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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

Don't Forget about Toledo...
Friday, July 22, 2022 @ 6:04 PM


The historic city of Toledo sits atop a steep-cragged rock, around which the Tajo or Tagus river slowly meanders. This strategic position together with abundant water, forests, grazing and arable lands in the surrounding areas gives much value to the city and has always favoured its use as a permanent human settlement since prehistoric times.

With over two thousand years of history, having first been a Celtiberian city, Toledo has the special characteristic of being a melting pot where all the cultures and eras of Spain have come together and intermingled, and which together make up a small but rich example of the history of the land.

Thus, Toledo is known as The City of the Three Cultures, a name which refers to the Christian, Islamic, and Hebrew cultures that coexisted during centuries within its walls, impregnating it with its own special identity. This almost brotherly union and the plurality of traditions can best be seen in the architecture, where the customary artistic styles of each one are interwoven, exchanging influences and forming hybrids with their own personalities. The Mudejar style, a mixture of Islamic and Christian styles, predominates in the city, combining principally Romanesque structures and purely Muslim elements.

There were various important examples of intercultural exchange, such as the so-called School of Translators of the 12th and 13th centuries, which was decisive in preserving and disseminating knowledge of the Greco-Latin and Arab cultures.

A very important town developed while Christianity took hold around the first century, remaining until the present day and maintaining, for better or worse, the Greco Latin cultural legacy.

The first written historical document which mentions Toledo dates from the Roman period, a testimony of the conquest of the city in the year 193 BC, when it was already an important Celtiberian city. The Roman historian Tito Livio mentioned the city of Toletum, a term whose origin would be Tollitum, meaning "raised aloft". During this era, Toledo became an important urban centre and evidence of this period include the ruins of a monumental circus, and the ruins of the water supply system with the dam wall, also some remains of the aqueduct across the deep ravine of the Tagus River.

Following the decay and fall of the Roman empire at the hands of peoples from the North of Europe, the city was conquered in the 5th century AD by the northern barbarians and in the 6th century, the Visigoths moved their court to Toledo.

In the year 569, Leovigildo, King of the Visigoths, established his court in Toledo and in 589 it became the political and religious capital of Hispania, after the abandonment of Arianism and conversion to Catholicism by the Visigothic king Recaredo. During this period, the Councils of Toledo took place here. These were assemblies with ecclesiastical, political and legislative functions. Only a few material vestiges remain of this era, such as some ruins of chrismons, capitals and pilasters, together with some gold and silversmith work. These items are on display in the Museo de Los Concilios y Cultura Visigótica (Museum of the Visigothic Councils and Culture), and others found in various parts of the city were later re-used and remain embedded in walls and towers.
Although dating from old, the Jewish presence was not pronounced until 712, the year in which the Moors conquered the city.

The conquest, without a fight, of the city by the Berbers of Tarik in the year 711, began the period of Muslim domination in which the Moors occupied Toledo for 373 years, a relatively short period, but their influence was enormous, both in the labyrinth-like layout of narrow and steep alleyways, of parapet walks that go nowhere, often with covered passageways on top, and in important architectural remains, such as the Bab-al-Mardum mosque, today known as Cristo de la Luz (the Christ of Light), built by Musa ibn Ali, among others.
The religious tolerance of the Muslims allowed the Christians to co-exist with the Moors and led to the appearance of the so-called Mozárabes-"Mozarabs"-who created a unique culture which would have far-reaching effects on architecture and decoration, as well as customs, vocabulary, literature and music. This situation also allowed the Jews to form a prosperous community, although their presence dated back to the Visigoth period.



In 1085, when Alfonso VI took the city walls with no bloodshed, many of the Muslim inhabitants decided to stay with the Christians and Jews. The harmony between the three cultures bore fruit as notable as the School of Translators of Toledo, renowned for having recuperated part of the classical culture from various Arab documents. The Islamic legacy faded with time, and the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled the Jews in the 15th century. However, the cultural mix in the city had been determined and can still be felt today.

King Alfonso VI conquered the city from the Muslims in 1085, and Toledo became part of the Kingdom of Castile. The King promised to respect not only the Muslims and their property, but also allowed them the use of their language and the freedom to practice their religion. This maintained the stability of a large portion of the population. The Christians who had taken part in the conquest. and their religious orders also became part of this plural society and received houses and orchards in the city as rewards from the King.

In 1226, Fernando III and the Archbishop Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada decided to build the Cathedral, the only purely Gothic building from this period. In the 14th century, due to the economic and social crisis at the time, the atmosphere of religious tolerance which characterised Toledo in previous centuries progressively disappeared, especially affecting the Jewish community, which was accused of being the cause of all problems.

In the 15th century, the "Catholic Monarchs", Ferdinand and Isabel, who sought the political and religious unity of the Kingdom, established the Tribunal of the Inquisition in Toledo in 1485 and decreed the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. These decisions deeply affected the social structure of Toledo.

With the crowning of Charles V (also known as Charles I) in 1519, Toledo became the most important city in the world, known as the Imperial Capital. This period, although short, brought to Toledo an era of splendour in which the Renaissance was manifested in important works carried out under royal patronage, together with that of the archbishops of Toledo, who were great promoters and sponsors of buildings.

In 1561, Philip II decided to move the court to Madrid, initiating a period of political decline, but fortunately, it had no effect on religious, artistic or cultural aspects. It was right at this time when Domenico Theotocopoulos, El Greco, the extraordinary painter born in Crete, decided to settle in the city and paint the majority of his universally acclaimed works of art.

In the second half of the 19th century, the arrival of the railway brought growth outside the city walls, in the areas with the easiest terrain, and the appearance of extensive neighbourhoods of new buildings where most of the city's population lives today.

In 1982, Toledo was named the capital of the Autonomous Community of Castilla La Mancha, returning to the city some of to its former political and administrative importance.

In December 1987, the UNESCO declared Toledo a World Heritage city in recognition of its uniqueness, as it is almost impossible to walk its streets without coming across an ancient mosque, a Gothic or Mudejar church, a Romanesque or Visigothic structure, a synagogue, or a Renaissance palace. Several days are needed to visit and enjoy all of the sights of Toledo, as well as a dash of adventurous spirit to fall under the spell of the city and discover its mysteries while touring it, either in search of a well-known monument, or just exploring its winding streets.




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belgravia said:
Saturday, July 23, 2022 @ 9:45 AM

I used to wonder why there was a metl shortage in the world until I went to Toledo. The shops are full or swords, knives and daggers.

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