Things to do in Toledo
Foto: Francisco Gama
Through our Private tour of Toledo you will discover the essence of this gem in the heart of Spain. Its alleys and squares are filled with medieval stories and traces of the Visigoth era, as well as the legacies of Muslim, Jewish and Christian cultures. Transporting you to bygone ages on your private tour of Toledo, we open the doors to unique experiences, such as a famous marzipan workshop, a wine tasting of the wines of the region or visits to the most exclusive wineries.
Let us take you to the Imperial city of Toledo.
Toledo, the name of the province, whose capital is the city of Toledo, is bordered by the provinces of Madrid, Cuenca, Ciudad Real, Badajoz, Cáceres, and Ávila.
During the 16th century it was ruled by Charles V, known as the Holy Roman Emperor, and also by Charles I of Spain. The capital of the Great Spanish Empire was established in Toledo and, thanks to this, its transformation into a modern city began. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 due to its extensive cultural and monumental heritage and the historical existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures. Known as the Imperial City as it was the main site of the court of Charles V, it is also called the City of the Three Cultures, having been influenced by the historical coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Toledo is a walled city surrounded by the river Tajo. The gates to the old city are worthy of special attention as they are an introduction for us to discover its beauty. Among the most important city gates are the Puerta de Bisagra, the Puerta del Sol, the Puerta de Alfonso VI, and the Puerta del Cambrón.
A brief History of Toledo
The Romans captured Toledo in 192 BC, but it was the Visigoths who launched it to prominence when they established it as their capital in the mid-6th century.
Although Toledo was taken by the Moors in 712, a significant number of Jews and Christians remained and enjoyed freedom to practice their religions. With the collapse of Córdoba – capital of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) – in 1031, Toledo enjoyed a brief period of relative independence as a small Muslim taifa (kingdom) before being reconquered by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085. As the southernmost Christian city, jutting into the heart of al-Andalus, Toledo’s strategic position made it the most important city in Christian Spain. Its reconquest meant that the centre of the peninsula was back in Christian hands for the first time since the early 8th century, becoming, once again, the capital of Spain and its spiritual heart. Alfonso styled himself Emperor of Toledo, King of the Three Religions and, as if that were not enough, Emperor of all Spain; under him, Toledo also acquired the title of Imperial City. The tradition of tolerance continued under Christian rule, and, taking advantage of the wealth of Arabic libraries and its established Jewish population, which was fluent in Arabic, a famous school of translators was soon formed in the city. Indeed, the role of the Jews was so significant at that time that Toledo was even called The Jewish City. Although the Christians tolerated the Muslims and Jews who remained after the reconquest, they quickly established their authority by converting mosques into churches, and then adding monasteries and convents.
Toledo limped into the 20th century and remained a provincial backwater until 1936 when it suddenly hit the headlines after General Franco diverted his national forces from their advance towards Madrid during the Civil War. Symbolically it was important that the city – indelibly linked with Spain’s Catholic soul since the times of the Visigoths – be saved from the ‘godless’ Republicans and remain in Catholic hands. And so, in cinema newsreels across the world, people were informed of the heroic defence of the Alcázar in the face of fierce Republican attacks, and of Toledo’s salvation by Franco’s Nationalists. In 1940 the city was declared a national monument, a move that probably spared it the construction atrocities that many towns suffered under Franco’s regime.
What to see in Toledo – Tourist Attractions
Churches in Toledo
The Cathedral of Toledo
Is a High Gothic church, whose construction started in 1227. It was built over a mosque and shows a clear influence of the Mudéjar style (Mudéjar, refers to the Moors who remained in Spain after the Christians reconquered Iberia). The mass celebrated at this Cathedral follows the Spanish-Mozarabic rite (Roman Catholic with Moorish influences) and dates back to the 8th century.
In addition to having a mixture of three cultures – Christian, Jewish and Arab that prevail in Toledo as a whole – the vestry or sacristy of the cathedral is an exceptional museum with masterpieces by El Greco, Caravaggio, Titian, Van Dyck, and Goya among others. The ceiling is adorned by an exquisite fresco by Luca Giordano.
In the Cathedral of Toledo, you also can see a number of monstrances (ostensoria) – vessels used to exhibit the consecrated Eucharistic host – that are true silversmithing masterpieces. The Great Monstrance of Arfe is rumoured to have been made with the first gold Columbus brought back from America. This bejewelled 10-foot-high piece made of silver and gold set with precious stones is used in the annual feast of Corpus Christi in Toledo.
The Cathedral of Toledo is also the site of the tombs of several kings and queens of Spain from the Middle Ages, and houses one of El Greco’s most important works, The Disrobing of Christ.
It was built with white limestone from the quarries of Olihuelas, near Toledo.
An exceedingly wealthy cathedral, its treasures and works of art can indeed rival those in the Vatican.
The most important object to be found in the chapel treasury is the great monstrance (commissioned by Cardinal Cisneros), made by Enrique de Arfe between 1517 and 1524. It echoes Gothic architecture and is an object of great beauty. Initially of carved silver, at the end of the 16th century Archbishop Quiroga had it gilded to match the monstrance of the high altar.
It has a hexagonal base with beautifully executed columns, is set with precious stones and boasts a variety of decorative elements such as angels, saints, flowers, bells, etc.
The Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes
Considered to be the most beautiful church in Toledo, was built by the famous architect Juan Guas after the Catholic Kings appointed him to carry out this great task and perpetuate the memory of the victory of the battle of Toro. The Monastery is in the shape of a Latin cross and the dome is in the shape of a star.
