You may wish to see two introductory pages to this section first.
Gorge of the River Tagus seen from Jardines del Transito near Santa Maria la Blanca with ruins of medieval mills (Molinos del Daican y de la Reina)
Toledo is the strangest city you can
imagine in point of situation. (..) The Tagus, after winding at large through
a fine plain, which a little more wood would
render very agreeable to the eye, comes at
last to be wedged in between two ramparts
of high steep rocks: the passage is very narrow, and before the river gets out again
into a broad bed and open ground, it almost returns to the place where it entered
the defile. On this rocky peninsula stands
the city, exceedingly ill built, poor, and
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated
The Tagus flows underneath the mountain on which Toledo is built; it was formerly navigable, and might again be rendered so with little trouble and expence.
Alexandre de Laborde - A View of Spain - translated into English for Longman, Hurst, etc. 1809
Roman road (left) and drain (right) near Puerta Cristo de la Luz
The foundation of Toledo is of
course ascribed to Hercules; others, however, prefer
Tubal (grandson of Noah) who built it 143 years after the deluge; nor have its
townsfolk yet forgiven the Abbe' de
Vayrac (a French traveller who wrote a book on Spain in 1718) for saying that they boasted
that "Adam was the first king of
Toledo, and that the newly created sun
rose over this spot, because it was the
centre and throne of the world". (..) Be that
as it may, Toledo, when taken by Marius Fulvius, 193 BC, was
"urbs parva sed loco munita" (a small town, but well located) (Livy,
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia - Book III:29) in a long list of towns and peoples of Spain mentions the Toletani of Carpetania, dwelling upon the River Tagus. The Carpetani vainly opposed the Carthaginian expansion in inland Spain. They provided auxiliary troops to Hannibal's expedition to Italy, who however deserted after having crossed the Alps.
The road entering the town at Puerta Cristo de la Luz follows the path of the ancient Roman one.
Roman circus outside the walls (Ist century AD)
Of all the edifices which the Romans raised at Toledo, the monuments of their power and magnificence, few vestiges are now visible. There yet remain some fragments of pilasters and seats, which indicate the site of an
ancient circus. These are found without the limits of the
town, near the gate of Cambron, in the Vega (farmed lowland), not far from
a convent of friars. The broken lines sufficiently mark its
ample extent, whilst the massive walls attest its strength and
The existence of a circus which could seat some 15,000 spectators is the only indirect assessment of the size of the Roman town, which had a theatre near the circus and an amphitheatre also outside the walls, but near Torre de la Almofala. You may wish to see these entertainment facilities at Merida, ancient Augusta Emerita.
Cuevas de Hercules, a Roman cistern
The lovers of the fabulous may
visit the cave of Hercules, in which
Roderick, the last of the Goths, saw
such portentous visions. The entrance lies near
San Gines, and was opened in 1546 by
Archbishop Siliceo, but it has never
since been properly investigated. Ford
According to the legend Hercules closed a coffer inside the cave and warned not to open it, but Roderick ignored the warning and lost his kingdom.
Within the coffer he found nothing but a linen cloth, folded between two tablets of copper. On unfolding it, he beheld painted on it figures of men on horseback, of fierce demeanor, clad in turbans and robes of various colors, after the fashion of the Arabs, with scimetars hanging from their necks, and cross-bows at their saddle-backs, and they carried banners and pennons with divers devices. Above them was inscribed, in Greek characters, "Rash monarch! behold the men who are to hurl thee from thy throne, and subdue thy kingdom!"
Washington Irving - The Legend of Don Roderick - 1835
Another account can be found in The Vision of Don Roderick, an 1811 poem by Sir Walter Scott. These are the verses describing the opening of the door of the cave.
The ponderous key the old man took,
And held the winking lamp, and led the way,
By winding stair, dark aisle, and secret nook,
Then on an ancient gateway bent his look;
And, as the key the desperate King essayed,
Low muttered thunders the Cathedral shook,
And twice he stopped, and twice new effort made,
Till the huge bolts rolled back, and the loud hinges brayed.
