The ancient city of Toletum was already an important Celtiberian and Roman settlement when the court and capital of the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo (mid-6th century) were established there, converting it into the first city of the Iberian Peninsula.
It was the seat of the most important Spanish Christian archdiocese and the backdrop for important church councils. After falling into Muslim hands in the 8th century it continued to exercise political leadership, as the capital of both the Middle March and of one of the most powerful taifas of the Peninsula.
The City of Three Cultures
When Toledo was conquered for the Christians by Alfonso VI in 1085, it became the first major Muslim city to fall into Christian hands and form part of the Kingdom of Castile. Toledo was converted into a melting pot between the Christians who had participated in the conquest (the Archbishop of Toledo remained the primate of Spain) and the population of Mozarabic Christians, Moors and Jews, whose disparity of interests did not affect their coexistence in a community that had thrived for centuries under the general tolerance of the Castilian kings. The Toledo of the Three Cultures saw exceptional cultural exchanges, including the 12th- and 13th-century School of Translators, so crucial to transmitting knowledge of Greek, Roman and Arabic cultures.
The capital of Castile and the Habsburgs
Toledo was often a capital, first of Castile and later of the Spanish dynasty of the Habsburgs, under Charles I (r. 1516-1556) and Philip II (r. 1556-1598). During the 13th and 14th centuries it continued to grow demographically and economically, on the basis of burgeoning industrial and crafts activities including fabrics, silk, weaponry and coin-making. Two decisions that profoundly affected the social fabric of Toledo were taken, however, by the Catholic Monarchs: the creation of the Tribunal of the Inquisition, which was established in Toledo in 1485, and an Edict of Expulsion of the Jews enacted in 1492.
Scene of the Revolt of the Comuneros (1520), Toledo reached its maximum splendour during the 16th century when it applied the Renaissance style to works commissioned by royalty and the church. The turning point came in May 1561, when Philip II decided to move the Court to the town of Madrid.
In time, Toledo became less a city and more a town. The population dropped to an average of 12,000 people during the 18th and 19th centuries. A resurgence took place in the second half of the 20th century, thanks to the industrialization of Spain from the 1960s and the town’s proximity to Madrid.
Toledo’s heritage in buildings and monuments is such as to make of it a veritable city-museum. UNESCO added Toledo to its World Heritage list in 1986. The declaration referred to the entire old quarter, lying within a sickle-shaped area formed by the river Tagus and the town walls. Successive cultural and artistic traditions in Toledo have resulted in the accumulation of a rich heritage of unique buildings and monuments. Several gateways survive in the old walls, including the Puerta de Bisagra (restored by Alonso de Covarrubias in 1550), the Puerta de Alfonso VI or Vieja de Bisagra (built in 838 by the Moors and refurbished in the Plateresque style), the Puerta del Sol (Mudéjar, 14th century), the Puerta del Cambrón (rebuilt in the 16th century) and the Puerta de Valmardón (with 9th-10th century remains).
Moorish art in Toledo shows certain similarities with Cordoban art. Splendid key buildings have been preserved, primarily two mosques: Christ of the Light (999) modelled on the Mosque of Cordoba (but with a Romanesque-Mudéjar style chancel added in the 12th century) and the very similar Las Tornerías.
Mudéjar and Sephardic art
Toledo is crucial for an understanding of the birth and expansion of Mudéjar art. The most important examples include the Churches of St. Andrew, Santiago del Arrabal (13th century) and St. Vincent (16th-18th centuries) and the tower of the Gothic <b>Church of St. Thomas (15th century). Noble houses and palaces in the Mudéjar style include the Casa de Mesa and the palaces of Taller del Moro (14th century), Fuensalida and Galiana (11th-14th centuries). Also preserved are Jewish buildings with Mudéjar features, including two synagogues: Tránsito (14th century), today the Sephardic Museum, and Santa María la Blanca (13th century).
From the Gothic to the neo-Classical
The Gothic style was introduced with the construction of the magnificent Cathedral of Toledo, begun in 1226 and completed in 1493. Another Gothic building is the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes (15th century). The most outstanding Renaissance buildings are the Hospitals of Tavera and Santa Cruz de Mendoza (16th century). Also worth mentioning are the refurbished Alcázar (16th century), the Archbishop’s Palace and the Convent of St. Clement.
We should not overlook the painters who worked in Toledo during this long century, most importantly El Greco (1576-1614), whose work is preserved in several religious buildings and in museums such as the Museum of Santa Cruz and the Museum of El Greco. Noteworthy for their Baroque style are the Churches of St. Ildefonsus and St. John the Baptist and, in the neo-Classical tradition, the Lorenzana Palace, now home to the University of Toledo.
Municipal Tourism Board
Plaza del Consistorio, 1
Tel: +34 925 254 030