Toledo is a town of 78,000 inhabitants which is located at 454 m. above sea level, about 70 km south of Madrid. The city is crossed by the Tajo (Tagus) river that surrounds it for two thirds, while the historic center is located on the side of a hill under which the Tajo (Tagus) passes. The historic center of Toledo has been part of the UNESCO protected sites as a World Heritage Site since 1986.
Under the Roman Empire Toledo was a small city, strategically important, being located on the Tagus River, on which the Romans had built a bridge. The bridge was later enlarged and restored by the Arabs, who kept the city from 711 until to 1085, the year in which King Alfonso VI of Castile conquered it.
Under Christian kings the city developed considerably until it became one of the capitals of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, under Charles V. In 1563, Philip II decided to transfer the capital of the empire from Toledo to Madrid. From this moment the city lost a large part of its political and social importance.
The city of Toledo, thanks to its history and its wonderful historic center, is today an important tourist destination in central Spain and one of the main tourist destinations for those who decide to visit the surroundings of Madrid.
WHAT TO SEE: THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF TOLEDO
Toledo has a medieval appearance with narrow winding streets and extremely striking architecture. Among which are some of the most splendid historical monuments in Spain representing all eras: Arab, Mudejar, Gothic and Renaissance styles.
TWO MEDIEVAL BRIDGES
Two interesting medieval bridges cross the Tajo (Tagus) river. These are the Puente de San Martín, a medieval bridge built in the 14th century from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city. While on the eastern side is the Puente de Alcántara, probably of Roman origin. This bridge is located near the Castillo de San Servando, a medieval fortification, which offers a magnificent panorama of the city.
Outside the city walls, along the road that comes from Madrid, there is the Hospital de Tavera, a 16th century building that houses the Duque de Lerma Museum with splendid rooms, paintings (Tintoreto, El Greco etc.) and an annex beautiful church.
THE GATES OF ACCESS TO THE CITY
Very beautiful are the access gates to the old city such as the Puerta del Sol (Mudéjar style, XIII century), the Puerta Nueva de Bisagra (XVI century), the Puerta Vieja de Bisagra or Puerta de Alfonso VI (IX century) and the Puerta of the Cambrón (16th century).
Beyond the Puerta Vieja de Bisagra you reach the Mudejar-style church of Santiago de Arrabal (13th century). In front of the Puerta del Sol is the church of Cristo de la Luz, originally the Arab mosque of Bab al-Mardum (10th century).
Continuing towards the city center you reach the plaza de Zocodover, the heart of the city, flanked by arcades, was the ancient central market of the Arab era and is today a lively square that constitutes the most beautiful and animated part of Toledo.
After passing the Arco de la Sangre you arrive at the Hospital de Santa Cruz from the 16th century with a beautiful Plateresque facade. This building now houses the museum of Archeology, Fine Arts and Decorative Arts (paintings by Goya, El Greco, Veronese, Morales). On the highest point of the city is the Alcazar, a quadrangular fortress with square towers at the top, built in the 11th century by King Alfonso VI.
A MAJESTIC GOTHIC CATHEDRAL
Not far away there is also the majestic Gothic cathedral, built in place of the most important mosque in Toledo, was built between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The three portals of the facade as well as the side portals are outstanding, among which the Gothic Puerta de los Leones (1460) and the oldest Puerta del Reloj (XIII century) stand out. The superb fifteenth-century tower 90 meters high and the Gothic cloister are also interesting. The interior of the 5-nave cathedral contains magnificent frescoes, stained glass windows and works by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya. Among the chapels worth mentioning are the Capilla Mayor, the Capilla Mozarabe, the Capilla of Santiago, the Capilla de San Juan and the Capilla de los Reyes Nuevos.
The Chapter Room has a Mudejar coffered ceiling and walls frescoed by Jean de Bourgougne (1511). But the highlight is the Sacristy with frescoes by Luca Giordano and paintings by El Greco, Van Dyck, Tiziano and Goya. Near the Cathedral is the Church of San Roman (XIV century) which houses the Museo de los Concilios y la Cultura visigoda.
A MASTERPIECE OF EL GRECO
Other places of tourist interest are the two synagogues (now churches) of Santa Maria la Blanca (XII century) and of the Transito (1366). A visit to be made is that of the Iglesia de Santo Tomé in which the greatest masterpiece of El Greco is found: The burial of the Count of Orgaz. Another magical place is the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes (1476) with a beautiful Gothic cloister. Next to the Synagogue of the Tránsito is the so-called Casa Museo di El Greco (Domenico Theotocopulos).
Finally, do not miss the view of the city from the viewpoints of the Hermitage of the Virgen de la Valle and the Virgen de la Cabeza. One of the most beautiful ways to admire Toledo is to take a tour along the Cigarrales, an itinerary that from the Puente de San Martin goes all around the city to the Castillo de San Servado and Puente de Alcántara.