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December 23, 2018

Spain: Toledo

Toledo Spain

A long time ago, twenty-five or thirty years earlier, I had the opportunity to visit Toledo Spain on a day trip. It was an interesting visit though too short. I realized then that there wasn’t enough time to take in this historic city in one day. I vowed I would return and spend at least a night. At the least I assumed it would be quieter and more atmospheric to see Toledo after the day-tripping tourist crowds have departed.

In 2017 I finally did get the chance to return to Toledo. But again it was only a day trip. We could have driven to Toledo from Madrid and spent a night or two, but we didn’t. On long road trips we tend to get sticky to places and hotels. The desire to jump in the car and move on for another brief stop had faded by the time we contemplated going to Toledo.

Toledo is famous for its steel and swords.

The “Disrobing of Christ” or “El Expolio” by El Greco is on display in Toledo’s cathedral. Doménikos Theotokópoulos or “El Greco” was born in Crete but spent much of his life in Toledo.

Toledo is located about 70 kilometers to the south and west of Madrid. Instead of driving to Toledo and staying a night or two we took a 50-minute long train ride and spent the day walking through the town for the day. Visiting by train for the day from Madrid is easy and convenient. But as it was before, a day really isn’t enough time to see Toledo.

The history of Toledo, and Madrid, go back more than 2,000 years. Like many cities in Spain, the Romans were the first major players in Toledo, establishing a municipality before the birth of Christ. The Visigoths, who used Toledo as a center of power, followed the Romans. Centuries later the Moors displaced the Goths in the early part of the 8th Century. When the Reconquista reached Toledo on May 25, 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile took control over the Moorish city asserting Christian-Spanish rule.

Mosque of Cristo de la Luz: Built in 999 this Moorish mosque is noted for being in much the same state as when it was originally built.

Inside the mosque

Under the rule of Charles V of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor, Toledo became Spain’s capitol. Toledo’s period as Spain’s administration center was brief. In 1561, after Charles’ abdication, the Spanish court was moved to Madrid in the first years of his son Philip II of Spain‘s reign. Toledo’s importance dwindled after the departure of the royal family.

Reflecting its deep history UNESCO inscribed the “Historic City of Toledo” as a World Heritage site in 1986. The UNESCO listing notes Toledo is a “product of heterogeneous civilizations in an environment where the existence of three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – was a major factor”. Examples of an historic mosque, church, and synagogue can be seen today inside the city’s walls. In Toledo people of diverse religious backgrounds co-existed in an imperfect civil society for centuries.

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A visit to Toledo is an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the past. It is a complicated, attractive, and historic place. We needed more time to explore, but we knew that would be the case before we arrived. On the next visit we will spend a night or two, for sure. Hopefully it won’t take thirty years to return this time.


Portrait of Pope Paul III by Titian is on display in the cathedral. It is a copy executed by Titian of an original that is on display in Naples.

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We visited Toledo Spain in November of 2017.

From Madrid we made another day trip to see a UNESCO World Heritage site. This time we traveled 30 minutes by train to Alcalá de Henares to see the University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares. Historic universities are usually interesting to see, and that applies here.

Toldeo’s cathedral

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