Toledo: A City of Three Cultures


Just about an hour south of Madrid, you will find the city of Toledo, which is an excellent example of the expansive history of Spain. Throughout time, Spain has been home to many different people from various cultures including Christians, Jews and Arabs. At one time, these three cultures lived and thrived, working together to create a unique city, which they called home. Today we can still see their hard work throughout Toledo.

What to see

Toledo is filled with historic buildings through its winding streets that at times seem more like small passageways. The architecture throughout the city is a wonderful representation of the three cultures that inhabited the city over the years. One of the best examples of this is the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca. It was originally a synagogue but was later converted into a church yet it was built using mudejar a common design from Arabs which incorporated many arches. Along with this synagogue there are monasteries, hermitages, cathedrals, mosques and more throughout the city. One of the most impressive features of Toledo is its exterior wall and gates, which protected its citizens from invaders and allowed the exchange of goods to the city. For the art enthusiasts, the painter El Greco, who was born in Toledo and has a museum there featuring many of his works of art including “The tears of San Pedro”. Luis Tristan, Murillo, Valdés Leal and other artists accompany El Greco’s paintings in the museum.

Typical souvenirs

One of the most typical products from Toledo is marzipan. Marzipan is a dessert typically eaten around Christmas time, though can be found throughout the year. It is made of almonds, eggs and sugar and then formed into different figures such as fruits, animals or just different shapes. In some places in Toledo, the bakeries will create scenes with people, castles and more in their windows using only marzipan in the designs. If you haven’t tried marzipan, Toledo is definitely the place to try it.

Another well-known good from Toledo is the metal work especially the swords and knives that they make. Using a special blend of steels, the blacksmiths to this day make an assortment of swords all with their own unique designs etched into them. Even thousands of years ago, Toledo was famed for its swords and people would come from all over Europe to purchase one. It is even said that Hannibal bought swords for his armies from Toledo.

Finally for the jewelry lovers out there, Toledo has some of the most ornately designed pieces. These beautiful and intricate objects are called damasquinos. The base of the jewelry or plate is made from iron and then etched with a design. Once the design is on the base, the creator slowly places gold string that is only 1 mm in diameter in the design. There are two types of designs, ones that are more geometric from the Arabs, while Renaissance style, which denotes birds and flowers. The trade has been passed down from generation to generation and each piece of jewelry is handcrafted.

Toledo is a very diverse city with a little something for every kind of visitor. This is in part due to its distinctive history. The citizens of Toledo not only tolerated people of various faiths and cultures but they embraced them. So whatever your preference is, learn something from the city of three cultures and embrace others differences.

Rachel Lynn Polkow Alumni Instituto Franklin – UAH.

Study abroad in Spain Fall 2011

Master in Teaching and Learning Spanish as a Foreign Language 2013-2014


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