A first visit to Toledo, the city of three cultures

Chrisa Lepida | Live the World

November 23, 2022

So, you are already in Madrid, you have more or less seen and visited everything you had planned, and you are looking for new suggestions. What about a day trip to Toledo!? Only a few minutes away from Madrid and easily accessible by public transport, Toledo is definitely a city worth exploring! Having good friends that happen to be locals, I learned, and I enjoyed the city every time I was around; after all, it is an escape from the loud capital!

© iStock/SeanPavonePhoto

Toledo is the heart and soul of Spain. This monumental ancient city is a captivating UNESCO World Heritage Site. Behind its daunting medieval walls, in a labyrinth of winding pedestrian streets, you can find some of the most important historical landmarks of the country. Magnificent old stone buildings and quiet cobblestone streets whisper the legacy of the past. For centuries, Christians, Jews, and Muslims flourished in a "city of three cultures" and built a dazzling array of churches, convents, palaces, fortresses, synagogues, and mosques. Wander the narrow atmospheric lanes, relax in quiet courtyards, and visit artisan shops tucked away in little alleys. Toledo is known for its traditional crafts, including damascene metalwork, antique-inspired swords, and handmade marzipan (sweet almond candies). But let me guide you further into those gems!

Toledo's Alcazar 

The Alcazar of Toledo is a majestic, imposing fortification located in the highest part of Toledo. It dates back to the Roman times, and it was built in a Renaissance style by the architect Alonso de Covarrubias. Its name derives from the Arabic word 'Al qasar', which translates to 'fortress'. Nowadays, it houses the Army Museum that aims to promote knowledge and provide the visitor with information about the Spanish military history. PS: Even if you are not that interested in learning about the city's military history, you should still definitely pay a visit to Toledo's Alcazar, as from there, you will probably get the best views over the city! 

© iStock/SeanPavonePhoto

The Cathedral 

The Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, or simply and usually called 'the Toledo Cathedral', is a Roman Catholic church, standing proud in the historical center of Toledo. It is an imposing structure and a characteristic example of medieval Gothic architecture. In its interior, you may admire the famous works of Velázquez, Goya and El Greco.  You can probably explore the Cathedral in an hour, (depends on your interests and the time you want to dedicate), and the audio-guide is absolutely a good option for a self-guided tour. 

© iStock/alberto clemares expósito

San Juan de los Reyes Monastery

This monastery is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful temples that should not be missed out while in the city of Toledo. It was built under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth I of Castile, in commemoration of the Battle of Toro. Its construction was completed in 1495, and its architecture corresponds to the Elizabethan type, also known as the 'Toledo Gothic or Spanish-Flemish' style. It is definitely unique. 

© iStock/thehague

El Greco Museum

Being Greek I could under no circumstances miss out on visiting the El Greco Museum. The museum, located in the historic center of the city, houses a wide Spanish Golden Age collection by the artist El Greco. Specifically, the museum focuses on the figure of El Greco and the influence of his work and personality in Toledo at the beginning of the 17th century. It opened in 1911 and it can be found in the Jewish neighborhood of the city. The entrance fee is only 3 euros, and the reduced ticket costs 1,5 euros. So, there is no excuse: visiting the museum is definitely a must. 

Traditional mazapan in Santo Tome

Like almost anything in Toledo, marzipan or "mazapan" also has a legendary origin inspired by the city's intense history. If we investigate the origin of marzipan in Toledo, we will probably find out that Muslims imported this rich delicacy in the 8th century, when they invaded the Iberian Peninsula. Since then, marzipan is considered to be Toledo's local delicacy. The best place to try it is at the Pasteleria de Santo Tome, that has been actively producing the traditional marzipan since 1856 without adding ingredients that would change its emblematic taste.  

© iStock/Juan Carlos Hernández Hernández

Are you ready for a stroll in the city of three cultures? Toledo awaits with all its glory! 

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