by Willie "Tatang" Vergara



"Holy Toledo" isn't just an expression! This historic city in central Spain is positively packed with religious sites, and one will find something “holy” and “religious” every step of the way. While in Madrid in 2008, our travel guide and daughter Ria, (she was still single) led us to the City of Toledo, 70 km going South and only 30 minutes by AVE train.


Toledo is only 30 minutes from Spain’s capital city, Madrid. Spain’s “Renfe” is among Europe’s fastest trains.

Toledo is the capital of the province of Toledo and also that of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It was declared a World and place of coexistence of Christian, Jewish and Moorish cultures.



Exterior and Interior of Toledo Train Station


Toledo sits on top of a hill in the center of Iberia, it was a Roman transportation hub with a thriving Jewish population. It became a Visigothic capital in 554, a regional center of the Moors in 711, and re-conquered by Christians in 1085.



Having been populated since the Bronze Age, Toledo grew in importance during Roman times, being a main commercial and administrative center in the Roman province of Tarraconensis. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Toledo served as the capital city of Visigoth Spain, beginning with Leovigild, and was the capital of Spain until the Moors conquered Iberia in the 8th century.




The Walled City of Toledo

Under the Caliphate of Cordoba, Toledo enjoyed a golden age. This extensive period is known as La Convivencia, i.e. the co-existence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Under Arab rule, Toledo was called Tulaytulah. After the fall of the Caliphate, Toledo was the capital city of one of the richest Taifa Muslim kingdoms of Al-Andalus, and, because of its central location in the Iberian Peninsula, Toledo took a central position in the struggles between the Muslim and Christian rulers of northern Spain.


The 14th century Puerta del Sol was once the entrance into the city

Walking along the narrow streets of this medieval city

In 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile took Toledo and established direct personal control over the Moorish city from which he had been exacting tribute, and ending the medieval Taifa's Kingdom of Toledo. This was the first concrete step taken by the combined kingdom of Leon-Castile in the Reconquista by Christian forces.

A view of the Bridge of Alcantara (Puente de Alqantar)


Ria takes of photo of Tess along the cobbled streets and brick walls

A semi-abandoned building is one of the city's artifacts

After Castilian conquest, Toledo continued to be a major cultural centre; its Arab libraries were not pillaged, and a tag-team translation centre was established, in which books in Arabic would be translated from Arabic or Hebrew to Spanish by Arab and Jewish scholars, and from Spanish to Latin by Castilian scholars, thus letting long-lost knowledge spread through Christian Europe again.

Moorish architecture abounds in the City of Toledo

The Puerta de Bisagra was the main entrance into the city from 711AD

The Cambron Gate is of 16th century Muslim origin

While the Jews were commonly persecuted in Europe, Toledo’s Jewish community thrived. During the medieval times, Toledo was a city of the humanities, where God was known by many names. It was a haven of cultural diversity, people of different faiths lives together in harmony.





Around the Walled City of Toledo


Many famous people and artists were born or lived in Toledo, including El Greco. It was also the place of important historic events such as the Visigoth Councils of Toledo. As of 2007[update], the city has a population of 78,618 and an area of 232.1 km2 (89.59 square miles).


                         The sign leads to El Greco’s House                The much vaunted house of El Greco is quite unimpressive


                  An El Greco close-up of Spoliation 2                                            Disrobing of Christ by El Greco


                                 Pope Paul III by Titian                                              A painting by Raphael Sanzio

Toledo was Spain’s political capital until 1561. King Philip II (upon which the Philippines was named) sat on his throne here but later transferred to Madrid. Some say that the transfer was brought about by Philip II’s wanting to separate religion from government. The city was rediscovered in the 19th century and some writers regarded it as a mystical and romantic city – where the Man from La Mancha had originated. It is, indeed, a city with rich, tangled history: Roman, Jewish, Visigoth, Moorish and Christian.

Portrait of King Philip II

Today, Toledo is one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions. Toledo teems with tourists, souvenirs, and great art by day, delicious roast suckling pig, echoes of El Greco, and medieval magic by night. Incredibly well preserved and full of cultural wonder, the entire city has been declared a national monument.



                           Shopping for souvenirs                                                      Toledo is a haven for lladro shoppers


         Strolling along the narrow streets                          This mini-train goes around the city 3–4 times daily


                           View of the Tagos River                                                  View of rooftops from a high elevation

We booked at Hotel Imperio, very near Plaza de Zocodover, the city’s main square. “Zocodover” means “a marketplace for animals” in Arabic. Here, look for: (a) benches with ceramic decors, (b) McDonalds, and (c) three flags – one for Europe, one for Spain and one for Castile-La Mancha. It is a local hangout where young and old people stay on the square until past midnight.

We chose Hotel Imperio for its proximity to the main

 attractions and Plaza Zocodover, the city’s center


                       Plaza Zocodover never sleeps                            Man from La Mancha artwork in Plaza Zocodover


   Flags at Plaza Zocodover – European, Spanish, and Castille-La Mancha             Statue of Miguel de Cervantes

The Cathedral of Toledo is one of Spain’s finest cathedrals and was built on top of a Moorish mosque. The Toledo Cathedral is the second largest cathedral in Spain, after the one in Seville.



