With much of its city wall still intact and towering fortified ports, Toledo seems to have changed little since, four centuries ago, El Greco he depicted its skyline on the canvas. Surrounded on three sides by the river Tagus transformed into an unbeatable moat, in the center of which is the medieval old town considered by theUnesco a world heritage, this city is one of the most photographed and visited places in the Spain. And the amazing story about him completely deserves such attention. Our Toledo guide starts from afar. Since when this city in the region of Autonomous Community of Castile-La Mancha was known as the city of three cultures. This is thanks to the unique way in which Christians, Muslims and Jews they lived together, side by side, in the Middle Ages, leaving traces of their culture in today’s Toledo.
A city cradle of many civilizations
Perched atop a granite promontory and surrounded by the Tagus River, Toledo has been the cradle of many civilizations. This is also confirmed thanks to the presence of important archaeological discoveries which date back to the times of the Romans, of the Visigoths and gods I died. And to the incredible architectural complexity that expresses the multicultural soul of its past inhabitants.
Guide to Toledo: the city of three cultures
A heritage also of tolerance. The Three Gods Cultures Christians, Muslims and Jews they lived together in the alleys of Toledo which however took over the typically Arab urban structure. While, behind the doors, airy courtyards open up with terracotta fountains, rest and relaxation areas, sheltered from the clamor and life that invaded the labyrinth of streets.
In the distant past, as any guide to Toledo tells us, the city boasted the presence of over 70 Christian religious buildings often within walking distance of ten synagogues active throughout the city. Even though the three cultures lived together, there are areas where the influence of one of the cultures is more evident. As it is still perceived today in the Jewish quarter remained, in many respects, still intact despite the infamous decree of the Alhambra of Granadawhich sanctioned the expulsion of Jewish communities from Spain.
The Alcazar, icon of the city
One of the icons that characterize the image of Toledo is theAlcazar. Built in Spanish Renaissance style with the aim of becoming the royal residence of Charles V, by the time it was finished it was useless because in the meantime it had been decided that it would be Madrid the capital. And it ceased to be a royal residence.
For this reason it was destined for other purposes, mainly military. And the palace was also used as a prison and infantry school while today is the Army Museum. The other monument that must necessarily appear in the Toledo guide is the Cathedral which is often referred to as the highest example of the Spanish Gothic style.
Finally, in our brief description we cannot forget the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes: it was built by the queen Isabella I by the king Ferdinand II to become the royal burial site. But even here fate decided otherwise and it was decided to allocate the chapel in the cathedral to burials Granada which had just been recaptured.
From the Romans to the Moors
On the foundation of the ancient Toletum there are doubts but it is certain that in 193 BC it became the Roman capital of the provincial capital. After the withdrawal of the Romans the city became an important center under the Visigothic leader Leovigildbefore being conquered by I died in 711. The inhabitants, however, never fully accepted the Moorish conquest and the city was the scene of several rebellions.
It was not long, however, until Toledo was reconquered by the Christian kings becoming the first city in the Moorish province of Al-Andalus to fall. The new ruler Alfonso VI of Castile he took control of the city in 1085 and quickly set about transforming the city into a center for the dissemination of Christian doctrine even as his magnificent Arabic library was kept intact. Then the city flourished under Castilian rule, becoming the capital of Castile until 1560, when the Spanish court moved to Madrid.
Museums and memories of the past
With such a rich history it is no surprise that Toledo boasts important museums. The best known is probably the El Greco Museum which contains many works by the famous 16th century painter. Worth a visit is also the National Museum of Spanish-Jewish Art where you can understand the most important aspects, from the historical, religious and cultural point of view of life in Spain of the then large Jewish community.
The prayer hall, in particular, is not to be missed. Art lovers should make sure to visit the Santa Cruz Museumwhich has a special relationship with the museum of Prado from Madrid. And the sections dedicated to archeology, the fine arts and the industrial arts and admire some Roman, Visigothic and Arab finds are not to be missed.
You can then find out more about Toledo’s past by visiting some of the archaeological sites including the Roman and Arab bathsthe Caves of Herculesand the Jewish house with its mikveh, purification bath, in the basement.
Toledo: swords and intense flavours
It is nice then to stroll through the narrow streets of the old city and discover the suggestive Gate of the Bisgara and the fortified bridge of Saint martin. For those who don’t want to walk, there is a tourist train that runs through the central streets of the historic city. If you want instead to deepen your trip in the area, know that from Toledo different itineraries start, some of which can also be covered on foot, which extend into the surrounding area. Among these a path dedicated to Don chisciottei.e. a cultural itinerary of European importance which, starts at Toledoand runs through the whole region of Castile-La Manchawhere the novel is set Cervantes.
