View of Toledo from San Ildefonso
Toledo is a city of
the past. Seen from afar, all is most
imposing. (..) It offers a perfect contrast with Madrid the modern capital, for here everything is solid, venerable, and antique. It (..) is built like a rock, and on a rock. (..) Let no cottonocrat (a rich cotton trader), no mere
man of money or pleasure, visit this
gloomy, silent, and inert city, this
ghost of a departed capital, which
is without trade, industry, credit, or
manufactures; but to the painter, poet,
and antiquarian, this widowed capital
of two dynasties is truly interesting,
as it carries us away from the present.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
Toledo retains a series of outstanding 15th- and 16th-century constructions: the church of San Juan de los Reyes and the Cathedral, 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, military.
From the description of Toledo in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It was inscribed in 1986, at the same time as Caceres, a medieval walled town, which is not as packed with visitors as Toledo is all year round.
(left) The Alcazar (Castle in Arabic) from San Ildefonso; (right) one of the façades; the inscription "Todo por la Patria" was placed on all Spanish barracks in 1937 by Gen. G. Gil Yuste, a supporter of the military coup
The Alcazar, or ancient palace, which
was burnt down by the allied army in the
beginning of the century (1710), is placed on the
highest point of all. It is a noble extensive
building, and has just undergone a thorough
repair, at the expence of the archbishop. It will be converted into an hospital or
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated
The French ejected the paupers, seized the funds, converted the asylum into a barrack, which was burnt as a last legacy by Soult's troops when evacuating the half-ruined city in 1810. Ford
The Alcazar was destroyed again in September 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.
Advancing are the remains of the
once splendid Franciscan convent,
called San Juan de los Reyes, because
dedicated to their tutelar apostle John
by Ferdinand and Isabella, who built it
in commemoration of the decisive victory at Toro (a battle for the succession to the throne of Castile) in 1476. (..) The
site is well chosen, being truly royal
and commanding. Observe badges and
symbols of the Catholic kings, and the
votive chains suspended outside by
captives delivered from the infidel by
the intervention of the Virgin, some
of which have been used up for chainposts! The portal, an exquisite gem,
was finished by Alonso de Covarrubias for Philip II. This convent,
which was one of the finest specimens
of florid Gothic art in the world, was
all but demolished by the French invaders,
who entirely gutted and burnt the
quarters of the monks. Ford
The first care of the good marques of Cadiz on entering Ronda in 1485 was to deliver his unfortunate companion-in-arms from the dungeons of the fortress. (..) Their chains were hung as pious trophies against the exterior of the church of St. Juan de los Reyes in Toledo, where the Christian traveller may regale his eyes with the sight of them at this very day.
Washington Irving - Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada - 1829
Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes Ferdinand and Isabel: interior: five identical royal coats of arms; they do not show the pomegranate, symbol of Granada, which was yet to be conquered; they are held by an eagle, symbol of St. John the Evangelist
The splendid chapel, now restored with vile tawdry decorations, escaped somewhat better, having been used as a stable for their horses; but Victor's troops whiled away their leisure by smashing the stoned painted glass, and by mutilating the religious and heraldic ornaments, whose richness was once past all description, as those specimens which were out of reach still evince. Observe the shields, eagles, badges, ciphers, coronets, and the fringing inscription so common at this period. Ford
Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes Ferdinand and Isabel: (left) cloister; (right) artesonado, a mudéjar coffered wooden ceiling
exquisite cloisters, with fine pointed
Gothic arches, deserve notice; a few
vile Spanish repairs have been done
here by plastering up arches, and making more hideous the previous French
Vandalism: the space, which once was a pretty garden, is now cursed
with weeds, fit companions to the ruin. Ford
The upper arcade of the cloister was completed in 1526, fifty years after the lower one and it has a vaguely Renaissance aspect. The whole complex underwent a major restoration "in the spirit of the Gothic style" which lasted from 1881 to 1926.
