Toledo, Spain (Capital) - Encyclopedia

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TOLEDO, the capital of the Spanish province of Toledo and formerly of the whole kingdom, 47 m. by rail S.S.W. of Madrid, on the river Tagus, 2400 ft. above sea-level. Pop (1900), 23,317. Toledo occupies a rugged promontory of granite, washed on all sides except the north by the Tagus, which here flows swiftly through a deep and precipitous gorge. Towards the north the city overlooks the desolate Castilian plateau;. beyond the river it is confronted by an ampitheatre of bare mountains, the Montes de Toledo. From a distance it has the aspect of a vast fortress, built of granite, defended by the river and by a double wall on the north, and dominated by the towers of its cathedral and alcazar. The absence of traffic in its maze of dark and winding alleys creates a silence uncommon in so large a city. There are few plazas, the principal open spaces being the arcaded Zocodover, described by Cervantes in the Novelas ejemplares; and some of the finest monuments of antiquity are hemmed in by meaner structures. The houses, tall, massive and sombre, are entered by huge iron-studded doors, and, owing to the extremes of heat and cold characteristic of the Castilian plateau, most of their windows open on a sheltered inner court (patio), the walls facing the street being, often blank, though their monotony is sometimes relieved by carved Gothic or Moorish stonework. Nowhere, even in Spain, have the appearance and atmosphere of a Gothic city been preserved with so little change. Though the Moslems have left their imprint upon its architecture, and though many ancient buildings were destroyed after the Christian reconquest to make room for churches, convents and seminaries, Toledo as a whole remains as distinctively Gothic and medieval as Granada is Moorish, Madrid Castilian or Barcelona modern. It has also been from the earliest times the centre of Spanish Christianity, and its archbishop is styled ex officio " primate of all the Spains." Principal Buildings. - The Tagus is spanned by two fortified Moorish bridges, the Puente de Alcantara, on the north-east, which was rebuilt in the 13th and 17th centuries, and the Puente de San Martin, on the north-west, founded in 1212 and rebuilt in 1390. The inner wall of the city is said to have been founded in the 7th century by the Visigothic King Wamba; much of its masonry is Moorish. Alphonso VI. of Castile added 'the outer wall in 1109. To the same period belongs the Mudejar Puerta del Sol, the finest of several ancient gateways, among which the Puerta Visagra (1550, restored 1 575), and the Puerta del Cambron (1102, restored 1576) are also interesting. The Puerta Visagra Antigua, a Moorish gateway of the 9th century, has been walled up, but its original form is preserved. The Alcazar, a huge square building with a tower at each corner and a fine arcaded patio, stands on the highest ground in Toledo, originally the site of a Roman fort. Built as a citadel by King Wamba and used as such by the Moors, it was converted into a palace by St Ferdinand (1200-1252)1252) and was enlarged in the 15th and 16th centuries by Ferdinand and Isabella, Charles V. and Philip II. During the war of the Spanish Succession it was burned down (1710), but Cardinal Lorenzana restored it in 1775. After the French had burned it a second time in 1810, it was again rebuilt and in 1882 became a military academy. In 1887 a third fire was followed by a third restoration. Despite these successive disasters, part of the 15th and 16th century palace has been preserved, including a fine facade designed by Juan de Herrera, a gateway by Alonso de Covarrubias and a staircase by Herrera and Francisco de Villalpando. The Ayuntamiento, or City Hall, is a 15th-century building with 17th-century alterations by Domenico Theotocopuli (el Greco). Some fine Moorish work is preserved in the Salon de Mesa (c. 1450); in the Taller del Moro, which dates in part from the 14th century and was long the workshop (taller) of masons employed in repairing the cathedral; and in the palace of the counts of Fuensalida.

