The charm of Toledo’s antiquated feel coupled with its winding cobblestone streets draws many visitors. Named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1986, and known as the “city of three cultures” as Christians, Arabs and Jews lived together here for centuries, Toledo is an outstanding open-air museum preserving an artistic and cultural legacy in the form of churches, palaces, fortresses, mosques and synagogues, but also stunning house decorations.
What to See
The city walls, erected during the Roman era, were reconstructed and given their current appearance by the Arabs. Many gateways mark the route of the walls, but Puerta de la Bisagra, which leads into the historic town and bears the coat of arms of the Imperial City, is the only one to have kept its Medieval architecture. Must-see sights include the Cristo de la Luz Mosque, the only surviving mosque of its style from the nearly ten that originally existed in the city. It was built in the 10th century. It can be found just after going through Puerta de la Bisagra. Also, El Tránsito Synagogue with its beautiful plastered walls was erected in the 14th century and hides an interior with a rectangular floor plan, crowned by a lovely coffered ceiling. At present, the synagogue houses the Sephardic Museum. The Cathedral of Toledo was built in the Gothic style between 1226 and 1493 on the site of a Visigothic church. The sacristy contains a valuable collection of paintings by El Greco, Luca Giordano, Van Dyck and Goya.
Located in the upper part of town, the present-day Alcázar was a fortress under the Romans, becoming a fortified palace in the Christian era. Under King Charles I of Spain, it underwent significant renovation work. Each of its façades boasts a different style and dates back to a different period: the east façade is Medieval; the west one, Renaissance; the north façade has a Plateresque design; and the south one is Churrigueresque. The Alcázar was destroyed during the French invasion and in the Spanish Civil War, to be rehabilitated later. Now it is home of the Army Museum and military facilities.
What to Try
Toledo is also famed for its regional cuisine, and has been chosen as Spain’s Capital of Gastronomy for 2016 due to its “creative combination of cultural and gastronomical heritage”. Toledo takes pride, among many others, in its saffron and cured cheese, in the marzipan creations and in its legendary stews.
Toledo produces some of the best saffron around and is protected with a Denominación de Origen status. With small batch production and strict quality control guidelines, saffron from Toledo has an especially bright colour, and is perfect for making vibrant paellas and other Spanish dishes. Look for saffron labeled DO Castilla La Mancha at specialty shops throughout the city. Queso de ovejaor or the aged sheep’s milk cheese is another typical and delicious product from Toledo. In 2014 The World Cheese Awards included the sheep’s milk Queso de Toledo as one of the 62 best cheeses in the world. Still, Toledo is perhaps most famous for its marzipan. At Christmas time, shop windows fill up with elaborate almond paste figures including dragons and even a marzipan version of Toledo’s cathedral. Throughout the year, one of the most famous places to sample this delicacy is Confitería Santo Tome at Plaza de Zocodover, 7.
Before leaving Toledo, stop at Bar Ludeña, Plaza Magdalena, 10, and if the weather is not too hot, try a tapa of carcamusas. Made with slow cooked pork, peas, tomatoes and white wine, the stew is traditionally served in a small clay dish called a cazuela and is eaten with chunks of crusty bread. Carcamusas are emblematic to the city of Toledo and the house specialty at Bar Ludeña.
And for a drink or evening event, do not forget to check Circulo de Arte, at Plaza de San Vicente, 2 – an original artistic venue with a nice bar and original atmosphere, in a former old church.
Cover photo By Chensiyuan, from Wikimedia Commons