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Toledo well worth a visit

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Toledo

 

Toledo is a city and municipality located in central Spain, about 70 kilometres south of Madrid. It is the capital of the province of Toledo and of the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha (formerly the Kingdom of Toledo).  

Toledo is the cultural centre of Castilla-La Mancha and a wonderful mix of traders, art, music, museums, buildings, culture and gastronomy, making it the perfect destination for a visit.

Being that close to Madrid, it is an ideal place to visit if you are in Spain's actual capital.

 


Location of Toledo in Spain

     



Toledo as it stands today, the sky-line dominated by its Cathedral and Alcázar

  Inhabitants: 59.600

Altitude: 529 m (1735.56 ft) above sea level

Distances: Madrid: 71 km; Ciudad Real: 115 km; Guadalajara: 129 km; Avila: 137 km; Cuenca: 187 km; Salamanca: 234 km

     
The old city is located on a mountaintop, surrounded on three sides by a bend in the Tagus River, and contains many historical sites, including the Alcázar, the cathedral (the primate church of Spain), and the Zocodover, a central marketplace.

 

Travel through History
According to an old Spanish tradition, Toledo was founded in the year 540 BC by Jewish colonists, who named it Toledoch, that is, mother of people, whence one might perhaps infer a Phoenician settlement.
Toledo is one of the most important centres of European medieval history. It was capital of Spain from the Gothic epoch until 1560, fact that explains its really impressive medieval architecture. Walking through its streets one feels like having stepped back into the Middle-Ages, but in the best sense of it.
Many famous people and artists were born or lived in this city, including Garcilaso de la Vega, Alfonso X "the Wise" and El Greco, and it was the place of important historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo.
 


The Alcázar and the bridge of St. Martin over the Tagus River

     
The "Swords of Toledo" gave to its steel-production world-wide fame.
Toledo 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 when it was a beautiful combination of art and science.
Toledo, having been declared National Monument by the Spanish state, seems to be one large museum. Hardly another town is so well conserved in its historical style.
The best way to explore Toledo certainly is to have a long walk through it and look at the buildings of various epochs and perhaps you will search your pockets for a few gold-ducats to buy some of Toledo's fine artisany or just to enjoy of its highly recommendable cuisine.
     
The Epoch of Romans
The first one to report about it was Roman author Titus Livius, who describes "Toletum (Τώλητον)" as a small fortificated settlement; but already then it had great strategical importance, and fortification has always been an important parameter in its history, still evident to today's tourist for the monumental walls around. It was a very strong town, though only of moderate size, and famed for its manufacture of arms and steel-ware.
The city was the capital of the Carpetani. It was incorporated into the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. It sat at a strategic location along the Tagus River and on the road from Emerita (modern Mérida) to Caesaraugusta (modern Zaragoza), and connected also by another road with Laminium.
The Amphitheatre and an aqueductus are conserved of that time.
 


The city stands on a hundred-metre-high hill overlooking the right bank of the River Tagus.

     
The Epoch of Goths
When the Goths conquered Spain in 6th century, they made Toledo capital of their empire beginning with Liuvigild (Leovigild), and was the capital until the Moors conquered Iberia in the 8th century.

A remind of this epoch is the Fortress of San Servando.

     
The Epoch of Moors
Under Arab rule,
Toledo was called Tulaytulah or Tolaitola (Arabic طليطلة) and was one of the most important northern-Spanish towns.

Under the Caliphate of Cordoba, Toledo enjoyed a golden age. This extensive period is known as La Convivencia, i.e. the co-existence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The Muslim scientists of this age were unrivaled in the world. Perhaps among their greatest feats the most prominent masterpiece of art were the famous waterlocks of Toledo.

 


Horseshoe arches in the synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, a magnificent example of Almohad art.

     

The Mosque Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, of 10th century, is extraordinarily well-conserved. Its construction, with nine cupolas raising over four Gothic columns, certainly shows influences of the great Mosque of Cordoba.

The town-gate Vieja Puerta de la Bisagra is the most impressive rest of the Moorish fortifications.

Spaniards had religious freedom during the Moorish occupation, so also Christians (Mozarabes) built their churches: San Sebastián and Santa Eulalia were made during that time, though both were modified later on.

