Toledo: La Ciudad de las Tres Culturas

From the Visigoths to the Moors to the Reconquista, Toledo has been the witness to several thriving cultures each of which have left their mark on the city earning it the moniker of “The City of Three Cultures“. I was in Madrid in the summer of 2014, to attend a conference, this provided a good opportunity to make day trips to Toledo and Cordoba. I flew in to Barcelona, spent a few days exploring the city and got to Madrid via a rather enjoyable train ride. After five days of attending talks at the conference and exploring Madrid, it was time for more adventures. Had signed up for a guided tour of Toledo that included pick and drop from Madrid. The 2 hour bus ride was uneventful and we got to Toledo around 10 am.

The tour took us to old town Toledo with its countless historical and cultural attractions, not to mention the many cafes and artisanal shops that line its medieval streets. We visited the castle ‘Alcazar de Toledo‘ which dates back to the roman times and currently houses the army museum. Next stop was the ‘Mezquita (mosque)’, which was built by the Moors and later converted into a church (Cristo de la Luz), legend has it that when King Alfonso entered the city in 1085, his horse kneeled before the door of the then mosque and a shaft of light led him to a figurine of Christ, hence the name. Then it was on to the Synagogue El Transito was built by the treasurer of King Peter the Cruel of Toledo, and later converted to a Church, today it houses a Sephardic Museum. Another stop on the tour was the house and museum El Greco, where the artist spent most of his life and which houses a lot of his works currently.

One of the main attractions in Toledo is the Cathedral Primada, this reportedly took more than 250 years to complete. The church has an exceptional architecture, with elongated arches, flying buttresses, beautiful stained glass windows and many other works of art. On the outskirts of the city is the synagogue and later the church of Santa Maria la Blanca. This reflects both the Moorish and Jewish heritage of the city and was built on orders of the Christian King Alfonso of Castile in the 13th century, it is remarkable for its geometric designs in the Almohad style.

Built on the orders of Ferdinand and Isabella the Monastario de San Juan de Los Reyes was initially conceived to be their mausoleum, however they chose to be buried in Granada. It has a granite façade and impressive arches and vaults and is an excellent example of the Mudejar achitecture style. The final stop for us on the tour was the Puente San Martin, this bridge across the river Tagus was constructed in the 14th century and was an engineering marvel in its time, with the largest span being 40m wide.

No tour is complete without a stop at a souvenir shop, Toledo was well know for its steel weapons manufacturing, ‘Toledo Steel’ competing with the perhaps now better known ‘Damascus Steel’. After getting a few gifts we were on our way back to Madrid…

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