Hospital de San Juan Bautista (aka de Tavera): detail of the door showing natives of the New World: their iconographic pattern was characterized by the depiction of a feather headdress (see a personification of America at S. Ignazio in Rome)
Close by the Roman circus is the hospital of San Juan el Bautista; (..) it was built
with four facades by Bartholome' de
Bustamente in 1542, for the Cardinal
Primate Juan de Tavera. Ford
The conquest of Granada in 1492 was heralded as a major historical event, however it was not particularly beneficial to the greatness of Spain. The discovery of the Americas in that same year by a Spanish expedition and the conquest of their immense territories in the early XVIth century paved the way for the Golden Age of Spain.
XVIIth century Flemish tapestry portraying the Magi at the Museum at Real Colegio de las Doncellas Noble
The marriage between Joanna, daughter and heiress of Ferdinand and Isabel, with Philip of Habsburg (aka the Fair), Duke of Burgundy and Lord of the Low Countries and of many other fiefdoms created a dynastic union between Spain and countries in Central Europe. When their son Charles V abdicated he divided his empire between his son Philip and his brother Ferdinand. In 1555 he assigned his possessions in the Low Countries to the former, thus many Flemish works of art embellish the monuments of Spain (see another Flemish tapestry at the Real Alcazar of Seville).
The city of Madrid is in the diocese of Toledo;
and the spiritual administration is directed by the grand vicar
of that city. (..) At this time they reckon seventy-nine churches and thirty-nine convents of both sexes. It is the richest archbishopric in
Spain, and probably in all Christendom. (..) The archbishop takes the title of primate of all
Spain, which was contested with him for a long time by the
churches of Seville and Taragona; (..) he has a great number of officers
attached to his person or situation, a council of government,
consisting of a president, four counsellors, a reporter, and
a secretary, a cabinet secretary, two public secretaries, a
chamber advocate, three advocates of dignity, two theologians of the chamber, a treasurer-general, private treasurers, etc.
Alexandre de Laborde - A View of Spain - translated into English for Longman, Hurst, etc. 1809
The cathedral has nothing particularly beautiful on the outside above the common run of Gothic churches: it is not to be compared with many we have in England, The steeple is in the ugly style of the Flemish mish and German spires, a heap of blue turrets piled one upon another. Swinburne
A long and almost the only widish street of Toledo leads to the Gothic cathedral, whose exterior is nowhere very beautiful nor symmetrical. (..) Only one tower is finished, which was begun by Card. Tenorio, and completed in 1535 by Card. Tavera. It rises 325 feet high from a square base to a Gothic middle story, ending with a thin spire encircled as with crowns of thorns. The cupola of the other tower is after designs of El Greco; the steps of the Puerta del Perdon are ascended and descended by pregnant women, in order to ensure an easy parturition. (..) La Puerta de los Leones, at the extremity of the transept, is so called from the lions with shields placed on pillars. The deeply-recessed portal, with Gothic figures and niche-work, was wrought by el Maestre Egas in 1466, in a beautiful white stone, which, soft at first, hardens with time. Ford
choir is a museum of sculpture; the
under stalls, were carved in 1495, by el
Maestro Rodrigo; enriched with grotesque tedesque ornaments, they represent the campaigns of Ferdinand and
Isabella. (..) Observe (..) these authentic contemporary records of citadels, arms, and
We do not know much about the carver of the stalls; he was called Aleman (German) which could indicate that he came from that country, possibly from the Rhine region, but most art historians suggest he was from Brabant, the region around Brussels. These choir stalls are his first known work.
