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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spain : Historic City of Toledo

Successively a Roman municipium, the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, a fortress of the Emirate of Cordoba, an outpost of the Christian kingdoms fighting the Moors and, in the 16th century, the temporary seat of supreme power under Charles V, Toledo is the repository of more than 2,000 years of history. Its masterpieces are the product of heterogeneous civilizations in an environment where the existence of three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – was a major factor.


The city of Toledo exerted considerable influence, both during the Visigothic period, when it was the capital of a kingdom which stretched all the way to the Narbonnese region, and during the Renaissance, when it became one of the most important artistic centres in Spain. The city bears exceptional testimony to several civilizations which have disappeared: Rome, with vestiges of the circus, the aqueduct and the sewer; the Visigoths, with the remains of the walls of King Wamba and the artefacts conserved in the Santa Cruz Museum. The Emirate of Cordoba built many Islamic monuments: the piers of the destroyed Baño de la Cava Bridge, Puerta Vieja de Bisagra, Las Tornerías Mosque, Bib Mardum Mosque (a private oratory completed in 999), hammams in the Calle del Angel and Calle Pozo Amargo, etc. After the reconquest in 1085 remarkable Jewish religious monuments such as Santa María la Blanca Synagogue (1180) and El Transito Synagogue (1366) were built at the same time as churches, either on the very location of earlier foundations (the cathedral, founded in the 6th century by San Eugenio, was converted into a mosque), or ex nihilo (San Román, Santiago, San Pedro Martir, etc.). Furthermore, Toledo possesses a broad spectrum of structures from the medieval period: walls and fortified buildings, such as San Servando Castle, bridges, houses and entire streets.
Toledo also retains a series of outstanding examples of 15th- and 16th-century constructions: the church of San Juan de los Reyes and the cathedral, the San Juan Bautista and Santa Cruz hospitals, the Puerta Nueva de Bisagra, etc. Each of these monuments is a perfect example of a particular type of architecture of the Spanish golden age, whether religious, hospital or military. Moreover, Toledo witnessed the emergence, starting in the Middle Ages, of a Mudejar style which combined the structural and decorative elements of Visigothic and Muslim art, adapting them into successive styles: Santiago del Arrabal (13th century), the Taller del Moro and Puerta del Sol (14th century), wainscot of Santa Cruz Hospital and the chapter house of the cathedral (15th and 16th centuries), etc.
Two millennia of history live within the walls of a city, finished by King Alfonso IV, which was successively a Roman municipium, the capital of the Visigothic kingdom, a fortress of the Emirate of Córdoba, an outpost of the Christian kingdoms fighting the Moors, and the temporary seat of the supreme power under Charles V, who endowed it with the status of imperial and crowned city. The irreversible economic and political decadence of Toledo after 1561, when Phillip II chose Madrid as his capital once and for all, miraculously spared this museum-city.
All of the civilizations which contributed to the grandeur of Toledo left there amazing masterpieces which expressed both the original beauty of a highly characteristic style and the paradoxical syncretism of the hybrid forms of the Mudejar style which sprang from the contact of heterogeneous civilizations in an environment where for a long time the existence of three major religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) was a leading feature.
Toledo's Alcázar is an impressive building found at the highest point of the city. In the beginning, the Romans used it as a palace; the Christians reconstructed it, during the reign of King Alfonss VI; Alfonso X the Wise continued with the construction, which is the origin of the square floor plan and the battlement towers at its corners. Its facades differ according to period and style: the western facade is of Renaissance form, the eastern is medieval, the northern is Plateresque and the southern, erected by Juan of Herrera, is of Churrigueresque style; it also possesses a two-storey patio with Corinthian capitals. The Alcázar has been the victim of fires in several occasions (in 1170, a century later, in 1867 and in 1882). At the outbreak of the Civil War, the Military Academy was housed here and at the end of the conflict, it was completely destroyed. Later on it was completely reconstructed, and today it houses the army's offices and a museum.

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