Considered by many to be the Second Rome, Toledo is still a unique city. Unique in its details, its history, its culture and its charm. The three cultures of the three monotheistic religions -Muslim, Hebrew and Christian- left their mark on this “rocky grief and cradle of civilisations” -in the words of Cervantes- clasped to the River Tagus, a witness to the heritage of all the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. Down the centuries, the capital of Castilla-La Mancha has preserved its ancient, unequalled architectural, artistic and urban heritage. The churches, synagogues, mosques, convents, city walls, bridges, towers and no end of cultural and artistic gems to be found in its buildings make Toledo a singular open-air museum.
Exploring the narrow streets, plazas and gardens will make your visit an incomparable experience. Made for strolling along its hillsides and looking out to the horizon, Toledo boasts many monuments, surrounded by unforgettable corners and spaces that provoke unique sensations in all who visit it or who are lucky enough to live there. Explore, seek, ask… and if you can, take some advice: lose yourself among its streets. There’s a lot to see in Toledo.
TOLEDO, WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The city of Toledo, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, is situated on a rocky outcrop surrounded by the River Tagus in the very heart of Spain, just 70 kilometres from the capital, Madrid.
Taking the Tourist Bus, which offers a panoramic city tour, we can see the idiosyncrasy and location of the city of the three cultures. A World Heritage Site since 1986, we will see the historical city, the River Tagus which embraces the city, the cigarrales, or stately homes, the historical bridges of Alcantara and San Martin and the Mudejar Towers.
In Plaza de Zocodover, a central meeting point in the life of the people of Toledo, we can visit the Santa Cruz Museum, which has an array of exhibits that show the story of the city from prehistoric times up to the contemporary art of the 20th century. Just a few metres away, is the Alcazar, which for centuries has been a fortress and today is the National Army Museum, with exhibits including cold weapons, swords, armour, etc. From here, we approach the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where we find the architectural complex of the Archbishop’s Palace, City Hall, Palace of Justice and the magnificent facade of the Cathedral, inside which we can enjoy one of the most marvellous spaces in the city, with the Sacristy, Chapter House, Choir and Treasury, as well as the magnificent, transparent Baroque cloister and the spire with its famous campana gorda, or “fat bell”, so-called because of its size.
We arrive from Madrid-Atocha at the Neo-Mudejar style Toledo station, a monument declared a National Heritage Site since its construction. The beauty of its plasterwork, tiles, woodwork and ironwork make it one of the most singular stations in Spain.
We enter the Jewish Quarter by any of its narrow streets, and the first monument we find is the old Mosque of El Salvador, which, together with the Cristo de la Luz and Tornerias mosques, is a legacy of the Hispano-Muslim period.
In the same neighbourhood, we can enjoy the best work of the Cretan painter who settled in Toledo, Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco. “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” hangs in the Church of Santo Tome and represents the society of Toledo of the 17th century. Other works by the same painter and his pupils can be found in the El Greco Museum on Paseo del Transito. Just a few steps away is the Synagogue of El Transito-Sepharad Museum, with its great prayer hall and women’s gallery, decorated with Mudejar plasterwork and coffering. A museum of the Jewish history of Spain with religious and Sephardic exhibits.
Continuing our walk through the Jewish Quarter, we come to the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, dating back to the early 13th century, which has five naves separated by horseshoe arches with plasterwork and octagonal columns, with intricately decorated “wasp’s nest” capitals.
We finish at the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, a 15th-century Gothic-Mudejar Franciscan monastery. It was ordered to be built by Queen Isabel the Catholic, to commemorate the battle of Toro in 1476. It highlights are the church, the retable of the great altar and the cloister.
The gastronomy of Toledo is a varied mixture of flavours and textures. Traditional Castilian cuisine adapted to modern times, game from the Toledo mountains, such as stewed or grilled venison and pickled or stewed partridge, the delicious summer stews and pisto, similar to ratatouille, and in the winter, migas de pastor (pork with breadcrumbs), and carcamusas (stewed pork with a tomato sauce and sometimes a touch of hot spices), is one of the most popular dishes which can be eaten on its own or as a second course.
The local cheeses are true delicacy, the Manchego Designation of Origin Cheese, made with the milk of the autochthonous breed of Manchega sheep, the delicious goat cheeses of the Montes de Toledo region, La Jara and the San Vicente mountains, extra virgin olive oil with the Montes de Toledo Designation of Origin and La Mancha saffron, all washed down with Mentrida Designation of Origin wines (from the sandy lands in the north of the province of Toledo in the valleys of the Rivers Alberche, Guadarrama and Tajo) and the La Mancha Designation of Origin, made with Cencibel and Garnacha grapes, young wines which are very pleasant on the palate.
And for dessert, there is nothing better than the famous marzipan, part of the Hispano-Muslim heritage, made with the most natural products –almonds and sugar- which we can buy in the many shops and enclosed convents, as well as the typical toledanas (sweet pumpkin and almond pastries), marzipan chestnuts, marquesitas (almond cakes) and clementina biscuits.
All around the city, we find examples of the rich craftwork, damascening, swords, ceramics, wood, leather as well as the gastronomy of game meat –venison and partridge from the mountains of Toledo- and the famous marzipan that we can buy in the many shops and enclosed convents.