Today was my last full day in Spain, and I decided to use it to visit Toledo, a small town about 80km south of Madrid with a very long history. Just as Cuenca gets very few visitors, Toledo gets a lot, and my train there was packed. Toledo was a small settlement back in Roman times, but achieved prominence when it became the capital of the kingdom of the Visigoths, one of the barbarian tribes occupying Spain during and after the fall of the Roman Empire. Later Toledo was briefly the capital of Imperial Spain under the Emperor Charles V, before his successor moved it to Madrid. The city was famous for its tolerance, as a place where Christians, Muslims and Jews lived together in relative peace.
On arrival at the station, I took a bus to one of the gates marking the entry to the old town.
The street then led steeply uphill – it is said that Toledo is built on three hills. The lanes were narrow and windy, but also shady, since long rolls of cloth were suspended above to protect from the sun. I enjoyed wandering around, before deciding to take a trip on the tourist train. This is not something I would normally consider, but it was the only way to get to a famous viewpoint of Toledo, which had been painted by countless artists.
The train dropped me back in the centre, and I continued my exploration, first visiting the castle, where interestingly a new building had been constructed entirely around the ruins of the old fort (sorry, forgot to take a photo!). Then I check out one of the very many museums in Toledo, housed in the Hospital de Santa Cruz, a place founded in the 15th to provide help to poor and orphaned children.
It had an interesting collection of art, some by the local painter El Greco, and displays covering the history of Toledo and renaissance Spain. Next I headed all the way across the town to visit the beautiful Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, which dates from the 15th Century. It had a peaceful cloister and much beautiful, intricate stone carving.
Nearby was the Puente de san Martin, which offers another of the definitive views over Toledo.
Next I hauled myself back up the steep hill, on the way to the cathedral, popping in to a museum dedicated to Visigoth culture on the way. There, the explanation was all in Spanish, and the items on display were the usual pots and pans from less advanced ancient civilisations – maybe exciting to an archaeologist, but not to me. But at least the museum was housed in an interesting former church and was cool after the long climb up the hill in the sun.
I then had the luxury of walking downhill to the cathedral, one of Toledo’s “must see” attractions. It was built in the 13th Century in the High Gothic style on the site of an older church used by the Visigoths – possibly since the 7th century. Although it is one of the most famous cathedrals in Spain, I found it rather dark. Being closely surrounded by other buildings, it was also hard to appreciate its size and architecture fully from the outside.
I returned to the train station in the late afternoon, tired after continuously climbing up and down Toledo’s three hills. I had visited almost all of the main sights – expect the El Greco museum (renaissance painting is not my thing). This is no small achievement for someone with little legs, so I rewarded myself with a beer and snoozed on the way back to Madrid.
For my last night in Spain, I treated myself to dinner on the rooftop of one of the grand buildings on the Gran Via. I had to enjoy the warmth of the sun whilst I still could!
Well, that’s it for the moment. Back to cold and rainy London. My next trip will be to Eastern Europe in September, stay tuned!