Toledo, the Fortressed City

Visited on June 13, 2011. Toledo is located in the Castile-La Mancha region.

Panoramic View of Toledo

Panoramic View of Toledo

Attractions:

  • La Puerta de Bisagra
  • Town Hall
  • Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo
  • Fundación El Greco, the location of The Burial of Count Orgaz mural
  • Santa María la Blanca
  • Bridge of San Martin (west)
  • Puente de Alcántara (east)
Streets of Toledo

Streets of Toledo

We had woken up early at 6:30AM to head to the city of Toledo—a fortressed city approximately one hour from Madrid. Located along the Tagus River, the longest river in Spain, Toledo is known world-wide for its steel making and leather working. Local hotels in Toledo are called las cigarrales, Spanish-style country houses; in the past, nobles would stay at these “stately country houses” for recreation. In the past, Toledo was the Visigoth’s capital. The city was conquered by Alfonso VI during the Reconquista of Spain.

City Walls of Toledo

City Walls of Toledo

The city is distinguished by an old city wall that divides the modern city (outside) from the old city (inside the walls). The city gate, La Puerta de Bisagra, leads us into the old city. Past walls decorated with emblems of Alfonso VI, we enter a city with narrow, cobbled streets, where barely a car can fit through. Thankfully, the streets were shaded by awnings hanging high above our heads.

Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo

Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo

Along our walk, we spotted several artesian shops and noted that the architecture of the city is heavily influenced by the Moors and Christians. In the square of the town hall, there is the gothic-style Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo (La Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo), which was built in 1493.

The Burial of Count Orgaz/El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz (1586)

The Burial of Count Orgaz/El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz (1586)

The home of the famous painter, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) [1541-1614], was observed during our walk. At the Fundación El Greco, we went to the exhibition of the famous mural—The Burial of Count Orgaz (El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz). The mural is a masterpiece. The figures separate the painting into distinct parts from top to bottom: afterlife, life, and death; these are Byzantine painting attributes. El Greco paints the portraits of his acquaintances, including himself (the man staring at the viewer), as the mourners surrounding the Count. His son points to the Count and has the handkerchief with the artist’s signature. All the while, the Count’s spirit is ascending to Heaven, which is represented by Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints, and angels. The colors and elongation of the figures are inspired by the Italian Mannerist school.

Santa María la Blanca

Santa María la Blanca

Next, we went inside the oldest standing synagogue in Europe: Santa María la Blanca from the 12thcentury. Inside beautiful white arches finely carved support decorative alcoves in gold leaf and with painted Spanish designs.

Past another cathedral, we went down to the lower part of Toledo to the medieval Bridge of San Martin (Puente de San Martín) built over the Tagus River in the 14th century to connect to the west. The fortified towers along the bridge as well as those along the Puente de Alcántara (east) served as watchtowers in the past.

Bridge of San Martin

Bridge of San Martin

Additional Comments

Toledo is a historical city, well-preserved. It is definitely a place to visit, since it is also one of the places highlighted on the route of Don Quixote– the fictional knight who passed through most of Spain. I was impressed with the quality of steel products they had and so bought a small knife. It is very well-crafted, although there were few designs to choose from. Originally €60, however, since our tour director knows the proprietors, the price was knocked down to €54. I paid for the quality and workmanship!

Also, I would have enjoyed to go inside the gothic Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo and to El Greco’s house. I heard from my parents that this itinerary was similar to the one they had from 20 years ago. Thus, it seems that tourism is limited to the few sights we saw.

Acknowledgments

  • Fernando, local tour guide, for the walking tour and detailed explanation of El Greco’s Burial of Count Orgaz
  • Part of Trafalgar’s Best of Spain 2011 tour

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