Urban route in Toledo
El Tránsito Synagogue. Toledo
Tavera Hospital. Toledo
El Greco, «the Burial of the Count of Orgaz». Church of Santo Tomé. Toledo
Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. Toledo
Nueva de Bisagra Gate. Toledo
Santa María La Blanca Synagogue. Toledo
The city of the three cultures
The different languages, races and religions that used to coexist on the streets of Toledo left a great imprint. It was a Roman city, and after that, the capital of the Visigothic kingdom. Later on, it became one of the most important Moorish cities in al-Andalus; and after the Christian Reconquest it was the headquarters and court of the monarchs of Castile-León and Spain until the 16th century, as well as one of the most active Jewish quarters in the Jewish world. Today its historic centre has been designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
We suggest a short walk that takes a day, to find out a little about the cultural heritage of the city of Toledo. It is a traditional excursion that visitors usually do when travelling from the city of Madrid, which is nearby.
The route covers the city's old quarter. A good place to start is Calle del Cardenal Tavera. 300 metres before getting to one of the historic entrances to the old quarter, you'll find the Tavera Hospital. It is a large Renaissance site (16th century) that houses the Duque de Lerma Foundation Museum.
We enter the old quarter through two impressive gates: the Puerta Nueva de Bisagra gate (Renaissance, mid-16th century) and the Puerta Vieja de Bisagra gate, the oldest Moorish construction in the city. It has a Caliph style (9th century), with Mudejar elements added later on.
We'll bear right along the Paseo de Recaredo, along the medieval wall. The angle that it forms with the wall that overlooks the Tajo River leads to the Puerta del Cambrón gate, which is also a Renaissance construction (16th century). Not too far away, on Calle Reyes Católicos, we'll find the impressive building of the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, founded by the Catholic Monarchs in 1476. It is one of the best Isabelline Gothic buildings in Spain.
This part of the old quarter used to be the old Jewish quarter, one of the largest in Spain at the time, cradle of the School of Translators of Toledo, founded by King Alfonso X the Wise in the mid-13th century. The two buildings that we'll visit next prove this: the synagogues of Santa María la Blanca (13th century) and El Tránsito (14th century). They are both Mudejar buildings and were turned into Catholic churches in the 15th century.
Next to the latter we'll see the El Greco Museum, a Neo-Renaissance building (1910), renovated in 2011. Then we'll find the Church of Santo Tomé, on the street of the same name, which houses the famous painting by El Greco, "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz".
Close by we'll find the square with the Santa María Cathedral, which is Gothic (13th-14th centuries). Then, the streets Hombre de Palo and del Comercio will take us to the picturesque Plaza de Zocodover, where the market in the Moorish community used to be. In the alleyways we can still imagine the clatter of steel from Toledo (Toledo is renowned for its traditional steel swords) and the theatrical dialogues from Golden Age dramas.
In the surrounding area there are two places not to be missed. Firstly there is the Alcázar fortress. It was built and refurbished several times and Juan de Herrera and Alonso de Covarrubias worked there. Secondly, there is the Santa Cruz Hospital, a Renaissance building (16th century) where we can see the mark of Enrique Egas and Covarrubias himself.
When the evening draws near we'll head to our starting point. If we walk down the Cuesta de las Armas, on our way we'll be able to see the Puerta del Sol gate, Gothic-Mudejar (14th century); the Puerta de Valmardón gate, which is Moorish; and the Church of El Cristo de la Luz, old Bab al-Mardum Mosque. Founded in 999, a Romanesque-Mudejar apse was added in the 12th century when it became a Christian church.
From here, Calle Real del Arrabal takes us finally to the Puerta Nueva de Bisagra gate.