Just 90 minutes away by bus, Toledo is a fascinating day trip from Madrid.
It’s hard to think of Toledo without thinking of the famous exclamation, Holy Toledo! The most plausible story of its origin dates back to the 11th century when Alfonso VI of Castile overthrew the Moors. After that historical moment, the city became one of the great centers of Christian culture and thus, “Holy Toledo.” How this description transformed into an expression of surprise remains a mystery…
Because of its rich history and well-preserved nature, the entire city of Toledo has been declared a national monument. With no modern facades allowed on any buildings, visiting Toledo feels like stepping back in time. Adding to the nostalgia are the various craft shops where generations of families have continued to manufacture custom metal goods.
Two authentic shops stand out in particular. Bermejo is owned by a Simian father and son, both experts in the ancient Moorish craft of Damascening. This form of art involves the meticulous decoration of steel objects with threads of gold, silver and copper. In addition, Mariano Zamorano is the city’s last remaining sword maker for all your swording needs.
By far, the highlight of the ancient city is Toledo Cathedral, one of the greatest Gothic structures in all of Europe.
Toledo Cathedral is the second largest church in Spain (after the one in Seville.) Interestingly, the city has a complex religious history of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. For centuries, Toledo served as the capital of the Catholic faith in Spain and as such, the Cathedral remains historically significant.
Upon entry, the High Altar immediately grabbed our attention. Made of real gold, it’s one of the most elaborate altars we’ve seen. Intricate wood carvings depict the stages of Jesus’ life. Behind the alter, the unique El Transparente is an elaborate skylight that naturally illuminates the Mass services. Created in the 1700s, the skylight acts as a visual metaphor for the ascent into heaven. The sacristy is another unique feature that feels like a continuation of the Prado Museum in Madrid. Artwork by some of Europe’s greatest artists like Goya, Caravaggio, Velázquez and El Greco line the walls. El Greco actually spent the last 30 years of his life in Toledo, painting some of his most notable masterpieces. His View of Toledo (1597), a rare landscape piece, is considered the first landscape in Spanish art.
After a picnic in the sunshine on the Cathedral steps, we devoted the rest of the day to wandering.
We walked the old cobblestone streets, taking in the beautiful architecture and stopping in more craft shops along the way. As the sun set and the sky grew dark, Toledo treated us to its medieval nighttime magic. Before heading back to the fast-paced capital of Madrid, we cozied up at a quaint cerveceria (beer hall.) Lingering over a traditional tapas meal, we took in the serene atmosphere of the ancient walled city one last time. Such a little town with big surprises. Indeed, Holy Toledo!