Toledo’s storied past, and its idyllic setting on a plateau high above the Tagus River, has always given it a special mystique for its visitors. It was this setting that appealed to the Romans who founded it and the centuries of painters and poets who followed them. Perhaps its most famous son is El Greco, who spent half his life there and whose home and museum contain an extensive collection of his paintings.
Toledo is one of those magical places which, through the filter of the 21st century, happens to sit in the rather large shadow of a very significant city.
But if one looks past the shadow of Madrid’s vibrant present and the last few hundred years of history, it is well-preserved Toledo that is truly the living museum of 2,500 years.
It is a city where winding streets – and they certainly do wind – are lined with churches from the fifteenth century, synagogues from the fourteenth and mosques from the twelfth. You might cross a bridge from the tenth century en route to a hospital from the fourteenth. You might check out a sixteenth-century alcazar (castle) built on the foundation of third-century ruins, which were painted by an artist from the nineteenth. And the palaces and houses of nobility – well, let’s not even get started.
Toledo’s importance lies in its foundation of tolerance which, during its Golden Age, attracted Muslim, Jewish, and Christian men of science, language, and commerce. As such, it left a deep imprint on the path of Western history.
While the rest of Europe was suffering through the so-called Dark Ages, it was the scholars of Toledo who kept the works of the Greeks and Romans from becoming lost to future generations. It was their colleagues who developed prominent schools of science, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and astrology.
Its libraries were famous. Multicultural (before the word was invented) Toledo became known as an important center of translation, theology, philosophy, and mysticism, as well as the darker schools of the occult and alchemy.
It is walking the streets and steps of Toledo that you really begin to feel the pull of Spain’s past, of its prominence, and its power and its creativity. The sense of that living museum you may feel? Well, it is a museum of something quite extraordinary.
Where else could we introduce you to the direct descendant of the subject of one of El Greco’s most famous paintings? To us, that embodies the 2,500 years of history in this city perched high on a plateau that drew the painter here in the first place.