Newest Review: ... 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. ... more
Toledo, dominates with hilltop heritage
Toledo (Castile-La Mancha)
Member Name: logberg
Toledo (Castile-La Mancha)
Date: 23/10/05, updated on 23/10/05 (228 review reads)
Advantages: Religious, architectural excellence
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!
Summary: Toledo offers a glimpse at historic, religious, architectural excellence