5 tips for Toledo

City skyline Toledo, Spain
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In the center of Spain, in the autonomous region of Castilla-La Mancha, about 65 kilometers southwest of Madrid, lies the Spanish city of Toledo. It is also known as the “city of three cultures”, considering that in past centuries Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together here. Accordingly, a remarkable artistic, architectural and cultural heritage has accumulated here over time. Thus, Toledo, especially in relation to its size, has extremely many and important monuments.

Bordered on three sides by the canyon-like valley of the Tagus River, the fabulous old town attracts the most admiration. There are buildings from the Moorish and Christian past in the Mudejar style, remains of the Moorish-Gothic city fortifications, a Gothic cathedral, numerous other churches, convents and museums. In addition, there are armorers and many small art, leather goods or marzipan stores. It is not without reason that Toledo was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as early as 1986.

Tip 1: Alcazar

The mighty structure is located on a rock in the historic upper town and thus dominates the whole city. The origin of this structure, which is also the emblem of Toledo, lies in Roman times. Due to the enlargement of the city in the past years, the complex has been developed more and more. Today you can see a complex that was remodeled from the year 1537 under Charles I and the master builder Alonso de Covarrubias.  During the remodeling in 1537, the square ground plan with the four striking corner towers was built. The façade of this building, however, appears rather sober and is surrounded by a parapet.

Toledo Alcazar
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Furthermore, many different architectural styles can be found on the portals of the Alcázar. It was also the residence of Charles V. After that, however, the Alcázar was used as a prison from 1643. Unfortunately, during the War of Succession in 1710, the complex was completely destroyed by fire.

However, the complex was rebuilt afterwards and got a desornamentado style that belongs to the late Renaissance. The building gained great symbolic power during the Spanish Civil War. The National Spanish units, led by José Moscardó, resisted a siege by Republican troops from July 22, 1936, after an attempted coup failed. In the same year, on September 28, some parts of the Alcázar were destroyed during the siege, but were rebuilt faithfully afterwards.

Today, the Alcázar houses a military museum where you can find weapons, objects and documents from different eras. Unfortunately, a model showing the original Alcazár was lost during the Civil War.

Tip 2: Toledo Cathedral

The cathedral “Santa Maria”, dating from the High Middle Ages, was built according to the French model. The beautiful cathedral dominates the image of the old Castilian city and is one of the most famous landmarks of Toledo.

Also because of its interesting architectural history and glamorous interior, which consists of many art treasures, this sacred building is one of the most important of its kind in all of Spain.

If you take enough time to visit the interesting cathedral, you will dive deep into the cultural history of the city rich in tradition and the historical most exciting regions of ancient Spain.

Toledo Cathedral
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Today, the cathedral is considered the Catholic Episcopal see of Toledo and is visited every year by many tourists, art lovers and pilgrims from all over the world.

The construction of the Cathedral “Santa Maria” began in the 13th century, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Castilian King Ferdinand III in 1227. Exactly at that time, the Christian Castilians managed to win the battle against the Moorish-Muslim domination and thus they reached the peak of their power.

Many may not know that Toledo was the capital of Spain for centuries and therefore had a need for a representative and powerful cathedral. As a result, the Gothic element was rejected more and more throughout the centuries. For this reason, many additions and alterations were made to the cathedral, which today consists of many respective periods.

The colorfully painted and gilded main altar was built in the 16th century and is decorated with many figures and richly carved. Here many artists were allowed to work on this main altar and thus called this work a “community work”. Thus, the main altar became one of the most interesting places in the cathedral.

Tip 3: San Juan de los Reyes

Besides the cathedral, the beautiful church of San Juan de los Reyes is another jewel of ancient architecture and extremely worth seeing. The sacred building should not be missed on a sightseeing tour. The church of San Juan de los Reyes is a historic Franciscan monastery that is in excellent condition. Once you stand in front of the structure, its full grandeur really becomes apparent.

San Juan de los Reyes in Toledo
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The two-story church of San Juan de los Reyes stands out for its huge windows, which are located on the upper floor. Towards the top, the former monastery ends with numerous small towers, which are particularly richly decorated. The portal of the church of San Juan de los Reyes is lined with columns, and numerous sculptures adorn the exterior facade. In the courtyard, a two-story cloister becomes visible, with beautiful arcades in the Gothic style. All around are so-called gargoyles, which are supposed to represent the bagpipes of a bagpipe. The reasons for this are largely unknown. The courtyard of the church of San Juan de los Reyes is beautifully overgrown and very well kept. Visitors should also take a look inside the monastery, as the ceiling is decorated with stunning woodwork.

Tip 4: Puerta de Bisagra

These two city gates are located today only a few meters apart from each other in the northern part of the then existing city wall of the old city of Toledo and near the Mudéjar – church “Santiago del Arrabal”.

Both gates have two different names, the “Puerta Vieja de Bisagra” and the “Puerta Nueva de Bisagra”.

The Puerta Vieja de Bisagra dates back to the Islamic domination. It is made of house stone blocks in the lower part and quarry and brick in the upper part. In addition, the lower part of this construction seems rather massive and strong, while the horseshoe arches are made of bricks and by inserted columns rather elegant.

Puerta de Bisagra in Toledo
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Furthermore, it is suspected that the upper part, is not in its original state. It is said that this part was rebuilt in the Mudejar style after the capture of the city by King Alfonso VI of León in 1085.

The Puerta Nueva de Bisagra, located on the city side, was rebuilt in the 16th century by the decision of the City Council, so that carts, horsemen and carriages could better pass through the gate. The Renaissance architect Alonso de Covarrubias was chosen for the reconstruction, which was completed in 1559 and 1560.

At that time, the double-gate building of the “Puerta Nueva de Bisagra”, which included a walled courtyard, was used for the control of goods and the transfer and unloading of merchandise. Furthermore, it has a width of about 12 meters and a length of 25 meters. Unfortunately, this place could not be used for a long time, because the Spanish monarch Philip II moved the capital to Madrid in 1561, so the “Puerta Nueva de Bisagra” lost its importance and value very soon.

Tip 5: El Greco Museum

Toledo cannot be thought without El Greco, almost all his life spent “The Greek” (El Greco) here. After his education in Venice and Rome, the then capitals of Renaissance art, Cretan-born Domínikos Theotokópoulos, as El Greco was called by his civil name, emigrated first to Madrid, shortly thereafter moving on to Toledo and quickly became court painter to Philip II. With the actually Greek painter El Greco begins the great era of Spanish painters, which continues through Velázquez and Goya to Picasso and Dali in the 20th century.

El Greco Museum in Toledo
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In Toledo, the work of the Mannerist artist accompanies the visitor at every turn. Thus, in the cathedral hang El Greco’s cycle of the Apostles and The Disrobing of Christ. The two paintings John the Evangelist and John the Baptist can be seen in the monastery of Santo Domingo El Antiguo. In the church of Santo Tomé, El Greco’s painting The Burial of Count Orgaz hangs above the tomb of this same count, who had the former mosque converted into a church. The former residence of El Greco in the old Jewish quarter is now the El Greco Museum. In addition to the living quarters where El Greco worked, 20 real El Grecos can be admired here, including one of his most famous works, View of Toledo, which, like many of El Greco’s paintings, has a gloomy stormy landscape as its background.