I woke up on Saturday feeling excited, ready to go, and …sick! Unfortunately, my immune system didn’t pay much mind to the fact that I’d scheduled tickets to go to Toledo. Regardless, I got myself up and dressed and to the bus station where I’d get to visit the former capital of Spain. My friends and I made it to the station and were boarding our 9:29 bus at 9:28, or so we thought. After the bus driver refused to let us board and just wordlessly waved us off, we deduced that the bus we were trying to board was the 9:20 bus that was leaving late, and that our 9:29 bus should pull up shortly. Finally, it arrived and we were on our way. After driving through quite a bit of un-forecasted fog that made us pretty nervous, we arrived to a very clear and bright Toledo. We tried (unsuccessfully) to find a map at the bus station, but headed into town regardless.
We came upon the city fairly quickly, and it was fairly evident we had found our way correctly when we saw the huge stone gate and high town walls.
We trekked our way up into the town, and didn’t have the easiest time navigating the winding, medieval streets. However, every new angle gave us incredible views of the Middle Aged architecture and the wide variety of churches, synagogues and mosques. Toledo’s nickname “the city of three cultures” comes from Toledo’s past, where Christians, Jewish people and Muslims all lived peacefully in the city. This is evidenced by the wide variety of places of worship available to visit.
We didn’t pay the 10 euro fee to visit the main cathedral as this seemed quite steep. Instead, there is a separate entrance that leads to a gated area inside the cathedral from which you can glimpse many of the sights hidden inside.
We visited next the Judería (Jewish Quarter) of town, which houses a museum about El Greco, the famed painter, as well as a synagogue pictured above. The Sinagoga del Tránsito is also a museum about the Sephardi, the Spanish Jewish people who inhabited Toledo. The museum discusses the Sephardic culture, notable people, persecution during the Inquisition and other times in European history, as well as houses many unique artifacts showcasing this unique culture.
We headed next out of the Jewish Quarter back to the Christian part of town, and toured the San Juan de los Reyes monastery, which had beautiful ceilings of both stone and wood, as well as a very ornate interior church.
To explore the third culture of the famed city, we headed next to La Mezquita/ Cristo de la Luz, the only mosque remaining of the ten the city used to have.
The mosque was built in the year 999, but in 1186 it was converted into a Christian church. Now, there is a Christ hung in the front of the inside of the building as well as a variety of Christian paintings on the walls. However, the architecture is still unmistakably of the Moorish time period of the city.
After touring representations of the three cultures of the cities, we headed last to the Alcázar, whose name comes from the Arabic Al-Quasaba, meaning “fortress.” It was a 3rd century Roman palace that now holds a museum, alongside an Army museum. Unfortunately, the Alcázar proper is closed due to strikes, so we were unable to enter. However, from the Army museum you can see the former walls of the fortress and read about a small portion of its history in the city.
After finishing earlier than expected at the fortress, we walked down to the river, where we spotted one of the city’s famous bridges over the Tagus River: the Alcántara bridge. From here we had a lovely view of the city being lit up for the night, though my camera’s photos don’t do it justice at all. However, the Alcázar lit up is certainly a beautiful sight.
Toledo was overall a beautiful city that I enjoyed thoroughly. The history is so interesting, and the whole day I was remembering facts I’d learned in my high school World History class. It was also so awesome to learn more about the Sephardi people, who I learned just a little bit about from a classmate in one of my university Spanish courses. After the Spanish Inquisition, there are so few remnants left of the former Spanish Jewish population, and so it was a privilege to learn just this small portion about a people group so important to this city’s heritage. I still have a lot more I want to learn about the city of Toledo and the role of differing religions in Spain’s history, but I’m thankful that Toledo is just an hour-long, 5 euro bus ride away from Madrid!