In the main chapel are five superbly crafted large coats of arms of the Catholic Monarchs, held up by huge eagles. The beautiful cloister and altarpiece of the main altar should also not be missed.
The Museum of Santa Cruz
Is a building dating back to the 16th century. Originally an important hospital, it was converted into a museum in the 19th century.
The hospital was founded by Cardinal Mendoza at the end of the 15th century to centralise assistance given to the orphaned and abandoned children of the city.
The museum is home to a number of very famous paintings by El Greco, such as The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, The Immaculate Conception, and La Verónica, as well as other works by various artists, and interesting archaeological objects and objects d’art.
The museum also has sections devoted to Archaeology, Fine Arts and Decorative Arts. Items from the Fine Arts collection are exhibited on the ground and first floors of the building; Archaeological pieces are on display around the ground-floor cloister and in a basement. Examples of the traditional Decorative Arts of Toledo are also on show in the basement.
The Synagogue of El Tránsito
It was built in 1356 by Samuel Ha-Levy Abulafia who was the treasurer to King Pedro I of Castile. The Abulafia were members of a very influential family of poets and kabbalists serving the kings of Castile. The synagogue, famous for its polychromed stucco work similar to that of The Alhambra, became a church after the Jews were expelled from Spain, and the building later served as a military barracks during the Napoleonic Wars. Since 1910 it has been a museum for Sephardic studies and is known as The Sephardic Museum; it houses collections of manuscripts and items depicting and documenting the life of the Jewish population of Toledo.
In 2015, Spain granted citizenship (with full European Union rights) to Sephardic Jews as reparation for the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (Sepharad) by the Catholic Monarchs.
The Church of Santo Tomé (Church of St Thomas)
It is a church in the historical centre of Toledo, whose fame is mainly due to the fact that it is home to the painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz by El Greco, which can be seen by accessing the back of church. The painting is divided into two parts: the lower section depicts a portrayal of earthly life, while the top part shows heavenly and divine elements.
The Church of Santo Tomé was also built – after the reconquest – where a mosque had once stood. Not to be missed is the bell tower in the Mudéjar style (built over the mosque’s minaret).
The Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca
It was built in the 13th century and belonged to the Jews until the mid-15th century. This beautiful construction reflects its rich heritage. Its interior boasts five naves separated by 29 horse-shoe arches on limewashed brick pillars with superbly decorated capitals. It has coffered ceilings and Plateresque altars.
Other places to visit in Toledo
It is one of the most emblematic sites in Toledo and witness to some of the most important events in the history of Spain. Today it is home to the Military Museum and has seven rooms of historical collections (up to the 20th century) and thirteen thematic rooms of diverse collections.
El Greco Museum, Hospital de Tavera, Cristo de la Luz Mosque, Tornerias Mosque, Ermita del Cristo de la Vega, Monastery of Santo Domingo, Convent of San Antonio, etc.
Festivals & Events in Toledo
The Feast of Corpus Christi falls on the Thursday of the ninth week after Easter and is the most extraordinary event on Toledo’s religious calendar – and one of the finest Corpus Christi celebrations in Spain. Several days of festivities reach a climax with a solemn procession featuring the massive monstrance made by Enrique de Arfe.
Easter in Toledo is also marked by several days of solemn processions by hooded members of various brotherhoods. Some of these processions take place around midnight on key days of Holy Week.
The Feast of the Assumption is on 15 August. On this day, you can drink water from the cathedral’s well, believed to have miraculous qualities – the queues for a swig from an earthenware jug can be equally astonishing.
Shopping in Toledo
Toledo is famous for its damascene artisanship, and the swords that are made today are still crafted traditionally and follow different styles. Quality leather items and ceramics are also made here.
Gastronomy in Toledo
Marzipan: 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 famous cathedral. Prepared with just almonds, sugar and eggs yolks, this sweet is something truly special.
Venison: With its rugged terrain and extreme seasons, Toledo has a rich tradition of game as an ingredient to prepare hearty stews. Ciervo en salsa or venison stew is a classic dish served in restaurants and homes throughout the region. Pieces of venison are cooked slowly with red wine and vegetables and seasoned with rosemary and thyme.
Carcamusas: Before leaving Toledo, try a hearty, meaty tapa of carcamusas. Made with slow-cooked pork, peas, tomatoes and white wine, it’s perfect for a winter’s day. This stew is traditionally served in a small clay dish called a cazuela and eaten with chunks of crusty bread.
Some tips from one of our local guides in Toledo
-Visit the valley at sunset and admire its inspiring views
-Try the carcamusas at the restaurant Ludeña
-Try the churros at El Katalino
-Enjoy the wines at Bar Jacaranda
Window shop (or buy) handbags at Mica on Santo Tomé square
Buy local gastronomic products, cheeses and wines at Casa Cuarteros
Purchase a steel knife or damascene object from Toledo at Artesanía Morales
Fun things to do in Toledo
VIP Experiences that we can organise for you in Toledo:
Marzipan workshop: Learn how to make and shape Toledo’s famous marzipan, and taste it fresh from the oven and with a layer of chocolate.
Wine tasting: We invite you to discover – hand in hand with our sommelier – some wines from La Mancha. Visit to wineries: We take you to visit the most exclusive wineries in the region. Combine a morning of wines with a cultural visit of Toledo.
For a Private Tour of Toledo, please contact us at:
Madrid Experience – www.madrid-experience.com
Tel: 00 34 915 417 099 – 00 34 644 355 651