Toledo was supplied with water by a Roman aqueduct which crossed the river near Hospital de la Santa Cruz and ended at this cistern at the top of the town.
Furnace of Roman baths (IInd century AD)
Toledo has been continuously occupied from Roman times which limits the scope of archaeological activities in the walled town. In 2012 a small archaeological site was opened to the public to show some underground facilities of Roman baths near Cuevas de Hercules which were discovered in 1986.
(left) Portal of Convento de San Antonio former Casa de Avalos; (right) detail showing a Winged Victory
Here the voice of the
Goth echoes amid Roman ruins, and the step of the Christian treads on the
heel of the Moor; here are palaces
without nobles, churches without congregations, walks without people; the
narrowness of the streets, by preventing
carriage traffic, adds to that silence
so peculiar to the ancient cities of
By wandering about in the narrow streets of the town, one comes across Roman and medieval architectural elements and decorations which most likely were found during the construction of houses and convents.
Museo de Santa Cruz (inside the Hospital): mosaic found in the riverside land near Toledo (IIIrd century AD)
It is a finely executed floor mosaic with an elaborate geometric pattern based on plait motifs and Vitruvian scrolls which frames a central medallion with sea creatures; at the corners it shows the Four Seasons and fruits and crops related to them; along the sides buildings, statues, an arch and elements of a ship are depicted. You may wish to see some other Roman mosaics in which a complex geometric decoration frames the Four Seasons or other subjects.
In 1983 a farmer at Carranque, a small town between Toledo and Madrid, discovered a piece of a Roman floor mosaic which eventually led to unearthing a villa of the IVth century AD.
Museo de los Concilios y de la Cultura Visigoda at San Roman: cast of a sarcophagus found at Layos, near Toledo in 1627 (original at Museum Frederic Mares in Barcelona - see a detail in the introductory page)
This sarcophagus was imported, most likely from Rome where other early Christian sarcophagi depicting scenes from the Old and the New Testament have been found at S. Paolo fuori le Mura and S. Agnese fuori le Mura. The depiction of the Magi in oriental garments is typical of that period (see a famous mosaic at S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna).
Leovigildo, under whom the Gothic monarchy was consolidated, removed his court from Seville, and made Toledo the capital of Spain. His successor, Recaredo, brought the Peninsula entirely into the Christian fold, and hence here were held so many of those important councils which give such insight into the spirit and condition of that age; they in reality were convocations and parliaments, as the sacerdotal aristocracy united social and civil supremacy. (..) The Goths, who have been so frequently stigmatised as destructive barbarians, repaired and improved the city bridges, and Roman walls; portions of their works yet exist. Ford
Iglesia de El Salvador: (left) interior; (right) detail of a Visigothic pillar (original at the Museum at San Roman) showing Jesus Healing the Blind Man and The Raising of Lazarus
Toledo became a very important town during the Visigothic rule. In 589 the outcome of a council held there was the conversion of the Arian Visigoths to the Catholic creed. In 610 the primacy of the diocese of Toledo over the other episcopal sees in Spain was established in a synod promoted by King Gundemar.
El Salvador was a Visigothic church which was turned into a mosque before being restored to its initial function. Its most important feature is a unique Visigothic pillar which serves for the arcading of the nave. It is carved on three sides with vine scrolls and formal vegetal motifs, and with three miniature columns in relief, similar to other Visigothic pillars found at Merida. The fourth side depicts four New Testament scenes. The execution shows a lack of skill in the portrayal of human beings which can be noticed also in contemporary reliefs in Italy.
National Archaeological Museum of Madrid: Visigothic jewels (VIth century): (left) belt buckle and gold threads from a garment (necropolis of El Garbo de Tajo near Toledo); (right) eagle brooches (Alovera near Guadalajara north-east of Toledo)
A Mozarabic (Christian) community survived in Toledo after the Arab conquest in 711. They used Visigothic liturgical rites and the Arabic language. This liturgy was revised by Cardinal Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros in 1500-1502 and is still used in a chapel of the Cathedral.
The image used as background for this page shows a Roman table leg at the Museum at San Roman.
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|