Catriona visits Spain's medieval city … The cultural capital of a golden age.
UNESCO declared Toledo a world heritage site and earlier Cervantes described the city as a "rocky gravity, glory of Spain and light of her cities". That is something to live up to and Toledo doesn't let people down.
For lovers of architecture and military history, Toledo is heaven. It has been a Roman settlement, a capital of the Visigoth kingdom, a stronghold of the Emirate of Córdoba and an imperial city under Carlos V. It was also a meeting point for artists, philosophers, scientists and poets, whose legacies remain.
Swords for most of medieval Europe and the conquistadors were produced in Toledo and while seemingly endless places selling modern-day replicas are irritating to some travellers, it remains a mecca for Spanish culture. Churches, synagogues and mosques from the days when Christians, Muslims and Jews co-existed peacefully are sprinkled through narrow cobbled laneways. In 1492 that changed when those not willing to follow Christianity had to leave.
Between the places of worship are plenty of shops selling Damascene swords and knives, beautifully coloured pottery and their famous marzipan sweetmeats.
The city's centrepiece is its 13th-century cathedral. The grandiose building is unashamedly ostentatious and boasts five naves, fine stained glass and quite amazing works of art: the 14th-century White Virgin, El Greco's El Espolio, Tomés's Transparente, Fra Angelico's exquisite cross and works by Goya and Velazquez. Spanish-Baroque architecture, sculpture and painting is well represented and the massive Gothic altar reaches the ceiling.
In the middle ages Jews had 11 synagogues to choose from. Now there are just two Singogas del Transito and de Santa Maria, both excellent examples of intricate interior architecture and decoration. There are also two Muslim mosques Mezquitas de Cristo and de la Luz.
Plaza de Zocodover is a focal point and has been the scene of markets, fiestas and bullfights. Now it is a lively place of cafes, bars, tavernas and people-watching.
In 1910 a wealthy Spaniard transformed El Greco's home into a museum housing the painter's works of art. He was born in Crete, moved to Italy and then Spain. His style was so different from any other painter's he attracted a large clientele and enjoyed a grand lifestyle, including the mansion Paseo del Tránsito, where he paid musicians to play while he ate dinner. The museum has early works from Crete as well as some his works from the 17th-century Seville, Madrid and Toledo schools.
A little way up the hill from Zocodover is El Alcázar, Toledo's most prominent landmark. As you drive towards Toledo, the 10th-century Roman fortress makes a bold statement, its four towers looking over the city's highest point. Although medieval in origin, it has been rebuilt several times and has obvious Renaissance influences.
El Alcazar was built by the Romans, altered by the Christians and re-built as a residence for Carlos I. Early in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) nationalist troops and some civilians were kept under siege there. It was destroyed during those years, but was re-built by Franco and turned into a military museum.
Local cuisine is mostly simple but tasty peasant fare. Partridge is a popular local dish, as well as cuchifritos, lamb, tomato and egg cooked in white wine with saffron.
The Hostal Cardenal Cisneros is in the centre of Toledo, close to the cathedral. It is a small and comfortable hotel with just 10 rooms. Part of it dates to the 11th century and it has recently been restored to its 16th-century glory.
In Spain, an hour south of Madrid.
Hostal Cardenal Cisneros rooms start at around $120 a double a night.
Austrian Airlines flies daily to Vienna with connections to Madrid. They have put together a special fare for Getaway
viewers. Return economy airfares, per person, are $1399 ex Sydney and Melbourne (plus $283 and $268 tax respectively), $1549 ex Brisbane and Adelaide (plus $337 and $335 tax respectively) and $1619 ex Perth (plus $333 tax). For sale until March 28, 2004, for travel between October 4 and November 11, 2005, and January 17 and February 24, 2006.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
National Tourist Office of Spain SE Asia
543 Orchard Road, Singapore email@example.com
Hostal Cardenal Cisneros
Callejon del Vicario, Nº1, 45002 Toledo
Ph/fax: 0011 34 925 228 828www.hostal-cardenal-cisneros.com