret and crab

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A dish best served cold

I have been reading up on Spain and came across the following interesting story when researching the ancient city of Toledo. Josephus said that Toledo was founded by the jews around 590 b.c., giving it the name Toldoth, supposedly populated by people from ten tribes of Israel. Other historians believe that it might have been founded by the Romans, named for the consul Tolemon. Who knows the actual origin?

Whatever its actual birth, the barbaric invasions of the fifth century brought down the great Roman Empire. Waves of german people's swept down the peninsula in successive waves and Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, established his court in Toledo in 513. He gave way to the visigoth Leovigildo. In 589 successor King Recuardo made catholicism the official religion in Spain.

In the eighth century, Islamic invaders swept over Iberia, crushing the Visigoths near the lakes of La Janda.  Saracens took over Toledo in 712, under the command of Tariq, and named it Tolaitola.

Christians started a reconquest effort and in 1085, Castillian troops under King Alfonso VI retook the city and expelled the moors. Toledo and Spain in general has been host to a variety of people and the Moors influence can not be underestimated, architecturally and culturally. The story I want to recount took place in 803.

Tolaitola was then governed by the cruel, iron hand of Yussuf ibn Amru. The populace lived in a state of perpetual terror. He made no distinction between rich or poor, high dignitaries or slum dwellers. He killed and tortured them all.

The aggrieved people had a counsel meeting and decided to send a delegation to the Caliph, Al Hakem and tell him about the depth of Yussuf's tyranny. The Caliph listened but was reluctant to take any steps against his governor. Finally he was swayed, the delegation returned with an order for the imprisonment of the governor.

There was great relief in the city when Ibn Amru was imprisoned in the dungeons of his own castle, on Montichal Hill, the present Paseo de San Cristobal. But it was not enough for the people to see the demon lord imprisoned and one day they stormed the palace and slit his throat in jail.

The people nervously awaited the reaction of the Caliph and the possible harsh retribution. Their fear grew even larger when they found out that the new governor was none pother than their deceased tyrant's father, who was the Caliph's close friend. The love of this man for his dead son was legendary. But to everyone's great surprise, the new governor was kind and tolerant, seemingly understanding as to the reasons for the subjects grave actions. He won them over with his kindness and forgiveness. Even the nobles, the people most directly responsible for the son's death, were treated kindly by the new governor. This was reassuring because they feared his wrath.

One day, approximately four years after the change in governors, the Caliph's eldest son, Prince Abder Rachman, arrived at the city walls at the head of an army of select horsemen, on the way back from a northern campaign. The Governor arranged a lavish reception for the Prince and invited all of the worthy citizens of the city.

Thousands of torches illuminated the hill and people were dressed in their most splendid finery. Montichel Hill was a scene of great celebration. Inside the palace it was a slightly different story. The tragedy had begun. One by one as the guests entered the castle past the guard of honor they were decapitated with a scimitar. Four hundred citizens were said to meet their end at the end of the curved sword that night, under the watchful and pleased eye of the Governor.

The phrase "a night in Toledo" continues to resound in Spain as a harbinger of dreadful, unforeseen events. And gives new meaning to the saying that revenge is indeed a dish best served cold.

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