Visiting the Alcazar of Toledo, Spain
Located just an hour from Madrid, Toledo makes for a great day-trip if you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Spain’s capital. As you approach Toledo from any direction, your attention will immediately be drawn to the giant stone fortress that looms prominently on the highest point in the city. This is the impressive Alcazar of Toledo.
History of the Alcazar
Built in the 3rd century and initially used as a Roman Palace, the Alcazar has played an important role in the history of Spain. Over the centuries, the building has served many purposes, including being used as a castle, a fortress, a prison, a military headquarters, and the King’s residence. The building has been restored and modified during its life and the current design was constructed in the 16th century by King Carlos V.
During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, the building was severely damaged but was rebuilt in the years that followed. Today, it houses the Museum of the Army as well as a regional library. If you are visiting Toledo and have an interest in Spanish military history then you will enjoy visiting the Alcazar of Toledo.
Getting to Toledo From Madrid
Toledo is located about 72 kilometers to the south of Madrid and is very easy to get to. You will have multiple options for getting there, including by train, bus or car. Direct trains leave Madrid hourly, and the journey takes just 32 minutes. The train station in Toledo is located just outside the city and is a short walk across the Bridge of Azarquiel.
If driving the trip will take a little longer, but it is still straightforward, with free parking located at the Toledo bus station. From the parking lot, it’s just a 5-minute walk to the very convenient elevator that takes you right to the heart of Toledo, saving you the uphill trek. Once you depart the elevator, you are just a few minutes’ walk from the Alcazar. It’s hard to miss with its four towers anchoring the corners of the building.
I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!— George Orwell
As you approach the Alcazar and look for the entrance you may be somewhat confused as the only visible entrance is to the Military Museum. Fear not, as you are in the right place. The Alcazar is home to the Museum of the Army, and the entrance area is new and modern, not exactly what you might expect.
- 10 am to 5 pm daily, closed on Mondays.
- Closed on January 1st & 6th, May 1st, and December 24th, 25th and 31st.
- General Admission Ticket is 5 euro.
- Under age 18 is free.
- Tickets are free on Sundays.
- An audio guide is available for 8 euro, which includes your entry ticket.
What to See
As you enter the museum you are in the new section that contains the temporary exhibits, classrooms, the library, and the cafeteria. As you make your way toward the Alcazar, you will notice the archaeological excavations that have revealed the original footings and walls of the building that dates to Roman times. I like how you can actually walk over a portion of the area with the glass floor allowing a peek below.
The Alcazar contains the permanent exhibits, which are nicely structured into 13 themed rooms. Touring the military museum can take at least a few hours and will prove interesting if military history and artifacts appeal to you. The layout of the different rooms can seem a little confusing, and the sheer size of the building means it’s easy to get disoriented.
As you make your way from room to room, you will see a vast display of military items ranging from medieval weapons to knightly armor to everything one can imagine related to Spanish military history. You’ll see military uniforms, flags, cannons, swords, guns, the colorful Imperial Chapel (Tent of Charles V), the old stables, and the crypt.
When you have sufficiently toured the military rooms, it’s time to move on to my favorite portion of the Alcazar.
I can understand how some visitors to the Alcazar may be disappointed that much of what there is to see is the various artifact collections of the military museum. Visiting the Alcazar of other Andalusian communities is a somewhat different experience. However, before you leave, you need to visit the Charles V’s Courtyard and then the vast terrace on the north side of the building.
The courtyard is in the center of the building and includes the stunning Imperial Staircase. It rises two stories and is surrounded by beautiful arched columns that really give this part of the building its royal look.
From the courtyard, make your way to the terrace for a breathtaking view of Toledo and the surrounding countryside. The terrace is massive and allows visitors an unobstructed view in three directions. From here it is clear why this location was selected for a fortress, as it commands an imposing position over the surrounding landscape. I’ve always been a sucker for stunning views, and this one certainly does not disappoint.
Interesting Facts About Toledo
- Toledo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 for its cultural heritage and substantial collection of historical sites.
- Toledo is known as the “City of the Three Cultures” for its Muslim, Jewish and Christian influences.
- Toledo was the capital of Spain until 1560 when King Philip II moved it to Madrid.
- The Cathedral of Toledo contains the largest bell in Spain, weighing close to 20 tons.
- Toledo is world-famous for its swords due to its high quality and extremely durable steel.
- Toledo is one of the oldest cities in Spain dating back to at least 192 BC, a time when the Romans captured the city due to its superior geographic location in the heart of Spain.
If your travels are taking you to Spain—and in particular to Madrid—you are just a short journey away from historic Toledo. The Alcazar is worth seeing, especially if you have an interest in military history and artifacts.
Personally, the Charles V Courtyard, the terrace with its picturesque views, and the archaeological ruins from the early days of the Alcazar were more than enough for me to make this a fascinating visit. While in Toledo there is much more to see and the impressive Cathedral of Toledo is just a short walk from the Alcazar.
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© 2019 Bill De Giulio