Toledo in Castilla la Mancha is a fascinating historical city known as the 'City of Three Cultures' due to the way that Christians, Muslims and Jews all lived here together in the Middle Ages, and have all left their mark on the Toledo of today.
Located atop a grantie headland and surrounded on 3 sides by the River Tagus, Toledo has been an important area for many civilisations. Full of archaeological discoveries from the times of the Romans, the Visigoths and the Moors, and the incredible architectural diversity of the city's multicultural medieval inhabitants, Toledo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. The 3 cultures of Christians, Muslims and Jews lived side-by-side in medieval Toledo and much of the urban structure of the city is in Arabic design with narrow streets where the rooves almost touch, and courtyards with tiled fountains scattered amongst the labyrinth of streets. By the 17th century, Toledo had almost 70 Christian religious buildings including chapels and hospitals, with many churches now put to public use, and there were 10 synagogues throughout the city. Although the 3 cultures lived together, there are areas where each culture's influence is more strongly felt such as the Jewish Quarter, which is well preserved from before the 15th century when the Catholic Kings expelled all Jews from Spain.
One of the most distinctive silhouettes on the Toledo skyline is the Alcazar. Built in the Spanish Renaissance style as the royal residence of Carlos V, by the time it was finished it had been decided that Madrid would be the capital and was therefore never used as a royal residence. It's main uses have been military ones and the palace has been the Crown Prison, army barracks and the Spanish Infantry Academy throughout its history and is today the Army Museum. Toledo's other most famous monument is the cathedral, which is often cited as the magnum opus of the Gothic style in Spain although it does have some Mudejar influences. The art of the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes is also worth a look, and the monastery was built by Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II to be the royal burial place until the decision was made that royal burials would be at the Royal Chapel of Granada Cathedral after that city's capture.
With such a rich history, it is no surprise that Toledo has a wealth of great museums. Some of the best are Museo del Greco containing many works by the famous 16th century painter El Greco; and the Museo Sefardi, or National Museum of Hispano-Jewish and Sephardic Art, where you can understand the historic, religious and cultural aspects of life in Spain for the Jewish community. The prayer room, in particular, is not to be missed. Art lovers will be sure to visit the Museo de Santa Cruz, which has a special relationship with the Prado museum in Madrid. Explore the 3 sections dedicated to Archaeology, the Fine Arts and the Industrial Arts and admire some fascinating Roman, Visogthic and Arabic finds as well as paintings by Spanish artists including El Greco and some wonderful glassware and metalwork. You can discover more of Toledo's past by touring some of the city's archaeological sites including Roman and Islamic baths, the Caves of Hercules where the Romans built a reservoir, and the Jewish House with it's mikveh, a purification bath, in the basement.
Wander the narrow streets of the old city and discover the striking Gate of Bisgara and the fortified Bridge of San Martin. You can see many of the city sights on the Toledo City Tour tourist bus. There is also a tourist train around the central streets of the historic city. If you fancy going further on your travels, there are several walking routes starting from the city. The Route of Don Quixote, a European Cultural Route, begins in Toledo and travels all around the region of Castilla la Mancha where Cervantes' novel was set. Split up into 10 itineraries, the first travels from Toledo to San Clement and goes through the town of Corsuega where you can see some of La Mancha's famous windmills that are now synonymous with the novel.
Around the cathedral and the Alcazar, as well as many streets in the historic centre, you'll find lots of traditional shops selling souvenirs and local products - look out for the Made in Toledo symbol. Lots of shops sell swords, for which Toledo is famous, and damescene metalwork such as swords, jewellery and decorative plates made by in-laying iron and steel with gold and silver. In the newer areas of the city, the main shopping areas are the Santa Teresa district and the Luz de Tajo shopping mall. On the outskirts of the city, Luz de Tajo has over 100 shops, restaurants, cafes, a cinema and a hypermarket. Some local dishes to try include partridge stew (slow-cooked with an onion, garlic and bay leaf base), carcamusa (a stew of braised pork and potatoes in a tomato sauce) and arroz a la toledana (a casserole of rice with chicken, conger eel, squid and wild mushrooms). For those with a sweet tooth, Toledo marzipan is used in a variety of sweets. Some local products to take home are Montes de Toledo olive oil, and Manchego cheese made with sheep milk's and matured for at least 60 days. The region has some great La Mancha wines from its enormous vineyards and there even some local vintages to try in the city restaurants.
Region: Castilla la Mancha
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