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The city of the three cultures

The different languages, races and religions that used to coexist on the streets of Toledo have certainly left their mark. It started life as a Roman city, before becoming the capital of the Visigothic kingdom. Later on, it was one of the most important Arab 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 home to one of the most active Jewish communities in the Jewish world. Today its historic centre has been designated a World Heritage site by the UNESCO.

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We suggest a short walk that takes one day to find out a little about the cultural heritage of the city of Toledo. This is a typical day trip for visitors staying in the nearby city of Madrid. The route covers the city's old quarter. A good place to start is the Calle del Cardenal Tavera. 300 metres before one of the historic entrances to the old quarter, you'll see the Tavera Hospital. a large Renaissance building (16th century) housing the Duque de Lerma Foundation Museum. We enter the old quarter through two impressive gates: the New Bisagra gate (Renaissance, mid-16th century) and the Old Bisagra gate, the oldest Arab construction in the city, built in the Caliphate style (9th century) with Mudéjar elements added at a later date. We bear right along the Paseo de Recaredo beside the medieval wall. The angle it makes with the wall overlooking the Tagus River leads to the Puerta del Cambrón gate, also a Renaissance construction (16th century). Not far away on Calle Reyes Católicos, we find the imposing building of the monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, founded by the Catholic Monarchs in 1476. It is one of the finest Isabelline Gothic buildings in Spain. This part of the old town was formerly the old Jewish quarter, one of the largest in Spain at the time and the cradle of the School of Translators of Toledo, founded by King Alfonso X the Wise in the mid-13th century. The two buildings we visit next are a testament to this heritage: the synagogues of Santa María la Blanca (13th century) and El Tránsito (14th century), both Mudéjar buildings converted into Catholic churches in the 15th century. Next to El Tránsito we see the El Greco Museum, a neo-Renaissance building (1910) renovated in 2011. We come to 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 is the square with the Gothic Primate cathedral (13th-14th centuries). The streets of Hombre de Palo and Comercio take us to the picturesque Plaza de Zocodover square, formerly the market in the Arab city. 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. First, the Alcázar fortress, built and refurbished several times by craftsmen including Juan de Herrera and Alonso de Covarrubias. Second is the Santa Cruz Hospital, a Renaissance building (16th century) bearing the imprint of Enrique Egas and of Covarrubias himself. When the evening draws near we head back to our starting point. If we walk down the Cuesta de las Armas, on our way we'll see the Gothic-Mudéjar Puerta del Sol gate (14th century); the Puerta de Valmardón gate, with Arab origins; and the Mosque of El Cristo de la Luz founded in 999, with a Romanesque-Mudéjar apse added in the 12th century when it became a Christian church. From here, Calle Real del Arrabal takes us finally to the New Bisagra gate.




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