Toledo, protected behind ancient walls with nine gates, reached by a Roman bridge (the Puente de Alcantara) and watched over by the Castillo de San Servando, has always played a foremost role in Iberian history. Situated beside the River Tagus, it was inhabited by Romans, Visigoths, Moors (711), Christians and Jews. It was the Jews who contributed greatly to the economical and artistic splendour of Toledo during the years they were able to live here freely. Evidence of this is seen in the eight beautiful synagogues that adorned the city with their elegant architecture. Two of these, the Sinagoga de Santa Maria and the Sinagoga del Transito, still stand out.
Capital of the kingdom for a long time, frequently but unsuccessfully besieged by Arabs, Toledo lived for centuries in the productive atmosphere of wide-spread and tolerant cosmopolitanism until the end of the 15th century when Jews were expelled, following a period of crisis and bloodshed. In 1561, Philip II transfered the capital to Madrid.
Today, Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a lively and active city with prolific craftmanship. The articles made here include jewelry, weapons, ceramics and pastries. Toledo swords and daggers are forged and engraved by hand, following techniques handed down through generations. This specific art has evolved into the production of armours and other objects of classical damascene art. The ceramic industry dates back to the Arabian culture. Tiles and ceramics were and are used to decorate the interiors and exteriors of buildings. Everyday items are also produced, with bright hues and brilliant tones as a dominant theme. The pastries and cakes made here also have Arabian roots and are typically made with marzipan.
Sightseeing in Toledo
The Alcazar – an Arabian fortress built over a Roman stronghold.
The Cathedral – built in 1226 has a mixture of Gothic, Plateresque, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The vestry houses masterpieces by El Greco, Titian and Goya.
The Museum de Santa Cruz, housed in a hospital of the same name, was built in the 16th century and contains many paintings by El Greco.
The Iglesia de Santa Tome, 12th century housing the 1586 Entierro del Conde de Orgaz (the Funeral of the Count of Orgaz) by El Greco.
One of the most famous of Toledo’s citizens, El Greco, was really an adopted citizen. Known by the nickname of El Greco, Domenikos Theotokopulos was born in Crete in 1541 and came to Toledo in 1577. This was after a long period of training in Italy under Titian in Venice. The impact Toledo had on the artist was so intense that it changed his life. He made the city his new home and produced his principal masterpieces for Spain. These works include the painting in the Escorial commissioned by Philip II, enourmous numbers of portraits with Titian influence and religious works of art for Toledo’s churches.
El Greco died in Toledo in 1614, and the house where he lived is now a museum in his honour. The house is in the old Jewish part of the city and still retains some interesting features from the past. A wonderful collection of his works is housed here, including the Panorama of Toledo and the series dedicated to Christ and the Apostles.