     
The Epoch of the Reconquest
On May 25, 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile took Toledo and established direct personal control over the Moorish city and made the town capital of his empire. As a consequence the importance of the town was growing rapidly and arrived to its climax in late 15th and early 16th century.
In the 13th century, Toledo was a major cultural centre under the guidance of Alfonso X, called "El Sabio" ("the Wise") for his love of learning.

Toledo was one of the cities that the wise King loved best, not least because it was the most sophisticated of the Moorish kingdoms when the Arab-Andalusian culture was at its peak, and where the concept of the 'Three Cultures' -Jewish, Christian and Islamic- found its true meaning: a paradise on Earth in which all knowledge is cultivated in a spirit of unity made possible by tolerance and plurality.

 


The new city

     


Alcántara Bridge

 

The Escuela de Traductores de Toledo (School of Translators of Toledo) cultivated as well classical as oriental knowledge and exported it from here to the occidental world by rendering great academic and philosophical works in Arabic and Hebrew into Latin.

Toledo was famed for religious tolerance and had large communities of Muslims and Jews until they were expelled from Spain in 1492 and 1604; the city therefore has important religious monuments.

     


In this city, today resembles yesterday.

 

During the Moorish dominance the Christians had developed an architectonic style of their own, though clearly influenced by Arabian aesthetics. In this so-called Mudejar-style they built now several churches that are well worth a visit: Santiago del Arrabal, Cristo de la Vega, San Vicente, San Miguel, San Román and Santo Tomé.

The two synagogues conserved in Toledo, Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca and Sinagoga de El Tránsito, are in Mudejar style as well. The latter, built by Samuel Ha Leví, became a temple of Christian Alcantara Order after the banishing of Jews in late 15th century.

     

The Cathedral, built between 1226 and 1492, with massive lines and decorations in Mudejar style is certainly the most interesting gothic building in town. You may visit its fantastic collection of paintings, including works of El Greco, Goya and Van Dyck in its vestry, and the treasury with the famous 16th century monstrance of Juan de Arfe, which is part and parcel of the Corpus Christi procession.

The mighty Bridge of Saint Martin, over Tajo river, with a tower at each end, is of gothic style as well.

The church Iglesia de San Juan de los Reyes and its Monastery were built in 15th century for the Spanish kings to be buried there. The claustrum is of extraordinary beauty.

 


Cathedral

     
After 15th Century
In 1561, the King Philip II moved the royal court from Toledo to Madrid and Madrid became the capital of Spain. The town anyhow remained important, specially for the Catholic Church which held there no fewer than 18 counciles.

Toledo was renowned throughout the Middle Ages for its production of steel and especially of swords and the city is still an important centre for the manufacture of knives and other bladed instruments and steel implements.

     


The Old Bisagra Gate

 

The old Hospital of Santa Cruz, founded in late 16th century by Cardenal Mendoza, serves today as Museum of Arts and Archaeology. Outstanding from the architectonical point of view are the staircase of Covarrubias, the Plateresque facade and the courtyard.

Important Renaissance buildings are the churches Santo Domingo el Antiguo and San José, and the town-gate Puerta Nueva de la Bisagra.

     
Toledo was home to El Greco for the latter part of his life, and is the subject of some of his most famous paintings, including The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, exhibited in the Church of Santo Tomé. Many of the works of Toledo's most famous painter are exposed in the house where he was living, Casa y Museo del Greco.  



The Burial of Count Orgaz (El Greco, 1586)

     


Santa Cruz museum

 


San Juan de los Reyes

     


Alcázar

  After 18th Century
Behind the Arco de la Sangre, an arch well known to all who read Cervantes' Don Quijote, we find the town's landmark, the Alcázar.

Toledo's Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.

 

Music and Musicians
The main musical instruments in medieval Spain include the lute (derived from the Moorish ud), the hurdy-gurdy, the Muslim oval guitar, the Latin guitar, the Muslim rebec, the viol, "a tiny 2-string fiddle", psaltery, bells, flutes, trumpets, horns, harps, bagpipes, castanets, and the pipe and drum.
Alfonso X, the Wise, is known for his cantigas (songs) devoted to the Virgin Mary. They were written by the king or under his direction.
 


