This is the city. The city that made me fall in love with the country of Spain. Let me paint a little picture for you. March of 2010 I arrived in Toledo with my high school Spanish class on a breezy spring day. We took our bus to the top of the hill and on that hill there is a long stone ledge that tourists take pictures from because you can see the whole city. Well, I decided to sit on it while admiring the amazing view of this old and historic city that was once the capital of Spain. I inhaled the fragrance of the blooming flowers and the river below while basking in the sun. More relaxed than I can ever remember and loving the view. Then all of a sudden a young man strolled behind me strumming the Spanish guitar. I was in love. I thought this is it, this is where my life needs to be, Spain.
Here I am ten years later. I didn’t get a chance to get to the same spot where I had my sort of epiphany but I did get those same butterflies. Toledo is old. It’s so old and well preserved that this whole city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 and it perfectly showcases the coexistence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religions (It wasn’t always so peaceful though). Located just about an hour and a half from Madrid, it’s an easy city to take a day trip from but since there is so much history and culture here I’d recommend spending at least a few days exploring.
Key places to go to while visiting Toledo are the cathedral, the city hall, the church of Santo Tome (this is the spot that houses the famous painting done by El Greco called “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”), the castle of San Servando, one of the many Jewish synagogues (I like the synagogue El Transito), El Cristo de la Luz which is a Moorish mosque that was built in 999, and the museum of El Greco. The synagogue Santa Maria la Blanca should also be on your list as it is a synagogue built by the Moors so it has an Arabic look to it but after the expulsion of Jews and Muslims in the early 16th century it was turned into a church so it has a lot of interesting history.
Toledo is the capital of the province of Toledo and the capital of Castilla -La Mancha and has mentions in history from 59BC. It used to be the capital of Spain during the reign of Alfonso VI until the Spanish courts then moved the capital to Valladolid and after to Madrid. The Alcazar in Toledo served as a military academy in the 19th and 20th century and the cathedral, built in the 13th century, took about 500 years to build! Can you imagine building something that your great great great grandchildren won’t even see completed?
One of Toledo’s biggest source of economy in Medieval times and even today metal working jobs bring in about 85% of all jobs in Toledo according to the Statistical Institute of Castilla-La Mancha. While you’re in Toledo be sure you stop in one of the dozens of metal working shops to see the craftsmanship the people of this city have. The swords, knives, and metal body gear which was used during the older times of Toledo are truly wondrous pieces which you should definitely take the extra time to go see. The one that I like is simply called Toledo Sword Shop. It’s featured on TripAdvisor so there is likely going to be many people cramming their way inside but it’s got everything in there. There are many mom and pop shops on little side streets if you’d rather not try to budge your way through the crowd.
Another one of Toledo’s great exports is textiles. Hand painted and hand chiseled tiles are very famous in this part of Spain and Toledo has some of the best. You can pop into a small store that sells these special tiles and watch them work their magic. The tiles are either painted or they are put together by chiseling smaller pieces of colored tile and putting them together like a puzzle. They also take gold leaf and very lightly “hammer” the gold leaf into designs on pottery. You can buy plates, bowls, and even the tiles themselves home with you. I think I might have to buy a stack and use them someway in my future home!
Honestly I could write a book about Toledo so I’ll stop here but make sure you get over to this historic and quaint city and maybe you too will have the same sort of inspiring and life changing moment that I did.