Toledo, Spain, a beautiful hilltop city on the Tagus River, has a long history. It was the capital of Roman Spain, center of the Visigoth kingdom, imperial capital under Carlos V and manufacturing center of high-quality Toledo steel and swords (cheap imitations of which are still sold locally).
Toledo (toe-LAY-doh) is also where artist Domenico Theotocopuli, better known as El Greco, lived and painted. He lived there from 1577 until his death in 1614. He used the city as inspiration, most famously in his piece titled View of Toledo.
The city is also a great place for a stroll, as the strong Muslim, Jewish and Christian influences are evident in the narrow winding streets. In 1986, UNESCO named Toledo a World Heritage site.
Architectural highlights include the vast, awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral, the Alcazar, the Cristo de la Luz Mosque, Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, Sinagoga del Transito (serves as the Sephardim Museum) and the tiny Chapel of St. Tome, which houses El Greco's The Burial of the Conde de Orgaz, which many consider his finest painting. Fans of El Greco should stop by the Casa-Museo de El Greco. The Museo de Santa Cruz has a wide-ranging collection of art and artifacts—the building's wooden coffered ceilings are spectacular.
Reserve some time to sit in a cafe in one of the squares (we enjoy Plaza de Zocodover) or stop in a local tavern. You can also tour the Toledo gold-jewelry factories. If time doesn't allow a full tour, you can at least pause to watch some of the goldsmiths in their shops. Toledo is especially beautiful at night, when the tour groups are gone and the narrow streets are lit by wrought-iron lanterns.
If you're there in the height of summer and the city is crowded with tourists, a nice place to stay is the Parador de Toledo, high on a hilltop over the city on a bend in the river. Though it's not right in town, the inconvenience is more than made up by the spectacular views from the terraces and the rear rooms (the vista is similar to the one portrayed in El Greco's famous View of Toledo).
Most visitors see Toledo on a day's excursion from Madrid or while driving to Granada, but we suggest spending at least one night to absorb the atmosphere. It's only 40 mi/75 km southwest of Madrid, and it's an easy train ride.
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