Not a day passes without news of a religious conflict somewhere in the world. But there was a time and place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together peacefully – where ideas were exchanged on art, architecture, science, and yes, even religion.
Practiced for centuries, this religious tolerance created a path to common goals, and as a result, the city prospered. This place was Toledo, Spain and the time was the 11th Century.
Toledo is incredibly well-preserved and its labyrinth of cobblestone streets lined with medieval buildings highlight this mix of cultures.
The Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca is a Jewish synagogue that looks conspicuously like a mosque. Built in 1200 by Muslim workers, it’s simplicity and marvelous repetition of theme made it one of our favorite buildings in all of Toledo.
Mudéjar can mean a couple of things: it’s the word for a Spanish Muslim who stayed behind after the Catholic Reconquest, but it can also mean a style of architecture strongly influenced by the Moors. This Mudéjar-style ceiling is in the Chapter Room in the Toledo Cathedral, which is widely acknowledged as one of the most important Catholic cathedrals in all of Spain.
Beautiful Mudéjar towers are another common sight in Toldedo’s old town. This tower with its intricate tile and brickwork stands on the same small plaza as the Church of San Ildefonso, named for the 7th Century Christian cleric.
There are many reasons to visit Toledo: the Alcazar, a Moorish fortress that dominates the skyline: one of the largest and most impressive Gothic cathedrals in Europe; Medieval churches, monasteries, and convents both large and small; and the Museum of El Greco, Spain’s most famous artists. But one of the best reasons to visit is wandering the higgledy-piggledy, uphill-downhill streets and alleyways. There’s a surprise around every corner.
Toledo is only a 50-mile drive southwest of Madrid and can be reached by AVE high-speed trains in 30 minutes. The short driving distance as well as ease of access by train make it a popular day trip destination. Our recommendation is: don’t miss Toledo. If you can only squeeze in a day trip then so be it. But honestly, if there’s any way to spend a bit more time, you won’t be sorry. Part of the reward will be seeing more of the city, but another bonus is having time for some quiet meandering after the tour groups leave.
We spent three nights in Toledo, and that worked fine for us. Thanks to Terri’s research, we found a small apartment on the tiny, well-hidden Plaza San Justo, which is a stone’s throw from the Cathedral. The compact plaza had the Church of San Justo, in case you needed a confession, as well as two small restaurants with tables al fresco for the hungry and thirsty. For supplies, it had a small, but well-stocked, don’t-come-knockin’-during-siesta market, and most importantly, a trickle fountain with well-placed benches for watching the day unfold. This is Toledo when you take the slow-down approach. As we said, don’t miss it.
James & Terri