Toledo – a UNESCO site

Toledo is a city and municipality of Spain, capital of the province of Toledo and the de jure seat of the government and parliament of the autonomous community of Castilla–La Mancha.

With a population of about 85,000 inhabitants, it is the third most populated municipality in the region.

Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage.

Located on the banks of the Tagus in central Iberia, Toledo is known as the “Imperial City” because it was the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in Spain, and as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims, and Jews reflected in its history.

Tourism and main attractions

Wall, gates and bridges

The historic center of the city is surrounded in some points by a wall, which has several monumental gates, such as the Puerta del Sol (Mudejar), the New Gate of Bisagra, the Old Gate of Bisagra, the Puerta del Vado and the Cambrón Gate. The wall has the so-called Torre de la Almofala. Among the various bridges that cross the waters of the Tagus, those of Alcántara and San Martín stand out.

Religious architecture

In the city of Toledo there are several Catholic churches, among which we can mention the Cathedral of Santa María (Gothic), the Church of San Ildefonso (Baroque), the Church of San Román (Mozarabic), the Church of Santiago del Arrabal (Mudejar), the church of Santo Tomé (Mudejar).

Other Catholic buildings are the monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, a prominent representative of Elizabethan Gothic; the convents of the Madre de Dios, Santo Domingo el Antiguo and San Pedro Mártir, the hermitage of Cristo de la Vega (Mudejar), or the San Sebastián church (Mudejar), built on a mosque.

Properties associated with other creeds are the synagogues of Santa María la Blanca (originally a synagogue, although later it was transformed into a church) and the Tránsito synagogue (current Sephardic Museum), as well as the mosques of Bab al-Mardum, or Christ de la Luz, originally a Muslim temple and enlarged for its conversion into a church, and the old Mosque of Las Tornerías.

Civil architecture

Toledo has several palaces and mansions in its urban area, such as the Palace of Galiana, the Palace of Fuensalida, the Palace of Amusco, the House of the Temple, the House of the Nuncio, and the Archbishop’s Palace of Toledo, in addition to the Posada de the Holy Brotherhood.

One of the nerve centers of the city is the Plaza de Zocodover. In the streets of Toledo there are other buildings such as the Santa Cruz Museum-Hospital, the El Greco Museum, the Tavera Hospital, the Rojas Theater and a Roman circus.

Military architecture

The castle of San Servando – a medieval castle located next to the banks of the Tagus River and the Infantry Academy, in addition to the one known as the Alcazar of Toledo, a fortification on rocks located in the highest part of the city that since 2010 houses the funds of the Army Museum.

Contemporary architecture

At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, the city of Toledo opened up to new architectural trends. Projects in the Santa María de Benquerencia district designed by important international architects such as Jean Nouvel, who proposed the so-called “advanced neighborhood of Toledo”, and Álvaro Siza, author together with Sánchez-Horneros of the project for the future Hospital contributed to this.

However, the economic crisis affected both projects: the first, which was completely abandoned, barely a couple of buildings were built, and the second had years of stoppages and delays. The hospital was finally inaugurated in November 2020.

Among the completed works are the escalators at La Granja (or “de Recaredo”) by Juan Antonio Martínez Lapeña and Elías Torres (2000), the Palacio de Congresos “El Greco” by Rafael Moneo (2012), and government buildings such as the buildings of the Ministry of Education and Science (2004), by José R. González de la Cal and Josefa Blanco Paz, and the Ministry of Industry (1998) by Antonio Sánchez-Horneros, both in Santa María de Benquerencia.

Museums

The city, where El Greco settled in 1577, has an important repertoire of paintings by the Cretan artist spread over various museums and temples. Among these are the Museum of Santa Cruz and the so-called Museo del Greco, a house-museum designed as a recreation of the artist’s home, since it was lost centuries ago.

This building houses several relevant paintings, although the famous painting of The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is located in the church of Santo Tomé, also in Toledo.

The Museum of Visigoth Councils and Culture, located in the church of San Román, has Romanesque paintings from the 13th century and an important collection, original and replicas, of Visigothic goldsmiths, along with other archaeological collections dated between the 6th and 8th centuries.

The Sephardic Museum is located in the Tránsito synagogue, located in the Jewish quarter.

