Toledo makes a fascinating and unusual twin centre city break when combined with Madrid
Toledo is one of Europe’s most important centres of medieval history. It was capital of Spain from the Gothic period until 1560, when Madrid became the capital. You could imagine you have stepped back into the Middle Ages when you walk along its cobbled streets. Because Toledo was considered the holiest city in Spain in the Catholic faith, its invaders were careful not to destroy hallowed ground. For this reason it survived the Moors, Visigoths and the Spanish Civil War.
The old town today is a treasure chest of churches, museums, synagogues and mosques set in a labyrinth of narrow streets, plazas and inner patios in an impressive setting high above the Río Tajo. Often crowded by day, Toledo changes dramatically after dark when the streets can take on a moody, other-worldly air.
Toledo’s cathedral reflects the city’s historical importance as the heart of Catholic Spain. With its ornate interior it is considered by many experts to be one of the most extravagant cathedrals and one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture in Spain. The cathedral also contains excellent examples of other architectural styles including Mudéjar and Renaissance. At the time of Muslim rule in Toledo the site contained Toledo’s central mosque, destroyed in 1085.
Another site not to be missed when in Toledo is the Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes. This imposing 15th-century Franciscan monastery and church was provocatively founded in the heart of the Jewish quarter by the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Fernando to demonstrate the supremacy of their faith. The highlight is an amazing two-level cloister, a fusion of late Gothic downstairs and Mudéjar architecture upstairs,
Toledo’s former judería (Jewish quarter) was once home to 10 synagogues. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the synagogues were used as a priory, hermitage and military barracks at different times.
At the highest point in the city stands the foreboding Alcázar. Rebuilt under Franco, it has been reopened as a vast military museum. Here you can see displays of uniforms and medals and there is also a fascinating historical section, with an in-depth overview of the nation’s history (in English as well as Spanish).
There is a very good train service between Toledo and Madrid, with the journey time just 35 minutes between the cities. They make an ideal and unusual combination for a twin centre city break, with flights from the UK into and out of Madrid.