Toledo arose over the course of 2,500 years, whose legacy we can observe today in its streets, monuments and museums.
On the other side of the Tagus River, at the Cerro del Bu archaeological site, remnants of its origins as a city take us back to its oldest inhabitants, the Carpetani, who dwelled here during the Bronze Age.
Conquering the city in 192 BC, the Romans renamed it Toletum. Today one can still see signs of the Empire’s heritage, in the traces of the Roman road, the circus for chariot races, beams, mosaics and, in Carranque, near Toledo, the villa, it is believed, of Maternus Cinegius, who served under Emperor Theodosius I.
After the Visigoths’ taking of the city in the 4th century, they established the capital of their kingdom here, and two centuries later, in 589, Reccared would convene the Council of Toledo, at which Arianism was rejected and Catholicism was embraced as the kingdom’s faith.
But Visigothic hegemony would only last until 711, when the Moors conquered the capital. It is to this empire that Toledo owes its current form, including the narrow and steep streets we walk today, and architectural highlights like the mosques of Cristo de la Luz, and Tornerías; and the Puerta de Alcantara gate.
The Reconquest reached Toledo in 1085 and, after the Christians’ victory, King Alfonso VI made it the capital of the Kingdom of Castile, wresting this honour from Burgos.
In 1226, Fernando III began construction on the Cathedral of Toledo, on what had been the city’s Mezquita Mayor, or Main Mosque.
Meanwhile, throughout these centuries of conquest and reconquest, the Jews had remained in Toledo, also shaping it and leaving us examples of their architecture, such as the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, and that of El Tránsito. This cultural coexistence would begin to erode in the 14th century, until it was shattered by the Catholic Monarchs, who decreed the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.
These kings were also responsible for the contruction of the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo’s quintessential Gothic building. In fact, it was here where they wished to be buried, though their remains were ultimately laid to rest far from Toledo, in Granada’s Royal Chapel.
In the 16th century, after the revolt of los comuneros against King Charles V, the ruler wished to show the world the power of the Empire’s capital through impressive works of Renaissance architecture, such as El Alcázar, now an army museum – which would have a sad moment of prominence during the Spanish Civil War, when rebel troops resisted the Republican army’s siege of the fortress.
Many centuries before this episode, Toledo’s hegemony as capital of the kingdom came to an end when in 1561 the King Felipe II moved the court to Madrid, relegating Toledo to city of convents and monasteries. It was during this era when the artist that would forever be associated with the culture of the city moved there: El Greco. It was here where the painter developed his fullest and most personal style, with works like the main altarpiece of the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, and The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, which we can view in the church of Santo Tomé.
Today Toledo is the capital of Castilla la Mancha, and a living example of the cultures that have shaped, over the centuries, the country we are today.