One fine day in the city of three cultures

Go to Spain’s original capital, Toledo…

Best day trip from Madrid? Definitely Toledo. You’re still counting the toro (bull) signs along the lush landscapes framed by grand mountains, when you realise that the 70 km have whizzed past. So freeze frame as you approach the Tagus river, because the first view of Spain’s former capital will be etched in your memory forever. 2,500 years of history are crammed into this magical town made up of sand-colored stone buildings and walls, perched on a rocky outpost protected on three sides by a natural moat. ‘Holy Toledo!’ these words WILL tumble out. Guaranteed.

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

Wide pan as you troop over the historic bridge from the main bus parking. Smooth slide 100 meters up in zigzag escalators, from ground level to the gate of the city walls, where Toledo’s coat of arms is proudly displayed. Modern technology merging seamlessly into the medieval heritage. This is where you enter the narrow cobblestone streets of one of Spain’s largest historic centres and a UNESCO World Heritage site boasting of over 100 monuments including churches, synagogues, mosques and fortresses…twisting streets, irregular terrain. Thankfully, colorful signs help you navigate.

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

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Overhead, suspended canvas canopies with elaborate emblems and crests offer respite from the hot summer sun. Let your curiosity get the better of you. Pop in and out of shops. Disappear into tight pebbly alleyways. Trace your fingers over the ancient surfaces of the gold-brown brick buildings. Follow the shadows of the hanging potted plants. Make invisible outlines of the elegantly Juliet-balconies and the ceramic-tiled roofs. Think about why streets are too narrow for even the sun to break in…a natural cooling architectural feature, perhaps.

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Indulge in some old-fashioned flashback to the times when Toledo was known as the ‘City of the Three Cultures’ and Christianity-Jewish-Muslim religions co-existed unrestricted. From the Romans in 192 BC to the Visigoths during the mid-6th century and the Arabs (Moors) in the 8th century, invaders were careful not to destroy hallowed ground, as Toledo was considered the holiest city in Spain in the Catholic faith. Thanks to that, the three distinct architectural styles of Moorish, Jewish and Christian Gothic, are still scattered all over these ancient streets. Lap it all up, every glorious corner you can sneak into. Interestingly, Spain’s largest Jewish population once flourished in this ‘Second Jerusalem’. Their remaining homes, museums and shopping lanes are big draws. Don’t miss the two former synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, dating from pre-Inquisition days. Lovely arches and intricate stone tracery to keep you busy for a couple of hours.

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Toledo Synagogue

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Take a low-down on the famous Greek-born artist, El Greco (‘The Greek’) or Domenikos Theotocopoulos, who had found employment in Toledo. Familiar with his unique painting style? Icon-like faces from his Greek homeland, bold colour and twisting, elongated bodily poses inspired by Italy, and mystical spirituality from Catholic Spain. Witness the purity of his art in his most famous work, ‘The Burial of the Count of Orgaz’ at the moorish Chapel of Santo Tome. Salute his brilliance.

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

Make time to halt at Plaza del Ayuntamiento, a small square in the old center where a fountain gurgles to your right, the City Hall is behind you, and right ahead is the highlight of the town, rising high above the cramped medieval clutter. Toledo Cathedral is possibly the most Gothic and most Spanish of all cathedrals in the country. Inside, it is laden with elaborate wrought-iron work, lavish wood carvings, colourful 500-year-old stained glass windows, carved silver and wooden sculptures, gleaming gold, marble, and alabaster, and numerous chapels filled with religious art and the tombs of cardinals. You can’t help whispering ‘wow’ as you drift among the pillars, imagining a time when the light bulbs were candles, the tourists were pilgrims, and the windows provided spiritual and physical light, not photo opportunities. The spectacular altar of real gold on wood is a magnificent Gothic artwork. The sacristy is full of masterpieces by the likes of Goya, Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Caravaggio, and Bellini, not to mention 18 El Grecos, including his masterpiece ‘The Disrobing of Christ’. Swoon.

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Courtesy: Wikipedia
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Courtesy: Wikipedia

Souvenir time? Stop for a tasty Moorish treat, made of sugar, honey and almond mazapán. Choose from different designs, shapes and fruity flavors, including small watermelons and banana shapes. Heavy and filling…but who counts calories on vacation. Aiming for something heavier? Toledo used to be world-renowned for high-quality steel, weapons and swords and various armies, including the Roman legion, used the Toledo swords. There are still some shops, like Mariano Zamorano Swords and Toledo Sword Shop, where craftsmen make swords. Too heavy for you?

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

On your way back, from the bus, watch the sunset cast its orange glow on the Alcázar Fortress towering above the tiers of colorful Spanish buildings. Royal residence of Carlos V’s, Europe’s most powerful king, turned into state prison, turned into Army Museum. The still waters of the Tagus River wrapped around the picturesque hill are flowing under the medieval bridges. The sky has darkened and yellow lights are starting to twinkle among the hundreds of buildings creating a brilliant, silent setting. There’s an old Spanish saying…“Until you’ve seen Toledo, you have not seen Spain.” Don’t you agree?

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

 

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Toledo, the ancient city of the three cultures, is the best day trip from Madrid, Spain

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14 thoughts on “One fine day in the city of three cultures

  1. Toledo is indeed nothing short of a revelation.What a mesmerizing cocktail of cultures. I can see this blend of cultures taking expression in the fascinating architectural styles of the place. Looks really amazing. Thanks for unveiling this beautiful face of Spain.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read a lot about Toledo and I still seem to “absorb” any line dedicated to the city I find. 🙂
    It was the cultural center of the old Europe, flourished in knowledge when the rest of the Old Continent was “asleep”. You’ve mentioned that it’s also called the City of the Three Cultures. The most interesting places spring up from such a mixture of cultures, doesn’t it!
    Thanks for reminding me of this lovely city. I’ve enjoyed reading about it and looking at your photos. 🙂

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  3. I’m planning a trip to Madrid, so I’m now going to think about extending to visit Toledo! It looking so amazing, I especially love the canopy covered streets as someone that needs to stay out of the sun! I love the history too, so the idea that Toledo has emerged from three cultures is so interesting!

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  4. Second Jerusalem – that must be an interesting history to explore. Curious to know if there are any traces of other two cultures as well – either living or as archives in museums?

    As always, your images are amazing – they transport the reader to Toledo visually.

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  5. I’ve heard a lot about Spain’s famous cities but not Toledo. And from your photos I can tell that it is a beautiful city. It’s good to know also to learn about some historical background from this article. Love it and thanks for sharing! 😀

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  6. Spain is such a fun country to visit but I can’t seem to stop going to Barcelona in the south and San Sebastian in the north. I hope to make a trip to Madrid at some point. Looks like Toledo is a fun day trip for when we go.

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  7. I’ve fallen in love with Toledo many years ago and I still think that it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. I would love to get back there with my husband, your article is a reminder of the fact that I really should start looking into it!

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  8. Toledo looks spectacular! The overall sand stone colored buildings combined with blue skies and greenery, its just so picturesque! Roman settlement since BC? That’s definitely a must visit!

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  9. Toledo is so stunning and so full of history. I had to sadly give it a miss when I visited Spain but if I ever visit again this would be the first place I would visit. Gorgeous pictures, thanks for the share.

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  10. Cool that Toledo is an easy day trip from Madrid. Love how much history the town exudes – I can see why it’s claimed a UNESCO! And I love the idea that this is one of the rare towns in humanity’s existence where religions have peacefully coexisted, and left behind a melting pot of incredible architectural design for us to marvel at today as we walk through the streets.

    The photo of sunset beaming down over the city is incredible!

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