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  • Writer's pictureAndi

Exploring Toledo: The City of Three Cultures

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Toledo is one of Europe's most preserved walled medieval cities that is rich with history and culture.


Not far from Madrid (about an hour drive), you can venture into the wonderland of Toledo. Here you get to stroll down narrow, winding, cobbled streets full of ancient buildings, beautiful greenery and tasty cafes.

About Toledo:

Okay, let me be honest - history is not my strongest subject in school and never has been! But the history of Toledo is truly fascinating - so much so that it has been compared to Jerusalem and the landscape is deemed to be biblical.


Toledo stands virtually in the centre of Spain and is surrounded on all sides by the Tagus river (consider it a mote - this is a mediaeval city after all). Toledo is one of Europe’s best preserved-walled medieval cities.


Despite that Christian churches, monasteries & convents dominate, Toledo once was a city of three religions. The Moorish (muslim) influences are still very visible and there are two historic synagogues. Overshadowing the city, is a huge Gothic cathedral build on the site of the former Grand Mosque. Just down the road, you'll find yourself at the steps of a true fortress built of stone walls known to be the Alcázar.


The History of Toledo:

(Skip over this if your brain says BLAH to history or good grammar because it's hard to cover it all in a few words)


Toledo was thought to have been originally settled by Jewish travelers. In 193BC, the city fell to Roman General Marcus Fulvius Nobiliar. As a result the city became the capital of the province of Carpentia. After great development of the city, it became an important center for activities and many Visigoth nobles resided here.


In 711, the city was conquered by the Moors which led to more rebellions among the Toledans. Despite muslim leadership, a jewish and christian beliefs were still allowed to practice in Toledo.

Christian leaders of Spain eventually recaptured Toledo and made it into a city for Christian learning, despite significant Arabic influence. The city flourished under Castilian rule and became the Capital of Spain until 1560.


Due to Toledo no longer being the capital of Spain, it remained rather medieval when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936 and citizens opted for a mediaeval form of defense behind the thick walls of the Alcázar castle.


During the 16th century, Toledo prospered. The swords made in Toledo were known to be the best, the silk and tile - the finest, the women - the most beautiful, the men - gallant, the Spanish - the purest. Toledo was a centre of intellectual activity. The famous Spanish painter, El Greco, painted in Toledo.

With the capital of Spain becoming Madrid, by 1640, Toledo had lost about 1/2 of it's population.


During the 19th century, the French ransacked Toledo during the Peninsular War and the population of Toledo dropped even more. In 1936, a great battle was fought during the civil war in the city of Toledo.


In 1986, Toledo was named a World Heritage Site as it was reborn. Toledo is now the capital of the autonomous region of Castilla-La Mancha.


Okay, now that I've bored you...

When you arrive in Toledo,

you will not be able to park in the city directly. There are parking lots around the outskirts that you can use. From there, you will take a series of escalators (Paseo de Recaredo)... okay, this is an understatement. There's a ton of these things! Be sure to check the hours though, because I guarantee you won't want to walk that distance. Generally they're Mon-Thur 7am-11pm, Friday & Saturday until 2am, and Sundays 8am-11pm.

Once you get off of them, you'll walk a little ways up a hill to find yourself in a wonderful square full of restaurants and cafes along narrow cobblestoned roads. We enjoyed a very skilled musician playing pop culture music on his piano.


After lunch and music, be sure to indulge in Mazapan before you begin your journey through the lovely city of Toledo. My biggest recommendation for Toledo is to be sure to wear good walking shoes and prepare to take breaks if you have company with not-so-great-knees.




Okay, let me just jump to the best part...


THE CATHEDRAL


No photographs can do this place justice! You will be overwhelmed, humbled, shocked, blessed, bamboozled, and all the things when you step foot into this beautiful building.


To this day, I truly cannot describe the amazement that I have roaming through this incredible religious center. If you're in Spain, you have to make it to the Gothic Cathedral in Toledo, and you absolutely HAVE to go inside. There is something so special about this place. I've never seen anything like it.


In Summary

While there's no way to cover everything about this experience, it's definitely a must when in Spain. If you're looking for another unique experience in Toledo, drop by a traditional workshop for Damascene jewelry on your way home. The jewelry has been around for centuries and came to Spain from Syria during the Moorish conquest. The labor-intensive technique utilizes precious gold hammered into oxidized surfaces. We dropped by one of the most well-known workshops where they make swords, jewelry and pottery. They even let me play with some fire & a hammer.








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