“ City: Toledo / Country: Spain / Country Region: Castile-La Mancha / World Region: Europe „
Toledo, in the middle of Spain, is memorable for so many different reasons. One of my most memorable travel visits - so much history, beautiful to walk through while experiencing how preservation of religion has affected architecture in this magnificent Spanish National Monument.
One day recently I joined thousands of other tourists to stroll through the narrow, steep, cobbled streets to glimpse just a little taste of how Toldeo has evolved since it was Spain's capital from Gothic days to 1560.
From the minute I sighted the main gate - Peurta de Bisgra, a ninth century creation - I knew this visit was going to be all it was promised to be by a dear friend who had been there six years earlier and advised, quite rightly, that it was a must when visiting Madrid, 71 kilometres away. His lasting impressions had been of the treasures inside the cathedral.
It follows that the focus of my visit was to be the central Cathedral but sadly it was not open. I was actually quite shattered but there were enough other ''treasures'' to ease my huge disappointment. The Julia Tours guide had a short and quick walking tour planned and it truly did make up for my disappointment at not experiencing the inside of the Cathedral. We did stop to photograph and learn historic factors, since it's building programme from 1226 to 1492.
Then it was on through extremely narrow streets, cars came down and we had to press ourselves up against the walls to let them safely pass, this all added to the 'ancientness' you feel when you walk through Toledo.
We visited the famous and deemed to be El Greco's best painting: Burial of the Count of Orgaz at the Sante Tome church. Standing 4.8 metres high and 3.6 metres wide, Domenico Thetocopuli (El Greco) actually painted himself and his son into this masterpiece which truly is worthy of going to Toledo just to see such a wonderful painting. At other historic sites there are many of El Greco's works which he painted before his death, in Toledo in 1614.
Next visit was actually where we learned about the religious history which has evolved in Toledo including Jewish, Muslin and Christian cultures. We walked into Synagogue of St Mary the White: Syngaogue of Iglesia de Santa Maria La Blanca. It is no longer used but is preserved by the Catholic church as an example of architecture: it has five wings and 28 horseshoe arches, supported by brick columns covered in cement and whitewashed. History records it has served as a refuge for misled and repentant women! As I have never been one of these I must say I could not relate!
The Monastery of St John of the Kings (San Juan de los Reyes) was so beautiful. We visited the 15th century cloisters with the most impressive carvings and lovely garden. Here the tour guide pointed out the most unusual wooden ceiling and this now features in my holiday snaps which I cannot scan and provide for you, sadly I do not have the equipment.
Then a most stunning photo opportunity. Views of the river Tagus which surrounds most of this hilltop town. Looking down to the Bridge of St Martin in the early evening was just so awesome.
Due to time constraints we didn't visit the Alcazar (castle/fortification) which is now a museum but you cannot review Toledo without mentioning it as it is dominant as you approach the town. It's four towers are so impressive and apparently the artworks inside are fabulous. (There has been a Alcazar on this site since the Roman days. This one was apparently nearly destroyed when Franco's troops took it over in the 1936 Spanish Civil War.)
The El Greco Casay Museo del Greco was not on our walking tour but is apparently the place to see what Toledo is world-renown for, it's Damascene swords.
(On the way home we called at a factory in the newer part of Toledo to see swords and other items such as jewellery being made. It is fired as hot steel and then gold leaf either added by hand or machine produced. If you buy handmade it is obviously more expensive. I bought a couple of pieces which I am really proud to add to the jewellery box, a pendant and matching ear-rings.)
As we descended from Toledo's old, historic hilltop site we walked through the 15th century Gate of Cambrion which is the only gate in this part of Toledo which traffic can go through. It is architecturally stunning and both sides offer creative and historic photos.
There are 59,600 people living in Toledo, 529 kilometres above sea level and it is my view that there cannot be a more historically/religious place to reside if you appreciate the part these aspects of living influence local communities.
As you walk around, there are plenty of historic 'gems' to go into but even the general look and feel of the township is so picturesque and memorable. The shops are tiny, varied and the narrow streets and squares are peppered with restaurants, cafes and bars. There's a photo opportunity at every turn.
We didn't eat there but Toledo is known for it's marzipan pieces and next time I go there (yes, there will definitely be a next time) I will go and stay there, so I can eat and experience all the things I missed on this short taste of Toledo, which this tour gave me - and of course next time I will make prior enquiries and visit that lovely old cathedral, inside, so I can see the treasures, promised by my friend all those years ago.
I went on a bus tour as mentioned but you can go by train but if you do I believe there is a bit of a walk or a shuttle/taxi ride to do before you get to the old Toledo on the hill. I was told the train takes one and a half hours, from Madrid, our bus tour took one hour.
You cannot visit Toledo without leaving with an appreciation of history; preserved for the good of today's travellers, from the first glimpse of imposing buildings on the hilltop until you walk reluctantly down the hillside, leaving behind historic architectural buildings, religious influences ,memorable artworks and priceless treasures - this is a day visit you just feel so pleased to be part of.