The «Roberto Polo Collection. Centro de Arte Moderno y Contemporáneo de Castilla-La Mancha» was inaugurated in 2019 and houses paintings by Max Pechstein, Vasili Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer, Kurt Schwitters, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Max Ernst. The San Clemente Cultural Center of the county council de Toledo, the Caves of Hercules or the Church of San Sebastián, run by the Toledo Consortium, show temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.

Routes

On the occasion of the fourth centenary of the publication of the first part of Don Quixote, the Castilla-La Mancha Community Board designed a series of routes through the region, crossing the various points mentioned in the novel.

 

It is known as the Don Quijote Route and two of the designed routes, sections 1 and 8, originate from the city of Toledo: those that link the Castilian city with La Mancha and the Montes de Toledo, taking advantage of the natural route that crosses the Cigarrales and it goes to Cobisa, Burguillos de Toledo and Nambroca where it takes the Camino Real de Sevilla to soon turn towards Almonacid de Toledo and Mascaraque, entering its surroundings, near Mora, in La Mancha.

This Mascaraque-Toledo section of the Don Quijote Route has recently been officially included in the Camino de Santiago in its Levantine branch with origins in Cartagena, Alicante and Valencia, so both routes declared a European Cultural Itinerary share a route in this section.

Las Huellas de Santa Teresa is a pilgrimage, tourist, cultural and patrimonial route that brings together the 17 cities where Saint Teresa of Jesus left her “footprint” in the form of foundations. The route does not have an established order or a limited time that each pilgrim or visitor can do it how and in the time they want.

Cuisine and the best restaurants

Toledo’s cuisine is grouped with that of Castile–La Mancha, well-set in its traditions and closely linked to hunting and grazing. A good number of recipes are the result of a combination of Moorish and Christian influences.

Some of its specialties include lamb roast or stew, cochifrito, alubias con perdiz (beans with partridge) and perdiz estofoda (partridge stew), carcamusa, migas, gachas manchegas, and tortilla a la magra. In addition, in Toledo there are local versions of dishes from the nearby capital of Spain, Madrid, as is the case of the cocido toledano, La Mancha version of the famous Madrid stew. Two of the city’s most famous food productions are Manchego cheese and marzipan, which has a Protected Geographical Indication (mazapán de Toledo).

There are three Michelin restaurants in the city:

Iván Cerdeño, Cigarral del Ángel, 47 – 135 EUR • Modern Cuisine (One star)

Adolfo, Hombre de Palo 7, 60 – 80 EUR • Modern Cuisine

La Orza, Descalzos 5, 40 – 50 EUR • Regional Cuisine

Shopping and what to buy?

Toledo is well known for its swords, so be sure to look for a conquistador sword, which should set you back around 250 euro. As you can’t bring it on a plane, you’ll need to send it. Fortunately, many shops will ship it for you for a reasonable price.

Ceramics – Talavera de la Reina (outside of Toledo) has a centuries-old tradition of glazed ceramics. Toledo is filled with handpainted ceramics of varying degrees of quality (upscale shops and boutiques are pricier, but generally carry higher-quality pieces).

Damascene – Another famous handicraft of Toledo is damascene, from the ancient Moorish art of interlacing gold on iron or steel, then firing it so the underlying material oxidizes and becomes black, with the gold in sharp relief. Every shop in Toledo will carry some form of damascene work, most frequently as small decorative plates and jewellery. Damascene also tends to be on the expensive side, so be sure to comparison shop around Toledo.

How to get to?

In the mid-nineteenth century Toledo was one of the first Spanish cities to receive rail service, with the arrival of the Madrid – Aranjuez line, which was inaugurated by Isabella II on June 12 of 1858.

Today high-speed link to Madrid, which entered service on November 16 of 2005, reduced the travel time to Madrid to just under 30 minutes.

By car:

From Madrid 1 hr (72.4 km) via A-42

Distances to the main cities of Castilla–La Mancha:

From Ciudad Real 1 hr 28 min (118 km) via N-401

From Albacete 2 hr 23 min (258 km) via CM-42

From Cuenca 1 hr 49 min (179 km) via A-40

From Guadalajara 1 hr 23 min (129 km) via A-2 and A-42

Main information

Area: 232 sq. km (municipality)

Coordinates: 39°52′00″N 4°02′00″W

Population: 85 811

Languages: Spanish

Currency: Euro

Visa: Schengen

Time: Central European UTC +1

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