Toledo, the medieval city of Spain, is a treasure trove of history, culture and architecture
For centuries, intellectuals, poets, and writers have tried to solve the enigma of this multi-cultural city, a melting pot of ideas. As for me, I'm here purely to experience this medieval city of Spain — Toledo.
With palpable excitement, we leave the hotel at 8 a.m. to capture the city under the glorious morning sun. We enter the new Bisagra Gate that lies on the natural route to the city, and 80 mts apart is the old Bisagra Gate.
The old one still retains its original façade, flanked by twin semi-circular towers and with a horse shoe arch in the centre, the size and stone work date it back many centuries. A floral carving on the key stone of the arch dates back to the Visigoth times. The strangest feature of the gate is the enormous granite lintel, whose presence has never been adequately explained!
Entrance into the walled city of Toledo is through the Puerta del Sol or Sun Gate, with its round towers and matching horse-shoe shaped arches in granite.
The arches, the parapets, the battlements and the interior work of the gate are in brick that uses a pastiche of building materials very common in Mudejar type of art. This mélange of Christian European and Moorish type of architecture is a result of various conquests and the influence of their rulers.
A medallion containing a triangle with the sun and moon painted on either side is placed above the horse shoe arch. There is a small window in the first frieze of interlocking arches. Under this window, a marble embossing showing the denial of St. Peter is visible.
The Cambron Gate that lies between the old Bisagra Gate and San Martin Bridge forms the entrance to the Jewish part of the city. In ancient times this gate was said to be used by the Jews to enter their living quarters. This impressive Gate has four towers symmetrically arranged, with space in-between forming an open courtyard. The Gate still has its old iron covered doors, and it is said that the Queen (in 1577) granted the special privilege of not having to shut it every night! Most of the building work of the towers and walls are in granite and limestone.
Of churches and synagogues
Toledo is best described by her churches, museums and synagogues. The most noteworthy are the church St. John of the Kings (San Juan de Los Reyes) and the synagogue Santa Maria La Blanca.
This church is just a bowshot from The Cambron Gate. Built on relatively flat land in the Jewish quarter, one can have a panoramic view of the river and the plain of the Vega from the church's platform in front. The church is largely in Gothic style, and has a single aisle with four sections of complex vaulting. There is a royal gallery above the columns, which gives access to the transept. The stone work here is best described in terms of fine jewellery than of stone masonry.
Next, the synagogue. The Santa Maria La Blanca is believed to be constructed around the 13 Century, as David Ben Solomon is said to have paid for the construction. The interior of the building is laid out as a small church, around 28 mts long.
And, at 28 mts wide, this is divided into five aisles with octagonal pillars supporting beautiful horse-shoe arches. The aisles are decorated with intricate designs, and the pillars with medallions in complex designs. The synagogue was consecrated for Christian worship, and later used for many purposes. The external façade of the synagogue of Samuel Levy belies its ornamental interiors. The long broad nave is covered by a hand-carved ceiling of larchwood. The east wall is lavishly decorated with carved arches and above and in between tarnished in gold and studded with gems. Watching burnished gold background with rubies and emeralds spitting fire as the mid afternoon light streams from the windows is quite an experience! With this, it's time to leave the city.
As we leave, we turn around for a last look at the medieval city that cast her spell on us.