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The three cultures of Toledo, Spain

Toledo is one of the cities in Spain that preserves the architecture of three cultures: Jewish, Muslim and Christian. Although Toledo was a city with a large Jewish population during the middle ages, today there is no sign of practicing Jews.

The synagogues of medieval times have been converted into museums or Catholic churches. Under the austerity of the Spanish Inquisition, many Jews and Muslims converted to the Catholic religion and had to abandon their former religious practices in order to survive.

Gold crafts from Toledo, Spain

Toledo is located 70 km (43 miles) south of Madrid which makes it possible to take a day trip to visit the city from the capital. The streets of Toledo are very narrow and there have been cases where cars have been wedged between buildings. For this reason, tourists are advised to park outside the walls of the city and walk or ride on special tour vehicles.

View of Toledo from across the Tagus River
View of Toledo from across the Tagus River

The Alcázar of Toledo is a stone fort that occupies the highest part of the city. The pointed corner towers of the square building dominate the skyline of Toledo. The Alcázar was a Roman palace in the 3rd century and it was restored under Charles I and Philip II. Hernán Cortés was received by Charles I at the Alcázar following Cortes' conquest of the Aztecs.

The Alcázar viewed from the Tagus river
The Alcázar viewed from the Tagus river

Toledo was easily defended because the Tagus river surrounds the city on three sides. The Alcázar was heavily damaged during the Spanish Civil War, but it was rebuilt. The building now houses a regional library and a military museum.

Puerta de Bisagra
Puerta de Bisagra Nueva (New Bisagra Gate)

The New Bisagra Gate is of Moorish origin, but it was modified in 1559 to become the main gate to the city of Toledo in the 16th century. Above the arch is a shield of the Imperial City on the chest of a double-headed eagle.

Statue of Isabella outside the walls of Toledo
Statue of Isabella outside the walls of Toledo

The Jewish population of Toledo was persecuted after Visigothic King Reccared (Recaredo) converted from Arianism to Catholic Christianity in 587. The hostilities against the Jews continued until the city was conquered in 711 by Muslim troops. The Arab domination of Toledo began a long prosperous period for the Jewish community who got to occupy about one tenth of the city. Some historians think that the Jews facilitated the entry of the Moors into Toledo so that they could fight their oppressors.

Small trains tour Toledo
A tourist train is the best way to tour Toledo
Santiago del Arrabal church
Santiago del Arrabal church

The Santiago del Arrabal church was completed in 1248 on the site previously occupied by a mosque. The church retains many architectural features that are strongly influenced by Moorish taste and workmanship.

Santiago del Arrabal church interior
Santiago del Arrabal church interior

The interior of the Santiago del Arrabal church shows the use of pointed Gothic arches that provide greater structural stability than rounded Roman arches.

Arab designs are common in Toledo's architecture
Arab designs are common in Toledo's architecture

The Mudéjar style resulted from the symbiosis of Muslim and Christian cultures living side by side. It is characterized by the use of brick and the adaptation of Islamic influences to Iberian construction.

Toledo Cathedral
Toledo Cathedral

Modern Spain is predominantly a Catholic country. The Visigoths that conquered Iberia after defeating the Romans were in turn displaced by the Moors. Toledo had a thriving population of Arabs and Jews under the Moors. The reconquest of Spain by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella and the subsequent Spanish Inquisition created many converts whose offspring eventually forgot the religious practices of their ancestors. Although most people in Spain are Catholic, Spain is a genetic melting pot that has assimilated the cultures that dominated the Iberian peninsula for many centuries.

Toledo Cathedral interior
Toledo Cathedral interior

Toledo Cathedral interior
Toledo Cathedral interior

Toledo gold crafts
Toledo gold crafts

Historically, Toledo's economy has been based on the manufacture of metal goods, such as swords and knives. Ornamental objects with gold thread decorations also provide substantial revenue to the city.


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