Project Description

Toledo is a city with an impressive wealth. Christians, Arabs and Jews lived together for centuries in this “City of Three Cultures”, which still retains within its walls a rich artistic and cultural heritage, in the form of churches, palaces, fortresses, mosques and synagogues. This great diversity of artistic styles is the reason why the old city of Toledo is still today a genuine open-air museum and was declared a World Heritage Site.

I leave Madrid early morning by bus towards Toledo, located 70 kilometers from the Spanish capital city. For this half day trip, I am using the services of Julia Travel agency in Madrid because I haven’t had enough time to prepare myself a tour route to follow. Furthermore, the visit will be done in half a day and will cover only few of the most famous monuments of the city.

On arrival at the foot of the ramparts, we climb towards the old town which dominates the surrounding area from a hill. The climb looks tough, but we realize that it will not be a big issue, thanks to the escalators installed along the ancient walls. They will take us all the way up without any effort. Thus began our walk along ancient streets and narrow alleyways.

Toledo, or Toletum in Roman times, is a town with deep popular roots which appeared along the banks of the Tagus after the conquest of nearby land in 190 BC. Its importance grew steadily over the centuries and it even became the capital of Hispania during the Visigoth period. The arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century, coupled with the presence of Christians and Jews, explains why Toledo is known today as “The City of the Three Cultures”. It was a period of great splendor in Toledo and the fact that Christians, Arabs and Jews have lived together for centuries can be seen in the artistic and cultural heritage of the city. The old city, formed of a maze of streets, is surrounded by walls pierced with numerous gates, for instance “Puerta de Bisagra”, main gateway to the walled city, “Puerta de Alfonso VI “or” Puerta del Sol” in Mudejar style.

These gates provide access to picturesque places such as large squares (“Plaza”), being known as the most crowded places from ancient time till today. Synagogues, mosques and churches will then reveal themselves at the corners of narrow streets in a perfect blend of religious styles.

After half an hour of walking, we finally arrive in front of the Cathedral of Toledo. This is a remarkable building, a real masterpiece of Gothic art! Its construction began in 1226, but only ended in the late 15th century, which may explain the overlapping of styles that characterizes it and the high number of artists who worked there: Pedro Berruguete, Enrique Egas, Petrus Petri, Juan Guas, etc. The building is not open to tourists today, and we therefore admire its beautifully carved and decorated facade and its two towers (one of Gothic style and the other of Gothic-Renaissance style) from outside .

We continue our visit towards the Town Hall square, with the Town Hall on one of its side and the cathedral on the other. Our guide then tells us a little more about the history of the city as we admire the surrounding and take some pictures.

We are now heading towards Santo Tomé street where is situated the church of the same name. It dates from the 12th century, although it was completely rebuilt in the early 14th century on the orders of the Lord of Orgaz. We go inside to admire the famous painting “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz“, one of the great masterpieces of El Greco which is exhibited in a special room.

As this church is only known for the work of El Greco (which is great by the way!), there is not much else to see, so we head outside of the building when arrive two groups of Japanese tourist: good timing! We then head towards the Museum of Victorio Macho, not to visit it (although it worth it, according to our guide), but to admire its gardens and especially the views of the Tagus River from its promontory.

Once there, we all agree that the view is spectacular and we can even see San Martín bridge on the right. Nicknamed “One of the most beautiful sunsets in Spain”, it was built in the late Middle Ages, around the 13th century. Almost completely rebuilt thereafter, it has kept its original structure made of stone. It was then gradually modified with the addition of new defensive structures like the great towers of its ends, one dating from the 13th century and the other built into the ramparts dating from the 16th century. All these works have contributed to the current structure of the bridge which was declared a national monument in 1921.

Our next stop will be within the walls of Santa María la Blanca synagogue, which we reach by Reyes Católicos street.

Dated from the 13th century, this synagogue, probably built by Muslims masons, became a Catholic temple in the 15th century. This is a Mudejar building of Almohad tradition. The inside contains five naves separated by horseshoe arches supported by 32 pillars with beautiful, finely carved capitals, a real wonder! The walls are decorated with plaster and arcades are covered with stucco. The sanctuary was modified in the 16th century when three chapels and an altarpiece belonging to the school of Berruguete were added. This set gives the building a great beauty with a special and unique atmosphere.

Further on in the same street is the imposing monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, our next visit!

This building was ordered by the Catholic Monarchs to celebrate their victory during the Battle of Toro. It has only one nave with side chapels between the buttresses and a star-shaped dome. Its main facade still bears the chains of freed prisoners. It has a late Gothic cloister and the second floor ceiling is of Mudejar style. Let’s also mention the decorated choir of arms of the Catholic Monarchs supported by big eagles, ogee arches and figures of saints.

I walk away from the group towards the cloister, considered one of the jewels of the Spanish Gothic Renaissance art. The church communicates with the cloister by the south side via two doors. Of the two cloisters that were part of church, only the oldest remains. This is a two-storey building with a square garden in its center. I walk a bit around and enjoy the games of light and shadow, and the small garden with orange trees in its center. A place amazingly quiet!

Our tour is coming to an end. We are heading back to our bus toward “La Puerta de Cambrón”.

Also known as the “Gate of the Jews.”, the name comes from shrubs that surround it, which belong to a family of Rhamnaceae or “Cambroneras” in Spanish. Built on the remains of a Visigoth gate, it is characterized by its Renaissance style and its square shape. The interior façade shows a statue of Saint Leocadia attributed to Berruguete. This is the only city gate that can be crossed by car, but it is on foot that we move through it and get on our bus back to Madrid. It was a visit far too short, so I intend to return soon in Toledo for a few days, which will give me enough time to really enjoy this beautiful city!