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.

Toledo_panorama.jpg
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.

Toledo bridge.jpg
Courtesy: Wikipedia

Toledo Spain 1.JPG

Toledo Spain 2.JPG

Toledo Spain 17.JPG

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.

Toledo Spain 3.JPG

Toledo Spain 10.JPG

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.

Toledo Spain 6

Toledo Spain 12.JPG

Toledo Spain 7.JPG

Toledo Spain 13.JPG

Toledo Spain 15

Toledo Synagogue 2

Toledo Synagogue

Toledo Spain 14.JPG

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.

Toldeo Greco painting.jpg
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.

Toledo Spain 4

Toledo Spain 5

Toledo Spain 11.JPG

toledo cathedral 2

toledo cathedral 1
Courtesy: Wikipedia
toledo cathedral greco
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?

Toledo sword.jpg
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?

toledo evening.jpg
Courtesy: Wikipedia

 

Pin this post for later!!

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

Advertisements

Drown in all the colors of the rainbow at Porto

Don’t you dare overlook Portugal’s second city…


This 4th-century port and commercial centre founded by the Romans at the mouth of the river Duoro, actually lent its name to its country, and rightly so. Look deeper and you know how Porto (or Oporto) is the very essence of Portugal. Its a hilly town sans the elan of European cities. It gives the impression of being old and neglected. But its magnificent mansions, opulent churches and a picture-perfect riverside captures the heart. Old Portuguese women cheerfully advertise roasted chestnuts outside colourful building facades, classic tramlines run through broad hilly boulevards and iconic black-white mosaic calcada (flooring) adorns streets and there’s ornamental tile-work everywhere you look. So how about a colour theme to explore this quintessentially vibrant Portuguese city?

Continue reading “Drown in all the colors of the rainbow at Porto”

The most amazing Roman monuments hidden in France

Nimes and Pont du Gard will stun you…

Did you know that picture-perfect romantic French Provence, whose sunflower and lavender fields inspired legendary impressionists like Van Gogh is also home to two of the most jaw-dropping, magnificent Roman structures in the world? And one day is all you need to gawp at their architectural splendour.

Continue reading “The most amazing Roman monuments hidden in France”

One perfect day in the beating heart of Lyon

Finding the soul of the city…

France’s second city drips with so much charm that you will gush about it to everyone you meet, specially those who are infatuated by Paris. The two cities have much in common…grand opera, chic shops, river cruises, world-class museums. But Lyon offers you more: ancient Roman ruins, exemplary cuisine and quality of life, all cloaked in a gracious air of modesty. Tempted to read on?

Continue reading “One perfect day in the beating heart of Lyon”

Paradise is aqua-green

Why Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes has to be on your travel list….

If you’re thinking of skipping Zagreb from your Croatian itinerary, you’re making a mistake. Not a big mistake. A colossal mistake. Not only is the country’s capital a surprise package in itself, it’s the gateway to Plitvice National Parks, one of the world’s most gorgeous natural wonders.

Continue reading “Paradise is aqua-green”