8 REASONS TO VISIT THIS SPANISH MEDIEVAL CITY
If you haven’t been to Toledo in central Spain, I’m going to give you 8 great reasons why you should see this medieval city if you get the chance. These will definitely inspire you to visit; of that I am certain.
I took a bus with my family from Spain’s capital of Madrid to Toledo, approximately one hour away, located in the region of Castilla La Mancha. I instantly fell in love with this fairytale city and its historical charm.
Buses aren’t able to go into the old centre, so we walked across one of the two ancient bridges that lead to the main part of Toledo. It is one of the oldest cities in Spain.
1. Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
I was amazed to learn that the whole city is a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s basically a real-life, open-air museum. What a fabulous reason for visiting Toledo, I’m sure you agree.
The city has survived many takeovers in Spain’s history but has managed to remain mostly in tact and well-preserved, except for the fort which has been rebuilt. Not much else has changed here.
It is a walled city almost completely surrounded by the Tagus River, with two bridges crossing over it. There are so many impressive architectural monuments to see here. It’s jam-packed with cultural sites, but the streets and lanes are very narrow and quite steep in parts.
Toledo was considered to be hallowed ground because of all the churches, about 20 of them, and thus became the religious centre of Spain. In fact in the 18th century about a quarter of the population in Toledo were clergy! Maybe this is where the term “holy Toledo” came from! But there are many differing opinions on this, so we can’t be sure.
2. Toledo was Spain’s capital
Toledo is primely located in central Spain. In the 16th century Toledo prospered and became a political and religious capital. It was a place of intellect, arts, culture and science.
The city was the Imperial capital of Spain until 1561 when it was moved to Madrid. The then King of Spain decided to take his royal court to the new capital, because he liked it better for some reason. Many people left and Toledo went downhill.
3. City of Three Cultures
Toledo was known as the City of Three Cultures, because Arabic, Jewish & Christian cultures lived together here in harmony and created the rich cultural heritage still evident today. Hence you will find many mosques, synagogues and cathedrals all standing proudly together in Toledo. There are 2 of Spain’s 3 remaining synagogues here. The mosques have been converted to churches.
4. Alcázar Fort of Toledo
The Alcázar sits prominently atop the hill overlooking the city of Toledo. It was once a Roman fortress. Then it became the royal palace of Spain. Over the years it has been damaged several times. In the 1900’s it was all but destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, then rebuilt and is now a proud symbol of Spanish nationalism.
Today it is a huge army museum and worth taking a tour to see the military exhibitions.
5. Gothic Cathedral of Toledo
Another reason to visit Toledo is to see the huge Church in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento. Named the Catedral Primada Santa Maria, it is the main Gothic church in the country and many would say the most important church in Spain, based on it being located in what was once the capital city. It was built in the period from the 13th century till the 15th century. The bell tower is one of the biggest in the country, about 45 metres high. I was intrigued by the spikes at the top of the tower.
Inside, if you wish to enter this enormous cathedral, you will see frescoes, oil paintings, a huge baroque altar, gothic art, stained glass windows galore, statues, gold and silver treasures and more. Check the website for details. A ticket will cost 10 euros.
6. Swords of Toledo
The town is famous for its steel work and was always a big producer of swords and blades throughout history, going as far back as Roman times. Products made here were highly sought after from around the world. Toledo even made Japanese Samurai swords. Toledo steel was the best. Other countries tried to replicate it, but the Toledo steel production method was a highly guarded secret (ha!).
There are still a plethora of sword shops selling all manner of historical weapons – blades, shields, armour and other paraphernalia, which are very popular with tourists and collectors. These are often replicas of the real thing. However, they all look pretty real to me. So when my kids grabbed some swords and started fencing in the shop, I was a little worried, to say the least. Ah, the joys of travelling with children.
7. Toledo is charming
Toledo is charming and such a delightful place. The cobblestone streets of this medieval town are a bit like a maze, which just adds to the charm and fascination of the place, in my opinion. You will enjoy getting lost in this fairytale city, as we did. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Toledo is quite small which makes it easy enough to walk around, which I love.
8. Toledo Art
The most famous artist from Toledo would have to be El Greco (The Greek), who actually was originally from Greece but lived here. He was a Spanish Renaissance artist of the 1600’s and has a museum devoted to his artwork in Toledo. You can also see many of his art displayed in the churches here.
Tours of Toledo I recommend
So make sure you put Toledo on your Spain itinerary. It’s a popular tourist destination you won’t want to miss, perfect as a day trip from Madrid.
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