IF YOU ARE CRAVING A BIT OF CULTURE THERE IS NO BETTER PLACE TO FIND IT THAN THE HISTORIC CITY OF TOLEDO.
Dubbed “The City of Three Cultures” for its Christian, Arabic and Jewish attributes, Toledo, which is the capital of the Castilla- La Mancha Region, is one of Spain’s most fascinating cities, and home to a plethora of historic treasures just waiting to be explored! As a result of the diversity of the cultures and beliefs of its early inhabitants, the city guards a collection of breathtaking churches, palaces, fortresses, mosques and synagogues behind its walls. For its artistic wealth and beauty, the old part of the city has been likened to an open air museum, which eventually resulted in its being declared a World Heritage Site. Over time it has managed to retain many traditions which are deep rooted in its history, such as the procession of the Most Holy Corpus Christi, a festival that takes place nine weeks after Easter each year and has been declared of International Tourist Interest for its unique portrayal of the religious ritual.
The history of Toledo dates back to 190 BC, when it was christened Toletum by its Roman settlers. The city remained of great significance to the Hispanic world, becoming the capital during the sixth century “Visigothic” era. The eighth century welcomed the arrival of the Arabs, alongside of the Jews and Christians; and with the foundation of the Toledo School of Translators along with many other events was one of the most significant periods in the city’s evolution. It was in 1519 when Carlos V ascended to the throne that Toledo finally became an imperial capital.
Christians, Arabs and Jews continued to live side by side in harmony for centuries, giving way to the great artistic and cultural legacy for which it is known today. The maze of streets which forms the heart of Toledo city is bounded by walls, with a series of gates giving access to the treasures which lie within. The Bisagra Gate was altered during the reign of Carlos I to form the main access to the interior of the city walls and encloses a central courtyard. The elaborate Alfonso VI gate or “Vieja de Bisagra Gate” as it is more commonly known, was built in 838 and is one of the most distinctive reflections of Muslim art in the city. Finally, the Sol Gate was built during the 13th century adopting a Mudejar style and guards the remains of a paleochristian sarcophagus. All of these grand portals lead to a multitude of picturesque places, such as the Plaza de Zocodover, which housed an important meeting and market place during the Arab period. The square remains one of the busiest areas of the city and is frequently used for festivals, concerts and other social events. Meanwhile, the narrow streets of Toledo are lined with a colourful collection of synagogues, mosques and churches, such as the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, which was built in 999 and meant to resemble the Mosque at Córdoba. It is has an unusual design, featuring a square floor plan covered by nine caliphal vaults (a type of groined vault leaving the centre free). A Romanesque-Mudejar sanctuary was added to this during the 12th century, along with the churches of San Sebastián and Santa Eulalia which are excellent examples of the Mozarab style.
The Renaissance period also left its mark on Toledo, with reflections of this on display in the Hospital de Tavera, which was eventually converted into a museum with work by the likes of El Greco, Ribera and Titian adorning its walls. Several respected Architects of that time worked on the building’s ornate design, including Covarrubias, Berruguete and Bustamante, and prominent features include the courtyard, the tomb of Cardinal Tavera, the work of Berruguete, and the pharmacy, which has remained completely unchanged over time. The city is also home to the beautiful palaces of Lorenzana, the site of the University, and Fuensalida which all adopt a typically Baroque style. Then there is the fortress, which is of medieval origin and whose presence looms eerily over the city. Previously an Imperial residence it encloses a large central courtyard, impressive imperial staircase, and a popular viewing point looking out over the River Tagus and the city’s surroundings on it southern façade. Today it remains open to the public housing a military museum and one of the largest public libraries in Spain.
Toledo is famed for its exquisite cuisine, with game dishes such as stewed partridge, Toledo-style quail or venison with wild mushrooms being among its specialties. As its neighbouring towns in La Mancha, pisto, an accompaniment containing peppers, tomatos and onions, is also one of its signature foods; along with Castilian soup and migas, a popular dish made with breadcrumbs and pork products. And we must not forget the world famous La Mancha cheeses and marzipan. The locals happily swill their food down with copious measures of the wines of La Mancha and Méntrida, each with a Denomination of Origin.
Whilst there are a plethora of places to stay in Toledo, it is still advisable to book well in advance. One of the hotels which come highly recommended is the Parador de Toledo, which is situated conveniently on the Emperador Hill, giving way to excellent views over the city. Cheaper options which also offer a pleasant stay and easy access to the city centre include the Sercotel Pintor El Greco, Apartamento Homelife La Plazeula and Hotel Carlos V, with rooms available from around 45 euros per night. In the south of the province, at the foot of the Montes de Toledo, lies the Cabañeros National Park, a protected area that combines Mediterranean woodland in the mountains and meadows on the wide plains. Nearby you will find several quaint guest houses offering great value for money and an entirely different perspective on the city.