Things to see and do - Toledo
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The inside story on Toledo
The inside story on Toledo
The former capital of Spain, Toledo is situated on a headland surrounded by a ravine chiselled by the Tagus river. In its maze of narrow streets, you'll stumble across a variety of churches, palaces, convents and mosques, all forming a centuries-old harmonious combination.
On your first evening, you must go for a drive around this magnificent town. Take the Avenida de la Cava to the Toledo bypass (Carretera de Circunvalación) and drive up to the terrace in front of the Parador de Toledo. Dusk is the perfect time as Toledo and its surroundings become breathtakingly beautiful: the sky changes from vermillion red to orange, then pale lemon and finally turquoise blue. In front of you, clear and still, Toledo and its old monuments can be clearly seen several miles away. The Alcazar dominates the town with its heavy silhouette while the cathedral pierces the sky with its enormous spire and the Church of San Juan de Los Reyes completes the scene. The harshness of the Mancha scenery adds an almost African touch to the setting. Other spots along this road offer splendid views: the Virgen del Valle Hermitage and the Virgen de la Cabeza Hermitage.
Then return to the old town, a melting pot of Christian, Arabic and Jewish cultures which makes Toledo so special. Throughout this ancient fortified Roman town, you'll see traces of the Arabic and Jewish cultures barely hidden by Catholicism. You'll learn to distinguish between Mozarabic art—that of Christians living in Islamic areas after the invasion of 711, and Mudejar art—that of Muslims continuing to work according to their traditions for Christians. Mudejar art can be seen in palace decorations (Taller del Moro) and synagogues (Tránsito and Santa María la Blanca) as well as in the architecture of churches and their towers evoking minarets, like that of Santo Tomé. The Jews, for their part, probably arrived in AD 70, after the second destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, transforming Toledo into the most important town in Hebrew Spain, renowned for its translators' school.
Magnificent from afar, the cathedral blends in with the surrounding buildings that even when you're close, you can see only the south facade. While the outside is relatively plain, the inside overflows with stalactite-like decoration. You won't grow weary of wandering through the chapels of this imposing church, currently under restoration.
Santo Tomé Church
This high yellowish brick tower is decorated with Arabic arcatures and glazed columns—pure Mudejar art while inside, is El Greco's masterpiece, The Burial of Count Orgaz. Visit in the morning at opening time (10 am) before the crowds arrive.
El Greco's House and Museum
Strictly speaking, this is not the house where El Greco was born, but it is a fine example of a 16th century Toledo house presenting the rich collection of Marquis de Vega Inclán. Closes at 9 pm.
Welcome to Spain's biggest Spanish-Jewish monument, the only surviving synagogue (apart from Santa María la Blanca) of the ten Toledo boasted! Its 700 year old walls feature marvellous Mudejar decoration and annexes house an excellent Sephardic museum. Avoid the crowds by going late in the evening (closes at 9 pm).
Santa María la Blanca
The main 12th century Jewish temple in Toledo, it was transformed into a church but has kept the appearance of an Almohade-style mosque with a beautiful interior of 24 octagonal pillars. Full marks for anyone who can find the only Star of David decorating the building!
San Juan de los Reyes Monastery
Built for the Catholic Kings, this Franciscan monastery is a typical example of the Isabeline style (a mixture of flamboyant Gothic, Mudejar and Renaissance design). Outside, the chains hanging on the facade are those of the Christian prisoners freed from the Moors in Andalusia.
Santa Cruz Museum
Behind the magnificent Plateresque portal completed by the architect Covarrubias, you'll discover a first-rate collection of paintings. Superb patio and staircase.
Take the time to stroll through the convents' district (Santa Clara, Carmelitas), close to the Mezquito Cristo de la Luz and above Puerta del Sol. Here, the passageways, covered to protect you from the burning sun, bring to mind the East as much as the West. In the middle of Calle Algibes, don't miss the little wooden sign topped by a cross, offering water—a precious nectar here—to the nuns of the convents.
Another enjoyable and quiet walk is following, along with a few ducks, the banks of the legendary Tagus at the foot of the town's rocky headland.
Puerta antigua or nueva de Bisagra, Puerta del Sol, Puerta de Alcántara: Arabic or Christian, they liven up the ramparts and feature coats of arms and sculptures relating to the town's history.
Mezquito Cristo de la Luz
This name has to be translated to fully appreciate this monument: "Christ of Light Mosque". How did it come into existence? Take the remains of a Visigothic temple, add a mosque built in AD 1000 and finish off with a Mudejar church! There is a magnificent view from the adjoining garden.
The main square, at the centre of the town's shopping district, is just around the corner from the Cathedral and the Alcazar (closed for restoration). The location of the Casa Ruja Bank is a former café where Luis Buñuel shot a few scenes of Tristana.
Located outside the ramparts, this hospice is worth a detour—see its arcaded patio typical of the Florentine Renaissance, the realistic tomb of Cardinal de Tavera, a crypt with amazing acoustic properties and a remarkable private collection of paintings including the legendary Ribera masterpiece, The Bearded Lady…
Any gastronomic discovery of Toledo begins at Casa Aurelio, run by José Antonio, son of the founder, who employs Benito Abal as chef. Close to the cathedral, this typical restaurant, with its old beams and hams hanging from the ceiling, serves traditional Toledo cuisine that is constantly renewed to suit changing tastes. This cuisine is based on local produce like game (partridge and venison), saffron, olive oil and vegetables from the mainly agricultural hinterland. People come for the braised Toledo-style partridge with onions, aromatic herbs, saffron and olive oil. As for the venison, it is sliced into medallions, cooked and served with various garnishes, such as a puree of apples and figs. Benito Abal also attracts clients with his fresh fish which he personally selects at MercaMadrid, the biggest fish market in the world after Tokyo. With summer approaching, he intends to single out a typical product of Castilla-La Mancha, melon, in all its forms—soup, dessert, sorbet...
At Casa del Temple, a young Andalusian cook, Angel Leon Gonzales, combines the three major religions in his dishes. The restaurant lends itself particularly to this approach it is situated in an 11th century Arabic palace (impressive beams decorated with verses from the Koran), transformed later into a supply store for the Templars. Magnanimous, the valiant knights merely engraved "Amen" into the stucco. Angel and his Japanese accomplice Marcelo have a wide range of gastronomic and cultural talents, combining fish and meat, raw and cooked produce, salty and sweet food, spices and sweet flavours. A mere epicure's dream? It appears that cultures coming together works perfectly in Toledo...
Calle Santo Tomé, 6.
Calle Sinagoga, 6.
Casa del Temple
Calle Soledad, 2.