Tuesday, May 9, 2017


On a lovely sunny morning I was wafting along in one of those high coaches on the autoroute to Toledo. It's only an hour south from Madrid, and two friends had told me it was a must-visit town while I was so close.

San Martin Bridge looking to old Toledo

Toledo is ancient, so ancient no one really knows when it began, although recorded history in 190 BCE shows it was settled by the Romans. Other sources date it as far back as 590 BCE with Jewish residents. The town sits on a  rock in a gently rolling plain and is embraced by the River Tagus acting as a natural moat on two sides. Walls defend the land-facing sides. It is a beautiful sight from one of the bridges across the river, but Toledo's many treasures can only be discovered from inside. I wondered how out of breath I would be once I attained the top of the rock.

I needn't have worried: we used the escalators to reach to top, which are cleverly hidden in stone walls the same colour as the buildings, and so began our walking tour that lasted over two hours.

One of the narrow alleys
The narrow alleys reminded me of the old medinas in Morocco and so they should. In the 700s Toledo was invaded by the Moors who left their mark everywhere. The only difference was that many of the narrowest streets opened up into hidden squares, green with the new leaves of spring and filled with cafe tables. Fortress Toledo benefited from the art and architecture of Islam.
A large square in the old town

The spire of the Gothic cathedral

In 1085, the city was won back after a long siege. The Spanish king, Alfonzo VI fortified it further and enticed more people to make it their home. Toledo became an imperial city. In 1227, a successor began the magnificent cathedral whose spire graces the top of Toledo. The Jews, Christians, and Arabs lived here in peace together.

Later in the 1400s, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella made it their capital, endowing Toledo with many foundations. The Catholic Monarchs moved around their kingdom more than they resided here and eventually moved to Grenada causing a decline in the town.

This long history was both kind and unkind to Toledo— its fortunes rising and falling over the centuries. Today, 55,000 live here in the new town and the old, and its main industry is tourism. I feel that they have managed the onslaught of visitors quite well.
A craftsmen adds gold wire as thin as a hair

The old sources of income have
been revived such as the Damascene craft (original brought here by Arabs from Damascus) and its work of swordsmiths conducted since the Middle Ages. I also admired the ceramic artistry available in some small shops.

El Greco lived here and painted a celebrated masterpiece for the church of San Tomé in the 1500s. The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is still there today, rich in colour and symbolism. The church was built on the site of an old mosque by Alfonzo VI. Photographs are strictly forbidden.

The churches, synagogue, and mosques still in evidence proclaim the tolerance towards all faiths that Toledo has displayed for much of its existence, apart from the Spanish Inquisition period, which caused many of the Jews to flee to Morocco.
Inside the Santa Maria La Blanca synagogue

This brings us to a very curious place — a synogogue called Santa Maria La Blanca. It was a place of Jewish worship built in the 1100s by Moorish craftsmen that became a Catholic church in the 1500s. Today it still looks like a mosque. But I did find a few Stars of David high on top of some columns, but most had shells which are an Islamic symbol. The altar-piece is definitely Christian. Whatever its origins, this building is tranquil and beautiful.

San Martin Bridge looking to the new town

I walked down the cobblestoned hill towards the River Tagus and onto St. Martin's Bridge that has two fortified towers on either end. Built in the 1200s and restored in the 1300s after the bridge suffered serious damage in a war, it was most recently restored in the 1700s. The views from both sides of the river are worth stopping to admire.

The tower on the new town side of the bridge

I wished I had the opportunity to go inside the huge cathedral and even stay a night or two here. It would be well worth it. Next time, maybe?

ALL IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2017. All rights reserved.

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