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Toledo Day Trip
About 100 kilometers south of Madrid is the city of Toledo, which was named by UNESCO as a
World Heritage Site in 1986. Toledo was founded by Jewish settlers in 540 BC, and it was called Toledoch by them. Later on the city became an important Roman settlement, which was followed as the capital of the Visigoths. When the Moors came, Toledo entered its golden age, with the co-existence between the Moors, Jews, and Spanish Christians. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile conquered the city and it became the capital of Spain, until 1561, When Philip II moved the court to Madrid. Toledo was famous for its steel and even today it makes the ceremonial swords for West Point. The city is located on a mountain and is surrounded on three sides by the Tajo River. In the 13th century the city had a school of translators that translated the most important documents of the Jews and the Moors into Latin, and that is how Europe got its knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans and all of the advances in science and medicine discovered by the Muslims. Later the famous painter El Greco lived there.
One can take the high speed AVANT train to Toledo from the Atocha train station. One should buy round trip tickets because the return trip on the AVANT may be full. Read Buying Renfe Tickets Online in the Madrid Before You Go section to see how to do it. AVANT tickets are available online only 15 days before trips.
The speed and comfort of the train are impressive and it takes only half an hour to reach Toledo. The train station at Toledo is a very impressive building, in the Mudejar style (with Moorish accents). Then one can take a taxi or bus to go up the mountain to the city.
Toledo is like a medieval Disneyland for adults. The narrow streets use cobblestones and are hard on the feet when you walk on them. The outsides of the buildings cannot be touched by law, and only the interiors can be remodeled. There are hundreds of stores for the tourists selling souvenirs, but one can find many quality things there.
The first stop should be the Cathedral. This building was constructed in the 13th century in the Gothic style. However it has Mudejar and baroque elements. The most famous part of the church is the baroque altar, called “El Transparente”, with a mixture of stucco, painting, bronze elements, and marble, that goes to the roof, where a hole in the roof shines light over the whole masterpiece. The artist Narciso Tome designed it, and the impression is that the altar is going to heaven. There are more than 750 stained glass windows from the 14th to the 16th centuries, made by the best artists of those times. Remember that Toledo was also the capital of the Catholic faith in Spain, with the highest church officials residing there.
The Cathedral is also famous for the wooden choir, carved by famous artists. There is also a treasury, where one can see gold and silver treasures, studded with jewels, that are used in the Masses. There is also an exhibition of the vestments used by the priests, bishops, and cardinals. Another room contains several famous El Greco paintings. The Cathedral is one of the most important Gothic churches in Europe.
Across from the Cathedral is the city hall, a beautiful building with a small park in front, planted with colorful flowers. The building has the local tourist office, where one can get a map of the city. The map clearly shows every point of interest to tourists and the visiting hours for each place.
The next stop can be the Museum of Santa Cruz, which is the city museum. Inside are exhibits of the city history. The building is a former convent and one can see the cloisters, where they have Roman statuary beside the garden.
The next stop can be the little church of San Tome, where one can see El Greco’s most famous painting, “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”, painted in 1586. This is a marvelous painting and one can look at the faces of the men depicted in the painting, faces that are so Spanish, and that one can see in the streets of Spain today if one looks hard enough. Because of the mix of races, the Spanish have a distinctive look that is different from every other European country.
Another stop can be the museum of Victorio Macho, a Spanish sculptor who lived until 1966. He was a realist sculptor. He built his house and workshop on the edge of a cliff, with a spectacular view of the river and the hills on the other side of the river. There are beautiful small gardens that have many of his beautiful sculptures, and all with that magnificent view.
The Real Fundacion de Toledo is a foundation that is also here and has a building with all the other El Greco paintings in the city. There are 20 of them. One wall of the gallery has individual portraits of the most important saints, and this is a very impressive sight, because the colors of the paintings are very impressive.
One of the best places to have lunch is La Abadia at Plaza de San Nicolas,3. They have a very good lunch at a very inexpensive price.