Toledo polyphonic manuscript choirbook

     
Music in Medieval Jewish Spain
Many Ladino folksongs have been preserved through the Sephardic tradition after the expulsion. Most have been passed down orally from mother to daughter, who may have continued to speak in Ladino while the men, who worked outside the home, learned the local language of their non-Jewish countrymen. It is thus hard to tell which ones can actually be traced to Spain. However, the same songs can be found in the Sephardic communities of Morocco, Greece, Turkey, Bosnia, Bulgaria and Israel, which implies that the songs are from before 1492.
   
     


The musicians' performing space in the choir of Toledo Cathedral

  The Spanish primatial cathedral of Toledo shares with the Monastery-Palace of the Escorial (near Madrid) the nonpareil quality and quantity of music preserved in their archives, the central political and cultural role which each played during a period of extraordinary creative activity in Spain and the wealth of documentary material, both musical and historical, which survives for each institution and which allows the repertories to be placed within a broader context.
     
Toledo Cathedral and the Escorial house two sets of manuscript choirbooks that preserve an international repertory of almost 400 pieces of music composed between the late 15th century and the early 17th century. Gombert, Guerrero, Josquin, Morales, Mouton, Palestrina, Verdelot, Victoria and Vivanco are among the 65 composers whose works are represented in these sources. These manuscripts are valuable not only for the light they throw upon the works of some of the most significant and influential composers of the central Renaissance repertory but also for the insight which they give us into the relatively obscure musical life of musical institutions during Spain's Golden Age.

 

Shopping
Toledo is a city of small shops, and its craft traditions are still in a state of vigorous health. The commercial area goes from Plaza de Zocodover to San Juan de los Reyes, with other zones branching off towards the city's main monuments. The fame of Toledo steel has led the city to specialise in the manufacture of swords. It was here, for instance, that the ones in the film of The Lord of the Rings were made. A flourishing trade is also done in armour, maces and shields. Equally famous is Toledo's damascene work, a technique inherited from the Muslims whereby precious metals like gold and silver are incrusted in baser ones like iron or steel. And finally, the third of Toledo's great local products is marzipan.
 


Handicraft shops on the Plaza del Conde

 

Fiestas and Folklore
Toledo's perhaps best known festivity is the procession of Corpus Christi, which is held on the first Sunday after the sixtieth day since Easter Sunday, and on the second Sunday after Pentecost.Lasting more than three hours, its high point comes when the splendid 16th century monstrance is taken out of the cathedral and carried in procession through the city's streets, which are decorated with triumphal arches made from green branches. Toledo's inner courtyards are decorated too, and can be visited for a few days. Over thirty guilds and brotherhoods take part in the festival with their traditional costumes and banners. The popular festivities begin on the previous day with a parade of giants and big-heads. 'La Tarasca', a giant serpent, follows its route through the streets to the sound of music.
 


Gothic cathedral

     

The popular Romería de la Virgen del Valle, a festival of pilgrimship, takes place in May as well.

Among the best known and most interesting festivities in the province are the Fiesta del Olivo (Olives Festival), at the last Sunday of April in the village Mora de Toledo, and the Festival of San Isidro in Talavera, from May, 15th to 18th, with processions and popular dances. Of archaic traditions is the Fiestas de Danzantes y Pecados in Camuñas.

In June there is the nice Fiesta de la Amistad (Festival of Friendship) in Polan, and in November the popular Fiesta de la Rosa de Azafrán in Consuegra.

 


Plaza de Zocodover

  Gastronomy
Toledo's cuisine, fitting to the character of the town itself, puts you back into long gone times, and the dishes seem to be served out of one of Velazquez's still lifes. Recipes are influenced by the region's long tradition of hunting and cattle-breeding, but show Moorish influences as well.

The classic cuisine of Toledo belongs lo the Castilian heritage, with dishes based mostly on the hunt or the slaughter. Every establishment serves partridge, whether pickled or stewed.

     

Quails are some of the most extraordinary pleasures for delicate palates. They are usually served either stuffed, Perdiz Estofada, or together with a particular kind of beans, Perdiz con Pochas.

Very typical are as well lamb, fried or boiled, Cordero Asado or Cuchifrito, and the potato-omelette Tortilla a la Magra.

There is also o wide variety of rabbit recipes (in garlic, chasseuse, carbonero, with rice, and so on). Do not leave Toledo without trying its popular carcamusas, which ore pieces of veal stewed in tomato and served with peas.

But there are two products in particular that have made Toledo's cuisine internationally famous: Queso Manchego, a very mature cheese often made of ewe's milk, and the pride of place among the sweets and desserts, the local marzipan, part of Toledo's sweet making tradition over centuries, which is produced here in extraordinary quality and exported into many countries.