Cathedral: (left) Renaissance retablo in Capilla Mayor; (right) "El Trasparente"
The Capilla Mayor was enlarged by
Cardinal Ximenez. (..) The
lofty Gothic retablo, (..) with five
divisions, contains carvings of the life
of the Saviour and Virgin, executed
about 1500, by Juan de Borgonia, Fernando Rincon, el Maestro Felipe, and
others under the directions of Pedro
Gumiel. The whole is enamelled and gilt. (..) The Trasparente, an abomination of the 18th century,
is the boast of the Toledans, and their
disgrace. This was wrought by Narciso Tome, a heresiarch of churriguerism, who here tortured solid material
into clouds, gilt rays of light, and into
everything most aerial. (..) This fricassee of
marble cost 200,000 ducats. The Archbishop Porto Carrero imported quarries
from Italy, and ought to have been called
Porto Carrara. (..) In spite, however, of its
absurdities, it evinces much depraved
invention, and great workmanship and
mastery over material. It is curious as a type of the taste
of an epoch and of a fashion. Ford
The altar owes its name to an illumination effect created by openings above it and behind it, similar to those which characterize some Baroque chapels in Rome and in particular Cappella Cornaro at S. Maria della Vittoria by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
I think it unreasonable to expect that the Sayagues (poor inhabitants of Zamora) should speak in the same manner as the Toledans though for that matter there are Toledans who are not more nice than other folks at the work of speaking properly. Very true - said the licentiate - for how should a man whose business is in the tan yards and in the Zocodover speak so good language as they who do nothing but walk from morning to night in the cloysters of the cathedral and yet they are all Toledans.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra - The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote - translation by Tobias Smollett
Now proceed to the Zocodover. (..) Suq in Arabic, Zoco in Spanish, and Soke in English, signify a "market-place" and a vicinity to cathedrals; for while commerce and religion went hand in hand, the shrine attracted multitudes and " money-changers", while its sanctity protected the cash. This plaza is most Moorish, with its irregular windows, balconies, blacksmiths, and picturesque peasantry, and in summer evenings is a fashionable promenade. It was for years the site of national sports of fire and blood, of the auto de fe and the bull-fight. (..) To speak "en proprio Toledano", has since the time of Cervantes been equivalent to "the best Spanish". Ford
The buildings of Zocodover were greatly damaged during the Spanish Civil War. The arch bears an inscription indicating it was restored/rebuilt in 1945.
The hospital of Santa Crux was founded by cardinal
Peter Gonzalez de Mendoza, archbishop of Toledo, who
died in 1495; it was erected on the site of the old palace
of the Gothic kings, afterwards occupied by the Moorish
sovereigns. This edifice was begun in 1504, and completed
in 1514; it is on a splendid scale of magnificence; architecture, sculpture, and painting, have conspired in its
favour; every object is grand, noble, and majestic, and
worthy of the munificent spirit of the founder. (..) The front gate, which is partly of marble and partly
of white stone, is truly noble; it supports several figures in
bass-relief, and, among others, the Discovery of the Cross, by
the empress Helena, and the statue of the founder on his
Near the Zocodover is the Hospital de la Santa Cruz. (..) The position overlooking the Tagus is glorious, and the building is one of the gems of the world. (..) The general style of the edifice is in the transition from florid Gothic to the Classical and Renaissance. It was finished by Henrique de Egas, for whose exquisite chiselings the creamy stone, "la piedra blanca", seems to have been created. Ford
To the right you discover a large handsome staircase, the steps of which are of marble; it is adorned with
balustrades wrought in ornamental foliage. Laborde
Observe particularly (..) the staircase, which, with its ceilings, balustrades, &c., baffles description. Ford
The style of Hospital de la Cruz is often described as Plateresque (in the manner of a silversmith) because of its rich decoration. It is a Spanish style of its own which combines the floral decoration of the Late Gothic with a design which is influenced by the Italian Renaissance.
Works by El Greco at Museum de la Santa Cruz (left) and Capilla Mayor of the Cathedral (right)
This Domenico Theotocupuli, so called
because a Greek by birth, settled at Toledo about 1577, where he died in 1614,
and lies buried in the San Bartolome'.
He imitated Titian and Tintoretto, but
was very unequal; thus what he did
well was excellent, while what he did
ill was worse than anything done by
anybody else. Ford
Domenikos Theotokopoulos was born on Crete, at the time a Venetian possession, in 1541. In ca 1568 he moved to Venice and in 1570 to Rome. See the Modena Tryptych (it opens in another window), one of his Italian works.
Iglesia de San Ildefonso, a Jesuit church: (left) façade; (right) dome
The construction of the church began in 1629, but it was not completed until 1765. The length of time which occurred to finish the building testifies to the decline of Toledo after King Philip II established the capital of his kingdom at Madrid in 1561.
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|