Thursday, March 12, 2015

Holy Toledo!

Just 70km south of Madrid lies the Unesco heritage town of Toledo, famous for its cultural and monumental heritage. It is also well known for its historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures and sometimes referred to as the city of 3 cultures. Toledo’s history is believed to go back a staggering 2500 years, when Jewish settlers decided to stay there. Since then a lot has happened to Toledo. The Romans came in 200 BC, followed by the Moors in the 8th century. Shortly after revolts and rioting ruled until the Banu Qasi took over. That didn’t last long, just 12 years later an extensive siege
took place and Toledo came under Abd-ar-Rahmen III control. In 1085 Toledo was captured by Christian forces. The Toledo settlement started 2500 years ago under the name Tulaytulah, later changed its name to Toledo (or Toletum in Latin), changed back to Tulaytulah under abd-ar-Rahman’s regime and became Toledo once more when Alfonso VI of Castile took control. Toledo was also Spain’s capitol city well before it eventually became Madrid. Quite a history!

Considering its history it is perhaps no surprise then that Toledo is well known, even famous in fact for its production of swords, guns, shields, harnesses and the like. Despite the many ‘take overs’ Toledo remained a cultural centre where 3 religions lived together. Despite different religions taking control of the city, the religious books in the libraries remained in tact and a task force of Muslim, Hebrew and Castillian scholars translated them into Castilian and Latin, thereby spreading long lost knowledge to Europe.

At times like this, seeing something as ancient as Toledo, makes me realise the incredible richness of Europe’s history. We are only scratching the surface here and are still overwhelmed by it all. It’s not just the old buildings or cobblestone streets which have weathered over 2500 years, but also the people living here today. Simple customs can date back a 1000 years or more. Quite a few sayings have their origins somewhere in the middle ages.

Approaching Toledo is an impressive sight. The fortified city, prominently perched on top of the hill, harks back to ancient times. It must have been a difficult city to conquer! Once inside the city, much of the history and feel has been preserved. It’s not hard to imagine being here 500 years ago. Replace cars with mules and horses and you’re halfway there. A lot of effort has been put in preserving Toledo, for which we applaud them but about 5 years ago they went a little bit over the top when the powers that be decided it needed an ‘update’. Of course places like this have to be maintained and when ancient buildings have to be restored there will always be a debate between authenticity and practicality. I personally feel they have gone too far towards practicality. Some of the buildings have modern window frames that almost look like they have been made from PVC. Others have windows painted on blank walls. I also feel that old historic buildings shouldn’t have airconditioners hanging on the outside walls, but have them placed out of sight on the roofs. Having said, that Toledo is a nice place to visit and most of it looks authentic.

We visited Toledo outside the main tourist season but still found plenty of people there. It is a lively city, in the positive sense of the word. As you can see in the photos, there is an incredible amount of history oozing from the buildings and the presence of people from all walks of life enhances the impression that Toledo is still very much alive. The small square, with its many cafes and restaurants is a great spot to spend some time and watch Toledian life. Just like in Italy, the venerable Vespa scooter is the best vehicle to have on steep narrow roads like this. Although one youngster had other ideas and made himself a custom based on a Yamaha SR400/500.

We spend a full day in Toledo and enjoyed every minute of it. Parking for motorcycles is easy, entrance is free and momentos of your visit can be bought at every corner. Even if you want to take a full kit of mediaeval armour with you. Mike kept it simple and bought an old gun… it’s a fake of course, but looks real enough which gave him ideas of robbing the bank with it… :-)