The oils and the wines of the region, D.O.C. La Mancha or Mentrida, are of high reputation as well.

 

Excursions
The Route of the Castles
   


Guadamur

  The province of Toledo has been of great importance during the middle-ages, fact being evident still today by the large number of old castles you can find in this region. To visit the most important of them, start your journey in Guadamur, with one of the most beautiful medieval fortresses of all Spain.
     

Barciense has a gothic castle, and in Torrijos, the old residential town of Pedro I. the Cruel you will see the Colegiata with its extraordinary plateresque portal.

The castle of Maqueda, of 15th century, was built over an old Arabian fortress. It shows beautiful elements of Mudejar-style. This town was of great strategical importance.

     
The Route of Handicraft

Toledo's crafts have been of high reputation since the middle-ages, not only for the capital's famous swords, but as well for ceramics and textile products.

The ceramics of Talavera de la Reina are celebrated in all Spain for their high artistic value and quality. In the Museum Ruiz de Luna are exposed numerous objects from 15th to 18th century.

Puente del Arzobispo is a small medieval town, also with important ceramics production.

And finally, passing Oropesa, as well of medieval ambience and with an impressive castle, you arrive to Lagartera. The embroideries and laces from here have been part and parcel of a Lady's wardrobe in the past.

 

Flights. Toledo is a mere 50-minute drive from Madrid's Barajas International Airport along the AP-41 motorway. Toledo is also easily reached by rail from the Spanish capital.

Frequent bus services also depart from Madrid's South Bus Station, taking about an hour to reach the city.

Climate and location. Located in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, Toledo has a Mediterranean climate with continental tendencies. Rainfall is very scarce, and is concentrated in the spring and late autumn. The summers are very dry, with considerable daily thermal variations. Winter temperatures are cool with frequent frost, though less so than in other parts of the region, whilst the summer temperatures are high, habitually reaching a maximum of 40°C.

 

Most of Toledo owes its personality to some form of prior design, but its singular nature is also the result of the unplanned nature of its popular quarters and of its architectural image seen as a whole. According to the Roman chroniclers, the town was then a small but well fortified stronghold that owed its form to its unusual setting. The first part to be protected with walls stretched from what is now Alcántara Bridge to Plaza de Zocodover. Over the years, the walled centre continued to expand beyond the gates of El Sol and El Cristo de la Luz as far as the river plains below. Its defences were concentrated in the west and north, which lacked the natural moat provided by the river on the other sides.

Visitors are greeted today by Bisagra Gate, which dates from imperial times. A little further to the west, however, is the old Bisagra, which Alphonso VI crossed when he took the city and ended the Arab dominion over it. The king built the "casbah-fort" that would later become the Alcázar, whose purpose was to protect the city whilst acting as an exponent of the new military power. It was later remodelled by Charles V.

It was also a holy city defined by the three religious cultures which persisted there for many generations. Today, however, the central position is undoubtedly occupied by the Cathedral, a building which occupies a vast space and owes its original construction to Fernando III el Santo. Decisively pre-eminent over the rest of the city, it gained more and more terrain as time went on, adding cloisters and the adjoining district known as the 'Canons' Quarter'.

It was and is a city of convents, which occupy a quarter that still exudes quiet seclusion today. In the north-east of the city, beyond the old souks, visitors are surprised to come across this sudden and unexpected pool of silence. At night, the sounds of the nuns and worshippers, so faint as to be barely imaginable, send a frisson through the listener. For several centuries, the royalty and nobility made donations to found religious communities in this area, and to protect the 'Mozarabic' parishes, this being the name given to the Christians who had kept up their rites and customs during the Muslim period under the Arabs.

Thanks to such patronage, the convents occupy large areas of land. Some have large and beautifully kept gardens and orchards, though no-one can walk in them except for the monks and nuns immersed in their life apart from the world around. The neighbourhood has an irregular layout, narrow streets and high walls. Its epicentre is Santo Domingo el Real. Formerly a market town and an industrial centre, today's Toledo is a city of shops and handicrafts. Gone are the factories which made Toledo swords, whose steel was famous throughout Europe, and gone too are the silk weavers and dyers, except for small industries which make souvenirs for tourists. They used to be near the river, in the more depressed parts of the town. There was also a commercial area in the Arabic Alcaná, next to the cathedral, but it eventually disappeared. Very close at hand, in the so-called Minor Jewish Quarter centred on the Street of the Synagogue, were the moneychangers. However, all kinds of goods were sold until just a few decades ago in the central Plaza de Zocodover, the "Square of the Beasts", which has become a vibrant meeting place in more recent times. It was there that people carne to sell their produce for the larder or the table at the free market, and it was there too, in times gone by, that bullfights, jousts and autos-da-fé were held, and wrongdoers were publicly executed.