Not far away, in the city of Corsugayou can see some of de famous windmills La Mancha which are one of the images that made the novel famous.
The famous weapons of the past
Around the Cathedral And the Alcazar you will find lots of traditional shops selling souvenirs and typical products, including swords, for which Toledo was famous in the past. In the new areas of the city, the main shopping areas are the neighborhood of St. Theresa and the mall Luz de Tajo.
Our guide to Toledo cannot fail to mention the dishes and flavors to try: among the classic recipes there is that of stewed partridge (slow cooked with a base of onion, garlic and bay leaf), del carcamusa (a stew of braised pork and potatoes in tomato sauce) and the rice in La Toledana (a rice casserole with chicken, conger eel, squid and mushrooms).
Don’t forget to stock up on purchases Manchego cheesea pecorino aged for at least 60 days and a few bottles of wines that come from the La Mancha estates.
A tribute to the cathedral
We’ve already said it: with its slender tower and wonderful gothic architecture, the cathedral of Toledo it is one of the most important Christian landmarks in Spain. The cathedral dates back to the 13th century and was built on the site of a nearby Muslim mosque Judería (aka the Jewish Quarter). The outside is sadly a bit covered by the buildings that surround it, but the inside is breathtaking. With a rich collection of paintings.
The richness of the masterpieces reflects the status of Toledo how center of the Catholic Church in the centuries between the 13th and 15th. You enter from Puerta de Mollete where food for the poor was once distributed and the interior is a huge space of beyond 120 meters divided into five naves.
The choir: a masterpiece not to be missed
The choir is considered one of the greatest works of art in Christendom. The carved Renaissance stalls depict the reconquest by the gods Catholic kings of Granada and biblical scenes. Around, not to be missed, the statue of Virgin Blanca and the Chapel of Santiago which contains the magnificent 15th century marble tombs of the Condestable Alvaro de Luna and of his wife.
In the chapter house there are two paintings by Goya while in the sacristy there are two outstanding paintings by El Greco and of Goya. The sacristy also houses paintings by Morales, Van Dyck, Raphael, Rubens and Titian. Our guide to Toledo continues col Santa Cruz Museum which brings together interesting collections. In the Fine Arts section there are the paintings of Toledo School of the 16th and 17th. In particular the works of El Greco And Luis Tristan, a student of El Greco. The decorative arts section includes Flemish tapestries while the archeology section ranges from prehistory to the Moorish era.
The Alcazar, from the Romans to the Moors
So it is impossible not to dedicate space toAlcázar. This ancient Moorish fortress, built on the site of a Roman fort, was remodeled by Christian kings Alfonso VIAnd Alfonso X. The imposing fortress has a square shape with large crenellated defenses and four corner towers added under the reign of the emperor Charles V in the 16th century.
The facade also reflects the Renaissance style of the period of Charles V. During the Spanish Civil Warthe Alcázar became a nationalist garrison and is regarded as a monument to the heroism of the supporters of Frank. The Alcazar has been restored and now houses an army museum with excellent exhibitions on Civil war. The Alcazar can be reached from plaza de Zocodover, a beautiful square located right in the center of Toledo surrounded by elegant arcaded houses. At number 7 plaza de Zocodover there is a well-known shop famous for its marzipan sweets.
Guide of Toledo: the synagogue and the castle
We talked about a city where tolerance was the norm. The proof comes from the visit of the El Transito synagogue which is the most important Jewish monument. It is located in the heart of Judería, the neighborhood of the Jewish community in the 14th century. Built in 1356 by Samuel ha-Levi, treasurer of kings Pedro I of Castilethe synagogue is the most prominent example of architecture Hebrew-Spanish.
After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the synagogue was granted to the Chivalric Order of Calatrava. Near the synagogue is the Sephardic Museum which tells visitors about the history and culture of the Jews of Spain. The synagogue is open Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.
Finally, here is the castle of St. Servant, above the left bank of the river, facing the Alcántara bridge. The castle in the 14th century was a monastery, commissioned by Alfonso VIbut it also served military purposes due to its strategic location. The building is an outstanding example of a fortress-style building Mudejar in Spain with formidable towers, crenellated defense walls. Too bad, however, that it is not open and that you can only see it from the outside.