When I made the move to Madrid in 2012, I hadn't done much research. Upon my arrival, I remember being very surprised at how green and lush the city was. This was not what I expected Spain to look like. I was expecting something a bit more arid, a bit more dry, a bit more brown-ish in color. I'm not sure where these preconceptions originally came from, but now I know that TOLEDO is what I expected Spain to look like. This was the image of Spain that I had in my head.
Welcome to our 2nd #ThrowBackThursday article—throwing it back to my time living in Spain in 2012. In this installment, we'll be taking a quick day trip / photo walk to Toledo. But before we get to the pictures, introductions are in order...
AN Introduction To Toledo
In a place like Spain, the bar is set pretty high when it comes to history. It takes a lot to stand out, but Toledo is pretty much the top of the heap. A UNESO World Heritage site, Toledo has historically been known by 2 names:
The Imperial City—named for its status as the court of Charles V, ruler over both the Spanish and Holy Roman Empires in the early to mid 1500s.
The City of Three Cultures—named for its historical ties to the cultures associated with Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all 3 of which have deep histroical ties here.
The recorded history of Toledo begins in 193 BCE, when Spain was part of the Roman Empire. However, over the next few thousand years, Spain (and Toledo specifically) would change hands a number of times, most notably as part of the Visigothic, Byzantine (Arab) Empires, before becoming part of the consolidated Spanish Empire.
Historically, Toledo has been known for steel work, specifically the artisanal creation of bladed weapons. Think swords, spears, battle axes—pretty much the quintessence of "medieval." Indeed, Toledo was a major arms supplier for many of the largest armies in history. Today, Toledo's souvenir shops are packed to the brim with weapons for tourists, many of which look like they are straight out of Game of Thrones. Be sure you check your bag on the way home!
Here's a map of the Toledo area for you to play with before we move any further...
There are a about 83,000 people who live in Toledo currently, so modern life is definitely happening here. But to walk across the medieval stone bridge that spans the Tagus River and leads to the front gates of the city, you'd never know it. Toledo feels like a snapshot in time, frozen. But summertime in Spain is far from frozen. On this day, the sun beat down over Toledo with intensity. The stone walls enclosing each narrow alleyway were bleached and scorched from centuries’ worth of this sun.
To be clear, Toledo is not a big place. It’s kind of a small town by modern standards. But you'd never know it to step inside one of its massive cathedrals. The Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo (colloquially known as the "Toledo Cathedral"—which is pictured in the header image of this article) was, at the time, the largest church that I had ever been in. Since then, I've been in a TON of other spectacular churches, but now that I think about it, even to this day, the only church that I can think of that was definitively bigger than this one was the Vatican. I don't have many great photos of the interior of this church, but I do remember that, Inside this church, there was an odd sense that time was standing still, like we were not just guests into the structure itself, but also into another century. Aside from the awkward shuffling of visitors, it was completely silent. However, outside the church was another story.
Around the church steeples, tiny birds shot back and forth like little darts as people washed over the plaza below. The streets of Toledo were always bustling with people, but despite the intense sunlight streaming down over the city, these people were mostly walking through the shade. You see, over most of the city's narrow streets, large, hardy sheets of cloth had been hung up like a canopy to protect pedestrians and shop keepers from the heat. It was very cool looking atmosphere, and left little to the imagination in picturing what Arab rule would have looked like here.
Here are a few choice pictures from my visit, dug up and re-edited for your viewing pleasure...
I'm about to say something super nerdy right now—when I think back on Toledo, the Gerudo Valley music from Ocarina of Time plays in my head. For me (and, I'd venture to say, most other 90s kids out there), that was the first ~Spanish~ sounding music that I was exposed to, and in spite of its culturally varied past, Toledo feels, above all, Spanish.
So I’m keeping this article pretty short and cutting it off here. Instead of leaving you with an N64 knock-off, I'm going to introduce you to the real thing. The track of the day comes to you from the late, great Paco de Lucía. If you want to get some flamenco music into your diet, start here.