The historic city of Toledo Spain was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, and by the Spanish authorities a monumental city, a historic-artistic ensemble. Toledo is a medieval city of narrow winding streets that sits on a small hill and is enclosed on three sides by the river Tajo. Looking out into the narrow canyon of the river one can see the impressive panoramic view of the city that was painted by El Greco. From earliest time, Toledo had magnificent fortified defenses, the Tajo river as a tremendous natural moat, and a wall built by the Romans, Visigoths, and Moors.
Successively a Roman municipium, the capital of the Visigothic kingdom, a fortress of the Emirate of Cordoba, an outpost of the Christian kingdoms fighting the Moors and, in the 16th century, the temporary seat of the supreme power under Charles V, Toledo is the keeper of more than two millennia of history. Its masterpieces are the product of heterogeneous civilizations in an environment where the existence of three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was a major factor. (UNESCO description)
No other city can compare to Toledo in cultural, artistic and historic richness. It was the seat of the 18 summits of the Council of Toledo that took place from the V to the VIII centuries. The fame of the ancient capital of Spain spread abroad, making the city one of extraordinary importance in the universal art. During the 13th century, it became one of the most important cultural centers of its time. At the Toledo School of Translators the most prominent and intellectual men of the three ethnic-religious groups Arabs, Jews and Christians, worked together in consensus. The three ethnic-religious groups coexisted peacefully, each contributing to the rich diversity of Toledo. The School of Translators’ text translations of Aristotelian philosophy were crucial for the whole of European thought. In 1561 Felipe II moved the capital of Spain to its current location in Madrid.
Toledo was formed by a winding maze of alleyways and lanes that meander up and down, and has remained almost unaltered since the end of the Middle Ages. Toledo is a city to be explored on foot following itineraries that lead to the artistic and cultural high spots.
Our group traveled by bus to the city of Toledo, which was two hours southwest of Madrid. In Toledo we exchanged money and had lunch. Much of the afternoon was spent acclimating to the new surroundings. For centuries, Toledo has excelled in the manufacture of swords and damascened artifacts made of steel, inlaid with gold and silver. Many of us took advantage of good shopping opportunities with purchases of jewelry, daggers and swords. Friday, February 15th. – In the early morning, our group toured Toledo. We had hired a local guide to explain some of the past history in Toledo along with its important sites. The sites included the Cathedral, “El Entierro del Conde Orgaz”, El Greco’s masterpiece, and the Synagogue Santa Maria la Blanca.” (J. Hiers, Woodstock Union High School, Spain tour lead teacher 02/02)
Toledo’s Cathedral is the greatest in Spain and one of the richest Gothic places of worship in the world. Although it is mainly Gothic in style, it has touches of Mudéjar, Baroque and Neoclassical. King Fernando III, el Santo, who laid the first stone in 1227, founded it. This outstanding building is 113 meters long, 57 meters wide, and it reaches 45 meters at its highest peak. It has 88 pillars, 70 cupolas, and 750 stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the New Testament and bringing sun light to all five naves of the building. Its museum contains works by famous artists such as Goya, Velázquez, liturgical garments, and various items of precious metalwork. The Cathedral steeple, rising harmoniously above the spires and turrets, is a landmark on the Toledo skyline.
The Church of Santo Tomé
The Church of Santo Tomé was built in the Mudéjar style over the ruins of an old mosque. In the 14th century, Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, Señor de Orgaz ordered its reconstruction at his own expense. This medieval nobleman was well respected in the city and his burial is the subject and motivation for El Greco’s most famous painting, El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz). Two centuries after his burial, the parish priests of Santo Tomé commissioned El Greco to depict what had happened during the burial of the Conde de Orgaz. According to the legend, at his burial, Saint Augustine and Saint Stephen took the body of Conde Orgaz and laid it in the tomb, while a momentous voice was heard saying: “Such a tribute will receive those who serve God and his saints.” The work took 2 years to complete and it is the most celebrated masterpiece by El Greco.
Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca
The Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, was built in the XII century and was the work of Moorish craftsmen. In the 15th century, Christians seized the synagogue and turned it into a church. I the 18th century the building was used as barracks and military storehouse. The simple exterior of the building differs from the lavish décor of the interior. It has four aisles divided off by horseshoe arches, which makes it resemble a mosque. An altarpiece from the old church still remains in it.
- Campos Payo, J. (2001). This is Toledo. Toledo, Spain: Artes Gráficas Toledo, SA.
- Hiers, J. Spain tour report. May 2002
- UNESCO World Heritage Web site at http://whc.unesco.org/sites/379.htm
- SpainTour, Tourist Office of Spain in Tokyo Web site at http://www.spaintour.com/toledo2.htm