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Spain This Way Comment: Toledo is a fabulous city and is great to visit as a city break in its own right or as part of a trip to Madrid.
Toledo is built on a hill with its Alcazar, or fortress, at the top. The Tagus river encircles three sides of the city. Toledo is one of the most splendid cities of Spain and the whole city has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the number of historic sights packed into the city.
In the 13th century Christians, Moors and Jews lived together in the city of Toledo and churches, mosques and synagogues and other buildings from this era give Toledo its unusual and beautiful combinations of architectural styles.
To see Toledo you need to stay at least one night and this gives you the benefit of seeing the city with its night time illuminations - a splendid sight.
As well as all its historic sights Toledo is famous for its works by El Greco who came to Toledo in 1577 and stayed until his death in 1614.
Toledo is famous for its Manchego cheese and its marzipan. It is also famous for its sword-making (now devoted to the tourist industry) and remains an important centre for making knives.
Due to its closeness to Madrid, Toledo is often packed with tourists so try and visit mid-week and out of season.
The Cathedral of Toledo is one of the largest in Europe and took 3 centuries to build. It is a mix of Gothic and other styles on the outside and contains interesting Mudejar and Plateresque details inside. Its cloister is two stories high and its altar is splendid.
Inside the cathedral there are works by El Greco, Titian and Van Dyck. The cathedral has had an interesting history. It was built in the 1st century by the Bishop of Toledo, it was then captured by the Moors and turned into a Mosque. Alfonso VI changed it back to a church but it was destroyed in the 13th century and rebuilt as seen today.
The Alcazar sits perched above the city and gives Toledo its famous skyline. There has been a fortress since Roman times but it has been built and destroyed many times. The current Alcazar was built after the Spanish Civil War by Franco's regime as a monument to the Nationalists who defended the Alcazar from a Republican siege of two months during the war. There is an Army Museum in the Alcazar and you get some excellent views of the city.
The Museum of Santa Cruz, housed in a 16th century hospital, has some excellent Renaissance features. Works in the museum include 'the Assumption' painted by El Greco. More works by El Greco can be seen in the Casa-Museo de El Greco including his Christ and the Apostles series.
The Iglesia de Santo Tome, the Saint Tome church, is home to El Greco's famous 'The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. This church also has a wonderful Mudejar tower.
Another important building connected to El Greco is the Cistercian monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos. El Greco painted the church and ultimately was buried here. There are still monks living in the monastery and you can buy home-made sweets and cakes from them.
There are two synagogues in Toledo which both have attractive Mudejar features. The Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca has lovely Mudejar arches. In 1391 there was a massacre of Jews in the synagogue, bringing to an end the relatively peaceful co-habitation of the Jews, Christians and Moors. The synagogue of Transito houses an excellent Mudejar interior - a mixture of Islamic, Hebrew and Gothic symbols decorate the frieze of the prayer hall.
The church of San Juan de los Reyes is an unusual sight as it is decorated by the chains of Christian prisoners from Grenada who were released during the Reconquest. It has a lovely double storey cloister with a Mudejar ceiling.
The Puerta de Bisagra is a massive stone gateway and the main entrance to the old town.
Where to visit near Toledo?
Guadamar castle lies to the South of Toledo and the town of Orgaz is worth a visit for its beautiful plaza and Baroque church.
Aranjuez with its wonderful summer palace and gardens is well worth a visit.
Fans of Don Quixote will be sure to want to visit the famous windmills of Consuegra.