Toledo Travel Guide
Forty-two miles south of Madrid, nestling on a plateau 24,000 feet above sea level in the horseshoe curve of the Tagus, sits the former capital of the Spanish Empire, Toledo. With its imposing inner and outer walls it is an awesome sight. As you stroll around the ancient city it’s easy to imagine that you’ve stepped back into the middle ages, the incredible Moorish buildings imbuing the winding streets with an almost mystical quality. Situated at the cities highest point, its four towers rising above the semi circle of houses below, stands the magnificent fortress of Alcazar. A vast square edifice dating back to Roman times it is now home to a military academy and war museum.
Although Toledo’s architecture is predominantly of Moorish origin, the principal edifice is the Gothic Cathedral. This remarkable building with its landmark steeple rising majestically above the spires and turrets contains 40 chapels and took 267 years to complete. Inside is a veritable museum of sacred art, the flamboyant Gothic altarpiece virtually dwarfed by the Baroque inspired Transparente that soars ceremoniously towards the skylight. The Cathedral Museum contains a priceless collection of work by some of the world’s greatest artists – Goya, Velasquez, Tiziano, Rubens and Raphael, to name a few. Taking pride of place is El Greco’s spiritually inspirational El Expolio. The Museum is also where they keep the famous silver monstrance that presides over the procession of Corpus Christi. Beyond the Cathedral the city is a genuine cornucopia of incredible works of art. It’s not surprising El Greco made it his home for the last 37 years of his life and appropriately the churches are filled with fine examples of his art.
One such example is the alter piece in the church of Musio Hospital Taverna. This splendid Renaissance building was constructed outside the city walls due to a ban on inner City hospitals in 1542. Today it houses an excellent collection of furniture, paintings and tapestries by many eminent artists – Tinforetto, Ribera, Caravaggio, Lucas Jordan and, of course El Greco. Another 16th century hospital that now serves as a museum is Museo de Santa Cruz. This Plateresque building is one of the most comprehensive provincial museums in Spain. Once again el Greco is featured prominently with his Ascention of the Virgin, Immaculate Conseption and St. James the Pilgrim taking pride of place.
Just to the North of Alcazar lies Toledo’s favourite meeting place Plaza de Zocodover. Formerly a market place this busy square has, in the past, been the scene of fiestas and bullfights but is now filled with cafes restaurants and terrace bars. Toledo city has many fine restaurants serving food inspired by the long tradition of hunting and cattle breeding. They also produce Marzipan of extraordinary quality that is exported the world over and the locally fermented Valdepenas wine is particularly flavoursome. Although not renowned for its nightlife there is still plenty of discos and watering holes to keep visitors happy for a few days and the large student population means that most venues are usually busy.
Just beyond Toledo’s mighty walls in the province of La Mancha you will find the region Cervantes used as a backdrop for the exploits of his ‘hero’ Don Quixote. Travel to Conseguera and you will discover the windmills made famous by his story. A little over eighteen miles south west of Toledo stands the legendary Castillo de Montalban. Supposedly built by the Knights Templar this magnificent ruin is just one of scores of castles from different periods and in various states of repair scattered throughout the region. It stands a stirring reminder of the hundreds of years of wars La Mancha has endured. It is no wonder that Toledo’s most celebrated industry is the production of Damascene Swords, which are still manufactured today, using the same ancient process.
Toledo is a timeless place that in many ways mirrors the eccentricity of the region’s greatest fictional hero, Don Quixote, and in such truly embodies the soul of the countries fascinating history. Even a few days in this enchanting city is enough to invoke a feeling of wonder that will hopefully draw you a little closer to the true heart of Spain.
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