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Visiting Toledo, Spain: Fabulous UNESCO World Heritage Site

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Panorama of the Toledo Skyline in Spain at sunrise. On the left is the Alcázar of Toledo and on the right is the Cathedral of Toledo.

Panorama of the Toledo Skyline in Spain at sunrise. On the left is the Alcázar of Toledo and on the right is the Cathedral of Toledo.

Historic and Beautiful Toledo

In July of 1992, my husband and I decided to take a one-day tour of Toledo from Madrid, Spain, where we were vacationing. A book we had purchased, authored by Rick Steves, informed us ahead of time that this UNESCO World Heritage Site would be well worth our time.

Having a guide is always helpful when visiting a new location, and all I can say is that if you ever get the chance, put Toledo high up on your list of places to visit.
One day gave us a distinctive flavor of the historical significance of Toledo. Still, it would have been wonderful to have had more time to explore more of its many endless wonders and experience more of its history by delving into its spirited past.
And an impressive past Toledo has had!

Centuries of History

After traveling through the countryside of Spain by bus, we approached Toledo, which is just 70 kilometers south of Madrid. Toledo is surrounded on almost three sides by the Tagus River, which forms a natural moat.

Dating back many centuries, Toledo is a historic and walled city and has gone through many occupations of conquerors. Not only is its history redolent with tales of various occupiers, but its architecture speaks to those many influences as well. Christian, Jewish, and Moorish designs have all had their impact. Often buildings changed hands and were continued to be built upon with many of the past influences left in place.

Like the city of Rome, Toledo was built on seven hills. It was the first capital of Spain. The landmass inside the walls is only 89.59 square miles or 232.1 kilometers. Almost all the historic buildings, including places of worship and the royal residence, were inside the walls. Outside of the walls were many private gardens and summer residences, and today the suburbs continue to spread in that fashion.

World Heritage Site

In 1986, UNESCO declared Toledo to be a World Heritage Site. Part of the reason is that for many years the three cultures shared their lives. They lived peaceably with each other overcoming racial differences and working together for the common good.

Through the centuries, fires destroyed some of the buildings, but most were rebuilt and refurbished. Today the newer buildings blend in with the old and maintain a specific character of ancient Toledo.

Tourism is a big part of their industry, as one might imagine. Few places like this exist in the world. By visiting sites like this, we can get a glimpse into the past.

Toledo Cathedral

The Cathedral is one of the towering edifices in Toledo. It is a tourist attraction worth visiting for anyone visiting that area. Originally an old Visigoth church was on that site and built on top of that was the largest Moorish mosque in Toledo. In the year 1086, it became a Christian church.

Taking two and a half centuries to build, one can realize the different artistic expressions utilized during that long-time construction process. Two unequal sized towers are one result. It isn't easy to see the full majesty of the structure from any one vantage point.

Catholic Church Influence and Art

The most considerable majority of monuments in Toledo attracting tourists from far and wide are religious. The Catholic Church has played a significant role in making Toledo a Holy City only second to the influence of the Vatican in Rome.

Concentrated wealth in bygone eras helped create this proliferation of churches, monasteries, religious schools, convents, chapels, and other buildings. The entire city of Toledo is like a gigantic museum. Art, architectural wonders, and medieval influences like the cobblestones, walls, and gates of this city could keep one engaged in discoveries for a good while.

Even after the capital of Spain was moved from Toledo to Madrid, ecclesiastical power remained in Toledo for a long time. Artists like El Greco and others were attracted to living and working in these environs. There are a vast number of El Greco's paintings that still reside in Toledo today.

Rick Steves Talking About the Artist El Greco

Visit If You Get the Chance!

A one-day tour such as we had was an excellent introduction to this most fascinating of ancient cities. I envied the people that stayed there a little longer to roam the twisting streets and make additional discoveries while they soaked up the atmosphere. I hope this gives you a snapshot of what there is to see and do while in Toledo, Spain. We merely scratched the surface!

Suggestion: Take the time to view some of these videos if you wish to see and learn more about this historic and beautiful city.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

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