Zocodover is a hub of commerce, and the streets around it have names like "Poulterers", " Potters", "Cobblers", "Ropemakers", "Booksellers", "Sandalmakers" and so on, all alluding to those who plied their trades there. There was an attempt in the 16th century to salvage the area from the mediaeval labyrinth. Juan de Herrera drew up plans for a modern Zocodover and its new neighbours, Calle Nueva ("New Street") and the main square or Plaza Mayor. Then Toledo lost its rank as the capital of Spain, and it fel! into oblivion. It was a Jewish city. The most famous and important Jewish quarter in all Castile left imperishable traces behind it. It was walled, and was bounded from west to east by the gate of El Cambrón and the synagogue of El Tránsito, and from north to south by Calle de las Bulas and Calle de la Judería. The buildings in the quarter are Toledo-style houses with central courtyards, much like any others in the city. The synagogues are markedly Mudejar in style. The capitals and adornments of the one known today as Santa María la Blanca are characteristic examples of Almohad art.

And it is moreover a Mudejar city. The Mudejar style is found all over Toledo, though it is most profuse in the poorer neighbourhoods to the south. Toledo's Mudejar is extraordinary, and it could never be reproduced anywhere else in the world. The city's oriental character comes from this stylistic source, which is to be found in nearly every building made of earth, mortar, rough-hewn stones and rows of bricks. It is found too in the decorative and structural details of churches, palaces, convents, synagogues, public baths and fortified gates, and in the ornamental plasterwork of their interiors. There is white stone in the city, but not nearly so much of it. Mudejar lends its character to much of the city, and in this way also expresses its Muslim past.

It is a character revealed to us in its varied array of streets. Toledo, according to the most enthusiastic claims, carne to have 100,000 inhabitants in the 16th century. It seems certain that the population was well over half that number, which is no mean figure in itself. There was nothing there to prevent the walls and upper floors from projecting outwards and diminishing the width of the streets, since life was carried on indoors. Such peculiarities have survived in many places, from covered streets providing hidden communications between the houses to tiny squares, blind alleys and battlement walks. Countless other hidden corners al so help to make up the labyrinth of a city whose spatial organisation is Islamic in its customary lack of planning of any kind.

 
The city of El Greco. The figure of Domenicos Theotocopoulos, "El Greco" (1541-1614), forms part of the history of the city and its sights. The first stop is The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, kept at the church of Santo Tomé. It took El Greco nearly two years to paint this picture, which shows the death in 1323 of Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, famous for his charitable work on behalf of the needy. The next visit is El Greco's house and museum, o recreation of o 16th century house built in his honour in the early 20th century by the Marquess of Lo Vega-lnclán. It contains major works by the painter, such as the portraits of the apostles.

The 'cigarrales'. The cigarrales were Muslim country villas commanding views over the whole city. They encompass both cottages and monastic buildings suited perfectly to the steep and rugged terrain of the hillsides of Toledo. The dwellings have terraces, cobbled courtyards and gardens full of flowers and trees. After the Renaissance, when they were regarded as pleasure homes and signs of social prestige, the cigarrales became centres of debate among clerics, nobles and intellectuals. They thus won great renown during the Golden Age as centres of creativity and knowledge.

The bridges. Naturally enough for a city whose base is formed by the River Tagus, Toledo has a series of bridges. Alcántara Bridge stands on the spot where the river was forded in olden times by a walkway. It has suffered many transformations in the course of its history, but its appearance has remained basically unchanged since the 13th century, when the Gothic turret was built at the end leading into the city. Visible from it is the New Alcántora Bridge, now used by motor traffic, and Azarquiel Bridge, which provides an entrance to the city from the east. San Martín Bridge was built in the early 13th century with two turrets. Like Alcántara Bridge, it has been declared a National Monument.

     

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