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Toledo, Spain

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The painter El Greco’s real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos.
  • Toledo is in the region called La Mancha, home of the fictional Don Quixote.
  • The Toledo Cathedral has 750 stained-glass windows.
  • Toledo was once a Roman city called Toletum.
  • Toledo, Spain, and Toledo, Ohio, are parties to America’s oldest sister city pact (1931).

Magical city on a hill

From a distance, Toledo is a magical sight upon its hill; seen up close, it is still magical. It has a dramatic impact on first-time, or any, visitor in part because of its medieval fortress (Alcazar) and cathedral, which can be seen at some distance. But mostly visitors lock in on its perch — a steep, rugged hill wrapped on three sides by the Tagus River.

That strategic setting is, of course, the reason there is any city at all at this particular spot. The first settlement predated the Romans, but the Romans saw its value and made it the region’s capital. Later, it was the Visigothic capital before the Moors conquered Spain and the imperial capital under Emperor Charles V after the Moors had been expelled. In addition, during the Moorish tenure, Toledo thrived as the city of three cultures.

As a result, Toledo delivers a rich legacy of churches, fortresses, mosques, palaces and synagogues, which among them reflect a diversity of artistic styles. All these are tucked in behind medieval walls — only on the one side that does not have natural defenses in the river and granite cliff. Even the two fortified bridges are old, one with Roman origins.

Cozy on their cliff and behind such walls, the churches, museums, attractive public squares, restaurants and shops are accessible along winding, steep and narrow streets.

Highlights include, besides the Gothic cathedral and the fortress, a former mosque called Cristo de la Luz Mosque, a former synagogue called the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, the synagogue of El Transito (now the Sephardic Museum) and the Chapel of St. Tome (home to El Greco’s “The Burial of the Conde de Orgaz”).

It’s no wonder the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but visitors needn’t reach back several hundred years for reasons to visit. The small city offers the charms of many Spanish destinations: pleasant climate, good food and wine, shaded public squares with places for refreshments in the late afternoon and a few iconic souvenirs. In Toledo, those are damascene ware (black steel inlaid with gold, silver and copper thread) — and marzipan.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Sign on for a hot-air balloon flight for the most dramatic view of an already-dramatic cityscape.
  • Spend the summer in Toledo and learn or refresh your Spanish while going about your daily business.
  • Time your visit for the Corpus Christi festivities. See the colorful procession that wends its way around the historic center of Toledo.
  • Take a guided walking tour in the Cabaneros National Park to learn about its geology, flora and fauna.
  • Tilt at windmills. Drive at least part of the 620-mile Route of Don Quixote. It starts in Toledo.
  • Or, be your own man (or woman) of La Mancha, and go hiking in the region.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Purchase a damascene sword or dagger made in Toledo (be certain it will fit in your checked luggage!).
  • Take up a post, however briefly, from a vantage point across the Tagus River for a good look at the city’s hilltop position.
  • View Cabaneros National Park as Spain’s Serengeti, and arrange a journey to the park for game viewing. Look for red deer, roe deer and wild boar — and a lot of birds of interest. Hire a local guide and 4X4 vehicle.
  • Go horseback riding for a look at the countryside around Toledo.
  • Do more than admire the Alcazar. Go inside for a closer look at this medieval fortress and its contents: nowadays, a military museum and library.
  • Assuming you have the time to spare in monument-rich Toledo, make a day trip to nearby villages, such as Villacanas, famous for its silos (underground dwellings), or El Toboso, site of the Cervantes Museum.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Make El Greco a sightseeing theme, looking for the artist’s paintings in several places about town.
  • Stay at the Parador Toledo, high on a hilltop overlooking Toledo and get stunning views of the city. The perspective is similar to that portrayed in El Greco’s “View of Toledo.”
  • Sample local food favorites, such as stewed partridge. Also, sample the region’s marzipan and the area’s Manchego cheese (made from sheep’s milk).
  • Buy marzipan to take home.
  • Spend time in the Sephardic Museum for the exhibits and for the building. It is housed in the synagogue of El Transito, built in 1357. It boasts one of the best of Toledo’s Mudejar coffered ceilings.
  • While away some time relaxing at a café in a public square, such as the Plaza de Zocodover.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Tourist Office of Spain at www.spain.info