I never thought I would feel so fond and so in love with a city I didn’t know anything about the first time I laid eyes on it. Toledo was just a big question mark in my head. I wasn’t even sure why my friends and I were going there, but we were going nonetheless.
We take the half-hour AVE train from Atocha Station in Madrid to Toledo, and without even making ourselves comfortable, we are there. Whoa, these trains are fast!
Off from the train and into the bus, we make our way to the edge of Toledo. I look at this mysterious city and…
…I’m in awe.
Whether it is because of the old atmosphere and former European capital aura, or just for the fact that this is my first time actually entering into an almost perfectly preserved fortified medieval city, my questioning seems to vanish and my hunger for more sets in.
I can cautiously describe Toledo as a magical place, and probably one of the most spectacular cities in the world. You can get completely lost in its winding and hilly streets, but that is the perfect excuse to enjoy the hundreds of years of history that are told by its buildings, walls, cobblestones, and even through its people.
Everything is so concentrated within its ring of fortified walls, set along the Tajo River to add to its beauty and charm. It is almost unbelievable how much history has happened here.
We head uphill and arrive at Plaza de Zocodover, a good introduction to the city. We keep going uphill until we reach the Alcazar of Toledo – a stone fortification located in the highest part of the city and used as a Roman palace in the 3rd century.
Toledo became a fortified city under Roman occupation – its location and the Tajo River made it an ideal fortress, and from that moment on, the city became one of Spain’s most important political, economic and cultural centers.
During the 13th century, Toledo became one of the few places in Spain where Moors, Christians, and Jews managed to live together and tolerate each other more or less peacefully. This led to a singular combination of styles and cultures that gave the city its unique characteristics.
It’s hard not to admire the remains of churches, mosques, and synagogues built within this coexisting environment.
The Visigoths named Toledo their capital, and it retained its importance under Arab occupation. Finally, when the Spanish armies regained control of the city, it became the official residence of the Spanish Kings and Queens until the 16th Century.
It’s late in the afternoon and the cold Spanish winter is unforgiving. But armed with our coats, we stroll the streets of Toledo as if we are immune to these low temperatures.
We keep walking through the narrow streets. Each and every one of them feels like a narrow perspective of the city. Their long and relatively tall buildings contrasted to their carriage width streets make the city feel like a maze that needs to be figured out in order to discover what’s hidden inside the city.
I admit the geek in me is resurfacing as I walk by the sword shops, many of them displaying the Lord of The Rings inspired swords and jewelry – pretty impressive considering that the Fellowship of the Ring movie just came out not more than two months previous this day.
On the other hand, my artistic side admires the many El Greco paintings displayed around and the hundreds of Quixote figures in all shapes and forms.
One of the last stops of the day is the Cathedral of Toledo. The cathedral’s main façade looks irregular, with only one bell tower. The intricate details and shapes tell a strong history deeply related to the Arab backgrounds of this city. We don’t go inside but we walk around it and stand on the front plaza for a while.
My best friend and I stay behind to take a few pictures in front of the Cathedral. The plaza is almost deserted and it’s getting dark. The clock strikes to 6:00 pm -and like if taken from a suspense movie screenplay- the bells ring loudly, sending a flock of birds flying from the church straight to the plaza.
We look cautiously to avoid being hit by the birds but keep with our current agenda. Until, the creepiest cherub choir music starts being blasted out of nowhere. The recording is old and broken, the sounds off-pitch, the voices… scary!
Dark almost empty plaza, bells ringing, birds flying uncontrollably, creepy music… we’ve had enough. We’re good with the pictures we have so far.
We catch up with the rest of our friends and make our way out of the city. Now, this exit path is quite unique. It is known as the Toledo Escalators. This is a contemporary and subtle installation along the fortress walls that take you from the top of the city walls to its base.
Even the exit feels like a monumental experience in this city. It’s like you’re going down through a semi-open tunnel to go back to the present day. Escalator after escalator we make our way through the zigzagging pattern they make through the terrain.
Unexpected days and moments like these are some of the things I cherish the most and often remember about my travels. Now, all that awaits us is the bus back to the train station, and the rest of our journey through Spain.
(Sadly all my pictures were taken with a 35mm film and I don’t have the prints with me, but hopefully, the creative commons can help.)