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The city of Toledo is history incarnate. Get off a bus in the center of town and you can’t go three blocks in any direction without passing a half-dozen genuine historical sites. Here’s a cathedral, there’s a synagogue, here’s an art museum…the list goes on and on. There’s more well-preserved old stuff here than in your grandmother’s attic.

But unlike your grandmother’s attic, Toledo does not smell musty, is not full of scary spiders and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over the centuries, Toledo has been an important crossroads. As much as any city in Spain, Toledo preserves the mark left by early Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures that shared the peninsula before the religious/ethnic cleansing of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Toledo has always been of strategic and military importance, even more so due to the weapon-making industry that has thrived there for centuries. Because Toledo was historically tolerant, even after Christian forces reconquered the city from the Muslims in 1085, it continued to be home to large populations of Jews and Moors. Today, there are few surviving synagogues in Spain: Toledo is home to two of them as well as a Sephardic Jew museum. During the enlightened reign of Alfonso X “the wise” in the thirteenth century, books from around the known world were brought to Toledo to be translated and copied. Later, Toledo became an extremely important center for art in Spain, most notably due to the influence of El Greco, one of Spain’s greatest painters, who lived in Toledo for most of his life. There is a museum in the city with some of his most important and interesting works.

Toledo is located on a hill, one of a series of rolling, striking hills that make up the region. The cathedral is at the top of the hill, and you can work your way up and down around town from there. There is good souvenir shopping to be had in Toledo: there can be no doubt that it is the best place in the world to buy weapons. Not guns or WMD’s or anything modern like that; Toledo still does swords, axes, maces and pikes. Since the Middle Ages, Toledo has been well known for it’s arms and armor, and the tradition continues today. There is also some very good gold work, which you’ll see in plates, jewelry boxes and jewelry.

There is a helpful tourist information office not far from the cathedral: stop in to pick up some maps and then simply explore the city. Most people do Toledo as a day trip from Madrid, especially now that there is a high-speed train that connects the two. This is possible, but be sure it’s a long day, as there is much to see and to in Toledo.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
23 Apr 2010

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