Dazzling Mosques, Synagogues and Cathedrals can be found in this ancient locale known as the ‘City of Three Cultures’.
Toledo’s population is just shy of 100,000 and the capital of the province of Toledo and the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha. Located 42 miles (67 kilometers) south west of Madrid, it sits high atop a rocky outcrop nestled on 3 sides by the Tagus river.
Toledo has been the capital city in this region for the Romans, Visigoths, Moors and early Spanish Castilians. After the reconquista by the King of Castile in 1085, Toledo became an important political and social center and the three cultures of Christians, Muslims and Jewish peacefully coexisted and prospered side-by-side. However, the city’s importance declined after the Spanish court moved to Madrid in 1561. Perhaps a mixed blessing, but the result is that Toledo’s historical buildings and the ancient city stayed intact over the centuries earning it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
La Catedral de Santa María de Toledo
The 9th largest cathedral in Spain, the Cathedral of Toledo, built in 1227, is massive. The glorious retable at the back of the altar is floor-to-ceiling, 5 stories tall and more than 500 years old. This gilded altarpiece depicts the life and passion of Jesus. It was behind a large iron grill so capturing a quality photo was not possible.
Another of our favorite parts of a church is the choir and the elaborate details of the seating area for the choir in Toledo are outstanding.
Museo de Santa Cruz
Located on the main plaza in Toledo, called Plaza de Zocodover, was this interesting museum. There are two floors of permanent exhibitions covering the gamut of archaeology to fine and decorative arts.
The museum also hosts major temporary exhibitions and we found two exhibitions of contemporary art that we enjoyed. The first was by Yves Zurstrassen, a Belgian self-taught painter that has a background as a graphic artist. A second temporary exhibition, that was very good, was the work of Belgian artist, Werner Mannaers.
Iglesia de Santo Tomé
The church of Santo Tomé, built in the 14th century, can be found in the historic center of Toledo. Although a small church, it contains a large and significant treasure in the form of a 16′ x 12′ (4.8×3.6 meter) masterpiece, painted between 1586 and 1588, by El Greco called The Burial of the Count de Orgaz.
Alcázar de Toledo y Museo del Ejército
The Arab word for fortress was “Al Qasar”, and the Spanish changed the spelling of these fortresses to Alcázar. The beautiful Alcázar in Toledo dominates the city and surrounding countryside and it definitely was the first structure to catch your eye upon arrival.
The fortress-palace dates back to the 3rd century AD during the Roman occupation but acquired its current look in the 14th century. In 1936-1939, during the Spanish Civil War it was almost entirely destroyed when continually attacked by the republicans. After much reconstruction, it has reopened as the Museo del Ejército, or the Army Museum.
In the Jewish part of old Toledo is a Synagogue, built in 1356, which today has been converted into the Sephardic Museum. It is believed the Jewish people arrived in Spain as early as the 1st century AD and were once one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. However the Alhambra Decree of 1492, forced all to convert to Catholicism or into exile. A dark period of time indeed, and this ornately decorated and interesting museum, shares stories and displays of the Jewish people in Spain.
El Museo del Greco
The El Museo del Greco is a house-museum located on one of the narrowest of streets in the old Jewish quarter of Toledo.
Toledo’s famous ‘son’, Doménikos Theotokópoulos, 1541-1614, whom we know as El Greco, was born in Crete but lived more than half his life, and produced most of his work, while living in Toledo. This museum has collected his artwork since its opening in 1911 along with paintings and sculptures by a limited group of Spanish artists from the 16th and 17th centuries. We missed our train back to Madrid but we felt this museum and garden was worth it.
Next to learning much more about the artist known as El Greco and viewing his beautiful paintings, the Alcantara bridge may have been our favorite find.
Originally built by the Romans, the picturesque Alcantara bridge, as Washington Irving once described a similar view, was thrown across the river Tagus. The best view in town just may be a short walk from the train station, facing the Alcantara bridge and looking up to admire the scenic Alcázar and city skyline.
A perfect ending to our wonderful day.
Salut from these Toledans,
Ted and Julia