                  Cathedral of Toledo towers above all other buildings                               Cloisters of the Cathedral


The interior of the church is 110m long. Behind the Capilla Mayor is the Transparente, a huge marble altar dedicated to the Virgin. “El Transparente” has a mixture of stucco, painting, bronze elements, and marble, that goes to the roof, where a hole in the roof shines light over the whole masterpiece. The artist Narciso Tome designed it in such a manner that the altar is going to heaven.


The altar of Toledo Cathedral is perhaps the most beautiful altar in Europe

The Cathedral is also famous for the wooden choir, carved by famous artists. There is also a treasury, where one can see gold and silver treasures, studded with jewels that are used in the Masses. There is also an exhibition of the vestments used by the priests, bishops, and cardinals.







There are so many things to see inside the Toledo Cathedral


Another room contains paintings by Goya, Van Dyck, Zurbaran, Titian, Rubens and 16 paintings of figures of the Apostles by El Greco. The church has large cloisters with frescoes by Francisco Bayeu and Maella.



                       Portraits of cardinals on wall                                             Wall art inside the Cathedral museum



                       Painting attributed to the genius but                    This collection came from the Philippines

                                criminal artist Carravagio                                   during the time of Spanish rule


Collections include fabulous crown jewels


The Church of Santo Tome. This church was built in the 12th century by Don Gonzalo Ruiz, the Lord of Orgaz, one of the most prominent citizens of Toledo. The church is known for its beautiful Mudejar tower and the large format painting by El Greco of the Burial of Count Orgaz. This painting of the Burial of Count Orgaz is famous for the lifelike portraits of the important men of Toledo of that time. In the painting the count is being buried with the assistance of St. Augustine and St. Stephen. They came to thank him for the money he gave to their charities. El Greco painted his self portrait in the painting and he is the third from the left, looking at the viewer from above the head of Saint Stephen.


              Church of Santo Tome                                      My imperfect photo of The Burial of Count Orgaz


Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes. Founded by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to commemorate their triumph over the Portuguese at Toro in 1476, the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes was started in 1477. An example of Gothic-Spanish-Flemish style, San Juan de los Reyes was restored after the damage caused during Napoleon's invasion and after its abandonment in 1835; since 1954 it has been entrusted again to the Franciscans.


Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes

Synagoga del Transito. Sinagoga del Tránsito was built in 1357. It is said that builder imported cedars from Lebanon for the building's construction - à la Solomon when he built the First Temple in Jerusalem. The bell tower was added by the Christian religious order of Alcántara, who took over the building after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. In the 18th century, it was a hermitage dedicated to the Tránsito de Nuestra Señora (Our Lady's Transit, meaning Mary's assumption into heaven). During the war against Napoleon, the synagogue became a military barracks. In 1977, it was declared a national monument and it is now a museum.

Synagoga del Transito

Toledo is also known for its restaurants that offer gourmet food. Among his specialties include the lamb roast or stew, as cuchifrito, and beans with partridge or stewed partridge, the carcamusas, the crumbs, the porridge Mancha and the tortilla to the lean. Two of the foods that have brought fame to the city of Toledo are the Manchego cheese and.Mazapan, a specialty of that is sold all over town.


                                     Mazapan store                                         It took us a full day to reserve seats at this restaurant

For some time during the 16th century, Toledo served as the capital city of Castile, and the city flourished. However, soon enough the Spanish court was moved first to Valladolid and then to Madrid, thus letting the city's importance dwindle until the late 20th century, when it became the capital of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. Nevertheless, the economic decline of the city helped to preserve its cultural and architectural heritage.



                 A low-angle shot of the brick-walled city                                        A neatly etched metal shield



              Among the more expensive souvenir items                                A beautifully etched medieval shield

El Alcázar (The Alcázar) is a fort founded in 1085. It was once the royal residence of Carlos I. The Alcázar has been demolished and restored many times, most recently during the Civil War. Franco had it rebuilt into a military museum. In the past the Alcázar has been used as an army school, as well as a prison. The Alcazar is located along the eastern border of the old city, near the Plaza de Zocodover. It is famous for surviving a 70-day siege during the Spanish Civil War. The extensive damage from that episode has been repaired.


The Alcazar of Toledo is one of the most visible buildings from a distance. The Alcazar after sunset (right).

Inside the El Alcazar of Toledo

Monasterio de Santo Domingo El Antiguo (Santo Domingo El Antiguo Monastery) is an 11th-century convent that now displays religious items and early works by El Greco.

The El Antiguo Monastery

Museo de Santa Cruz. Originally a 16th century Spanish Renaissance hospice, it is currently an art and sculpture museum. The outside of the building is quite impressive in itself, and inside hangs El Greco’s last known work, as well as works by Goya and Ribera, antique furniture, Flemish tapestries, and artifacts from archeological digs throughout the region.


Museo de Santa Cruz

Toledo differs from all other cities in that I have felt a certain compelling spell – something like a medieval romance because of her storied yesterdays…. so palpable, so apparent, with all its splendid color. Around her rock the yellow Tagus crawls. For centuries through its embattled entrances have come and gone races and peoples and civilizations. The picture-pretty towers are unsurpassed; the view around and from high elevations are superb and enchanting.

It would be such a pity for one to go to Madrid and not spend at least an evening and two days in holy Toledo.




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