Over the course of its 2,000-year history, Toledo has been ruled by Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Castilians. Jews settled in Toledo during the Middle Ages and thrived under the religious tolerance of the Moors. Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted openly during this surprisingly harmonious era, and traces of each religion can still be found among the narrow alleyways of the old town. In some cases, existing structures were adapted so that mosques became synagogues and churches. This mingling of religions and cultural influences helped shape Toledo into the World Heritage Site it is today. You won’t want to miss this historic city on your trip to Spain. Thankfully, it’s easy to enjoy a Toledo day trip from Madrid.
The old walled city is perched on a hill overlooking the Tagus River, a strategic position well suited for defending the area. The imposing Alcazar of Toledo claims the highest point of the hill and dominates the skyline. A fortress has occupied this prime spot since the Roman Empire. We have Emperor Charles V to thank for the current fortified palace, because the medieval one he had knocked down wasn’t grand enough, apparently. The new alcazar was damaged during the Spanish Civil War, restored, and is now home to a military museum.
If you walk towards historic Toledo from the train station as I did, the best way across the river is Alcantara Bridge. Another Roman construction, the original stone bridge was erected around 104 AD, though it has been altered and rebuilt several times since. The pedestrian-only span leads into the city through a 10th century gate with Moorish keyhole arch.
Puerta del Cambron stands on the opposite side of town and is the only city gate through which vehicles can pass. It was built by the Moors and given a Renaissance makeover in the 16th century.
If you visit no other attraction, do not miss Toledo Cathedral. It was constructed in 13th-century High Gothic style and is thought to be one of the finest in Spain, if not Europe. The entrance can be tricky to find, but don’t give up. The cathedral’s interior is extraordinary! Inside the main chapel is a towering gilded wood altarpiece featuring exquisitely detailed biblical scenes. Across the aisle, twin pipe organs top carved wooden choir stalls. Stained glass windows bathe royal tombs with golden light. An ornate Chapterhouse is painted with the portrait of every archbishop of Toledo.
The true showstopper, though, is the Great Monstrance of Arfe. This priceless treasure was made with an astonishing 18 kilos of gold and 183 kilos of silver! It holds the relics of Saint Ursula.
The Synagogue of Saint Mary the White predates Toledo Cathedral by nearly 150 years. During the 11th century, it served as the main temple of worship for the city’s growing Jewish population. The synagogue was converted into a church in the 15th century and then later used as an army barracks. There isn’t much to see inside, though I appreciated the stark lines of the arches and painted chapel ceilings.
The synagogue is located in the heart of Toledo’s Jewish Quarter. It’s easy to get lost in this medieval neighborhood, and that’s exactly what you want to do. The narrow passageways twist and turn, sometimes opening onto squares lined with remarkably well-preserved homes. I spent so much time wandering up, down, and around alleys that I didn’t make it to the mosque I had planned to visit. In fact, I had only enough time to do some quick souvenir shopping before hurrying back to the railway station to make my return to Madrid. Perhaps the city deserves more than a day trip after all!
Are you ready to plan a Toledo day trip from Madrid?