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The World Heritage City of Toledo, Spain

Toledo in Spain Video


Toledo, the World Heritage city of Spain is situated on the central Spain, close to Madrid and on top of a hill protected by a bend in the Tagus river which forms a natural fortress complete with moat. Toledo is also associated with the steel swords that once made here and still offered as tourist souvenirs. Meal of Toledo-style partridge and the local marzipan are the popular tastes.

Years ago, Julio Caro Baroja wrote: “Toledo is, in itself, one of Spain’s luxuries.” Included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Cities on November 28 1986, Toledo has taken great care of its unique heritage, which dates back as far as the Neolithic. All the peoples that came to the Iberian Peninsula left the mark of their culture on the city, defined by Livy as “parva urbs, sed loco munitia” (a small but well-fortified place). It made its first appearance in history in 192 BC, when it was conquered by Roman legions.

It was known as Toletum to the Romans, who built temples, amphitheatres, circuses, walls and an aqueduct. Some of the remains of these constructions may still be seen and visited today, as is the case of the Roman Circus in the area of Vega Baja. When Roman Hispania disappeared, the city was occupied by Germanic peoples. The Visigoths would name it as their capital, extending their kingdom throughout the peninsula. The conversion in 587 of their king, Recaredo, and the choice of the city as the venue for Visigothic Councils were the first steps towards Toledo’s association with Christianity. Centuries later, it would be designated as the seat of the Primate of Spain.

With the arrival of the Moslems in the early eighth century, the city became known as Toleitola and from that time onwards, there would be greater tolerance between the three cultures and religions (Jewish, Moslem and Christian), albeit not without patches of tension and confrontation.

On May 25 1085, the Christian troops of Alfonso VI entered Toledo and put an end to Arab domination, although the conquest of the entire peninsula would not be completed until 1492. During the Middle Ages, the city of Toledo was the seat of the Court and the capital of the Castilian Monarchy. This period saw the establishment of the “Toledo School of Translators”. With the financial assistance and patronage of Toledo’s archbishops, learned Jews and Moazarab Christians busied themselves with the translation of a good number of classical Greek and Roman works born of the hand of Aristotle, Ptolemy and Hippocrates, amongst others. The texts had arrived in Spain in the form of manuscripts written in Arabic.

Toledo’s golden age would come in the sixteenth century and continue even after the capital was transferred to Madrid in 1561. The population of about 70,000 recorded at that time would not be surpassed until the end of the twentieth century. As the only important institution to remain in the city was the Church, Toledo was considered to be a second Rome. Indeed, there is no lack of sixteenth to eighteenth century authors who refer to the place as the convent city. It was in this context that an artist of Cretan origin, one Domenico Theotocopuli, better known as El Greco, would produce his best paintings and win much acclaim among the coeval avant-garde movements.

The economic and demographic decadence which had set in during the seventeenth century would not be alleviated until the second half of the eighteenth, with the revival of the silk industry and the establishment of the Royal Steel Weaponry Factory. In the nineteenth century, the economy would be driven by the military training centers (the Infantry Academy and the Shooting School) and the arrival of vast numbers of travelers drawn by the city’s romantic image. Novelists like M. Barrés and poets like Rilke would speak of Toledo’s beauty in their publications.

In the twentieth century, the bureaucratic and military character of Toledo forged in the nineteenth would make way for a city eager to promote its heritage and art and become one of Spain’s leading tourist destinations. All cultures and architectural styles have contributed to the singular city we know today. Public authorities have gone all out to preserve a legacy seen and admired by hundreds of thousands of people every year.

With its superb array of museums (Museo de Santa Cruz, Museo Sefardí, Museo de la Catedral Primada, Museo del Taller del Moro, Museo de los Concilios y de la Cultura Visigoda, Museo del Alcázar, Museo de Victorio Macho and Casa-Museo del Greco), it is hardly surprising that Toledo is known as the museum city.

Mariano García Rupérez
Municipal Archivist. Toledo City Hall


Getting There
The city of Toledo is located in the geographic centre of the Iberian Peninsula, about 71 km. (A-42) from Madrid. Its proximity to Madrid greatly eases transport both to other major cities like Barcelona (466 km, N-11), Seville (458 km, N-IV to Andalusia) and Valencia (362 km, E-901); and to cities in the neighboring area, such as Ávila (N-403), Cuenca (N-400) and Aranjuez (N-IV). Transport is further enhanced by the fact that Aranjuez is the junction for Andalusia-bound trains.

There is a regular bus service operating at the Madrid-Toledo route, with departures in both directions every 30 minutes. Moreover, trains run frequently between the two cities.


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