You will know by now that I would most certainly recommend a visit to Toledo - only go for longer than a couple of hours, it does not do it justice. Still, my two hours was better than not going at all!
Toledo is a spectacularly beautiful city about 45 kms from Madrid. It is ideally located for a day trip for anyone taking a short city-break in Madrid. I visited Toledo in April 2001 and at the end of this review I provide information about travel from Madrid. Toledo, is set on a large rocky mound among rather flat, dry countryside. Its medieval buildings tower up over the surrounding landscape and as you get close to the city you can see that it is a walled town, with fortifications surrounding the many towers and spires of its ancient buildings. Visitors arriving on the train, have a short walk from the station and as you round the first bend in the road, you are presented with a spectacular view of the town rising above the Tajo river. You cross the old Bridge of St Martin into the town, and will inevitably pause to gaze down the rocky valley with the town rising above you to the right. The walk up to the town is a steep maze of alleys and staircases, with opportunities for you to walk out on to the fortified wall and walk around the battlements. One of the first buildings you pass on entering the town is the monastery of the Iglesia de San Juan. Make a stop here and go through the ornately carved archway into the building to see its secluded cloisters and its exhibitions of paintings and artefacts from the early middle ages to the present day. These include a huge El Greco painting of the Ascension, and also much ornate silverware. Admission to all this is free. Just a little further into the middle of the town is a large square surrounded by cafes and shops. There is even a McDonalds here, but not quite so obvious as many of this chain’s outlets due to the planning requirements of the town. The only good use for a McDonalds in Spain is of course the free toilets and I was surprised on going in to the restaurant to see the large number of Spaniards queuing up for their burgers and fries. For me one of th
e joys of going to Spain is to get away from fast food! Toledo is full of cafes and restaurants of course and for those who would prefer a more relaxing lunch, why not sit in one of the many courtyard cafes and have an ice-cold beer and a tortilla with salad? Up the road from the city square is the Alcazar, a huge military building now partly a museum. I didn’t go in there due to lack of time, but went on to the Great Cathedral, which is commonly acknowledged to be one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in the world. It is almost breath-taking in its size and beauty and an essential part of any visit. In particular, you must look at “El Transparente”, which is like a huge hole opened up in the north end of the roof, beyond which are set brightly coloured sculptures and paintings of various saints and heavenly battles. It seems out of place in such an ancient building but is majestic in its own right and highly unusual. If you go into the Cathedral you should go to visit the small museum which contains items from the church’s treasury, including many fine gold artefacts and ancient manuscripts. As you walk round the streets of Toledo you will see many gift shops, but many of these are quite high quality, often specialising in the fine metal-work ornaments typical of the area. These are made of filigree steel, inlaid with gold thread and are very beautiful. Also, there is a Toledan pottery style of ornamented plates which would make excellent gifts for favoured relatives and friends. The Spanish seem to like knives and daggers and many of these are for sale in the town along with suits of armour and ceremonial swords. Toledo is rich in Islamic and Jewish history too, and much of the town has the feel of an Arabic city with its narrow labyrinthine streets. Many of the buildings are strongly Moorish in their architecture. I would say that even if you didn’t go into any of the many museums a
nd churches in the town, just to walk around is highly interesting in itself. In this review I have barely touched on the riches of Toledo and it might be worth taking a tour of the town with one of the local guides (the tourist office can provide information on this service). There is also a little train which is pulled around the town every half hour or so and provides a good over-view of the centre. It is however a fairly compact place and I think walking around with a guidebook is probably the best way of seeing it. Toledo is obviously a honey-trap for tourists but the city is capable of absorbing them. There are more Americans than one would wish (I think there is a strong American connection through some joint project with Ohio state university) but they tend to stay in large groups and can be avoided without too much trouble. As with all Spanish tourist destinations, hang on to your wallet and take sensible precautions regarding cameras etc. For anyone making a trip to Toledo from Madrid, let me just mention travel arrangements. I believe the bus journey to Toledo is very easy, but personally I recommend the train which can be taken from any of the Madrid railway stations and then only makes one stop between Madrid and Toledo. The service is hourly and costs only about £5.50 return (incredible to those only used to British railway fares). The station in Toledo is about ten minutes walk from the old city but the route is obvious and many other tourists will be heading in the same direction. If you are staying in Madrid for two or three days, I recommend this day out as a change from the city and Toledo is definitely a place you will be glad you visited. But take your camera and more film than you’d expect to have to take!
Toledo is a city and municipality located in central Spain, about 100 kilometers south of Madrid. It is the capital of the province of Toledo and of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, due to its extensive cultural and monumental heritage as one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire and place of coexistence of Christian, Jewish and Moorish cultures. Many famous people and artists were born or lived in this city, including Garcilaso de la Vega, Alfonso X and El Greco, and it was the place of important historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo. As of 2005, the city has a population of 75,578 and an area of 232.1 square kilometers (89.59 square miles). In 1986 the UNESCO declared Toledo a World Heritage Site.