Wednesday, November 25, 2015


by Robert Bovington
Toledo is a little bit like Sheffield - only a little bit mind you - the thing they have in common is steel. Like Sheffield, Toledo is famous for its steel and, in particular, swords, which have been forged in the city since the time of the Romans. Any other resemblance to Sheffield ends there because Toledo is an attractive and fascinating city with many important monuments to its historic past.

The Romans called it Toletum when it was the capital of the province of Carpentia. Later, it was the political and religious capital of the Visigoths. This was during the 6th century following the city's capitulation to the Vandals. Following the Arab invasion of Spain in AD 711, Toledo was incorporated into the Caliphate of Córdoba. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Castilla and Leon reconquered Toledo and made it his capital. This was the first crucial step of the Reconquista. The city remained the capital of Christian Spain until 1561 at which time Philip II moved the royal court to Madrid.

So with all that history it is no wonder that Toledo has so many important monuments. There are so many delightful and historic cities in Spain that there is a danger that the traveller might think "I've seen it all before". However, Toledo really is worth a visit. Not for nothing has it been awarded 'World Heritage' status. In fact, there are so many important buildings in the city that a whole book would be needed to do justice to them all so I will restrict myself to some of the "must see" monuments.

There are many religious buildings here including churches, convents, mosques and synagogues - testimony to the Christian, Muslim and Hebrew cultures that coexisted for centuries within the walls of the city, which has led to Toledo being called 'The City of the Three Cultures'. This merger of customs can be seen in the architecture and it is the Mudéjar style that predominates. This mix of Islamic and Christian styles can be found all over the city. Perhaps the most import monument is the Cathedral.

Toledo Cathedral was built on the site of previous temples. A church was built in the 6th century during the reign of the Visigoth King Recaredo I. Later, it was converted into a mosque and it was not until 1227 that construction started on the present building. History books tell us that King Ferdinand III and Archbishop Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada began work on the building but I am sure these illustrious personages did not get their hands dirty. I guess they just financed the work! Not that they lived long enough to see its completion - it was not finished until the 16th century. 

Toledo Cathedral (Wikipedia/Nikthestoned, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Cathedral is an excellent example of Spanish Gothic art. It has five naves and eighty-eight columns support the roof. Within the building are many superb works of art such as the stained glass windows, the marvellous woodcarving of the choir stalls and the Baroque altar that is called El Transparente. It was created in the 18th century and is exceedingly tall as well as extremely elaborate with fantastic figures created from a variety of artistic medium including stucco work, painting, bronze castings and multiple coloured marble.

There are quite a few chapels in the Cathedral and the most outstanding are the Chapel of Don Alvaro de Luna, the Mozarab Chapel and the 15th-century Santiago Chapel, which has a rather

El Greco
'The Disrobing of Christ'
flamboyant Gothic style. There are many works of art in the Cathedral's museum too with paintings by Raphael, Rubens, Velázquez, Goya, Titian, Van Dyck, Morales and others. It is a veritable treasure chest of art and includes one of the greatest paintings by El Greco - 'The Disrobing of Christ'. In fact, there are many paintings of the artist throughout the Cathedral.

El Greco lived in Toledo and his works are displayed throughout the city. In the Cistercian Convent of Santo Domingo de Silos his first commission can be seen - he painted the reredos in this 11th-century building which is the oldest monastery in the city. In the church of Santo Tomé is one of El Greco's more famous paintings - 'The Burial of the Count of Orgaz'.

More of his work can be viewed in the 16th-century Hospital and Museum of Santa Cruz. It includes his masterpiece 'Crucifixion'. The Hospital was a home for foundlings and orphans under the patronage of Queen Isabella. The building is quite splendid in its own right and was constructed in Plateresque style. The Museum offers much more than just El Greco paintings - there are works by other artists and an archeological section that includes Roman mosaics.

The El Greco House Museum is an elegant building dedicated to the life of the celebrated painter. It also includes the works of other artists such as Murillo and Leal.

The Alcázar dominates the city. This huge fortress is perched on the highest point of Toledo and enjoys spectacular views of the city and the River Tagus. In the past it has been an imperial residence but it now houses a military museum. 

Toledo with Cathedral (L) and Alcázar (R) © Robert Bovington
There are quite a few museums in Toledo and most are located in historic buildings. For example, the church of San Román is currently a museum of Visigothic culture. The building was originally a Visigothic structure and later became a mosque. It is an attractive building, Mudéjar in appearance but with a mix of styles including Caliphal arches, Roman columns, Visgothic and Mozarab capitals, and even Byzantine elements. Romanesque paintings cover most of the walls.

Toledo was known for its religious tolerance and had large communities of Jews and Muslims - or it did until they were expelled from Spain in 1492! There are a number of synagogues and mosques in the city including the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, the Synagogue of El Tránsito, and the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz.

The Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca was built in 1180 in Mudéjar style. It was turned into a church in the 15th century but, today, it is no longer used as a temple. It is, however, a splendid piece of architecture with its wooden coffered ceilings, Plateresque altars and horseshoe arches.

Samuel Levi, a 14th-century Jewish financier, built the Sinagoga El Tránsito. He also built El Greco's home. The synagogue is home to the Sephardic Museum and is also a National Monument. Intricate filigree artwork and Hebrew inscriptions from the Psalms adorn the walls of the building.

Sinagoga del Transito, Toledo
© All Rights Reserved by jesussilgado
The Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz dates from AD999 and functioned as a mosque until the Christian Reconquest. It is one of the most important monuments in Toledo because most of the original building has survived into the 21st century. The only change made to the building came in the 12th century when a Romanesque-Mudéjar sanctuary was added.

There are many more interesting monuments to see in Toledo - churches, convents, monasteries, arches, palaces and public buildings. There is even a Roman circus located just outside the city walls. 

It is easy to catch the flavour of this historic city because you cannot walk around the narrow, winding streets without coming across an important building. Toledo looks pretty good from a distance too! It almost looks like an island city - it is located on a hill surrounded on three sides by a bend in the Tagus River. 

Tolido & the River Tagus © Robert Bovington
There are so many places to visit in this unique city that I almost got carried away - I forgot to tell you whereabouts in Spain, it is! Well, Toledo is situated in the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It is pretty central being only 42 miles south-southwest of Madrid. It is the capital of the province of the same name.

more blogs by Robert Bovington... 

"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

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