More important architecturally than any of these secular buildings are the churches of Toledo, and especially its magnificent Gothic cathedral (for illustration see Architecture). The cathedral occupies the site of a Visigothic church, which an inscription preserved in the cloister shows to have been dedicated to the Virgin by King Reccared, on the 12th of April 589. If the event thus commemorated were a reconsecration - and it was in 589 that Reccared was converted from Arianism to orthodoxy - the church may well have been the cathedral of Eugenius, Eladius, Ildefonso and Julian, the four Toledan bishops who were canonized, and the first of whom is said to have been a disciple of St Paul. From 712 until 1227 the Visigothic church was used by the Moors as their principal mosque. It was then razed by St Ferdinand, who founded the present cathedral in August 1227. The completion of the main fabric was delayed until 1493, while many of the chapels and other subordinate buildings were added even later; thus Renaissance and baroque features have been introduced into a design which was originally Gothic of the 13th century. Though sacked by the Comuneros in 1521 and by the French in 1808, the cathedral is still one of the richest and most splendid foundations in the Peninsula. The exterior is masked by adjacent buildings, its most impressive part being the western facade, flanked by two towers, of which one is unfinished while the other rises to a height of 295 ft. The interior is somewhat dwarfed in appearance by its immense width. It is 395 ft. long by 178 ft. broad, and is divided by 84 pillars into five naves, with central lantern and choir, and a complete series of side chapels. Most of the chapels date from the 15th and 16th centuries, and are very magnificent in detail. The superb stained-glass windows, chiefly of Flemish work, belong to the same period and number 750. The choir-stalls, placed in alabaster recesses divided by columns of red jasper and white marble, are among the finest extant examples of late medieval and Renaissance wood-carving, though rivalled by the retablo, which rises behind the high altar to the roof. The treasury, reliquaries add library, notwithstanding their repeated despoilings, contain many priceless MSS. and works of art, including the custodia executed by Enrique de Arfe in 1524, which is nearly 10 ft. high and is adorned with 260 silver-gilt statuettes. In it is a monstrance, said to have been wrought from the first gold brought home by Columbus. There are paintings by many masters, including Goya, El Greco, Titian and Rubens. In the Mozarabic chapel mass and other offices are still performed daily according to the Mozarabic liturgy, which was also used in six of the parish churches until the middle of the 19th century. (See Mozarab.) Within the precincts of the cathedral are interred the archbishops and cardinals Tenorio, Fonseca, Mendoza, Ximenez, the great constable Alvaro de Luna and a long array of kings and heroes. In the principal tower is hung the campana gorda, a bell weighing nearly two tons and said to be audible as far as Madrid. A huge wooden rattle (matraca) is used to summon worshippers between Maundy Thursday and the Saturday before Easter.

Apart from the cathedral, many of the other churches are of great interest and beauty. The Franciscan convent and church of San Juan de los Reyes (florid Gothic) were founded in 1476 by Ferdinand and Isabella, who intended the church to be their own burial-place; but after the erection of a royal mausoleum in Granada the fabric remained incomplete until the 17th century. El Cristo de la Luz was originally a mosque, built in 922 and incorporating some pillars from an older Visigothic church. Santo Tome, also a mosque, was reconstructed in the Gothic style during the 14th century. El Cristo de la Vega, formerly known as the Basilica de Santa Leocadia, occupies the site of a Visigothic church built in the 4th century to mark the burial-place of the saint, whose reputed remains, like those of St Eugenius, are enshrined in the cathedral - here several church councils were held, but the original church was destroyed by the Moors and the present building dates principally from 1816. The Mudejar Santa Maria la Blanca became successively a synagogue, in the 13th and 14th centuries, a church (1405), an asylum for women (1550), barracks (1791-1798) and again a church. El Transito, a Mudejar synagogue (c 1365) was occupied by the knights of Calatrava in 1492, and was afterwards dedicated to the Passing (Trdnsito) of the Virgin. Its inner walls are adorned with Moorish arabesques. It was restored after the ceiling, of cedar inlaid with ivory, had fallen in 1903. Santiago del Arrabal dates from the I ith century and has a Moorish tower. Some admirable Renaissance sculpture is preserved in the court and staircase of the former hospital of Santa Cruz (1494-1514), which was restored in 1906, to be used as a provincial library and museum. The Hospital de San Juan Bautista, outside the walls, was founded in 1541.

Toledo was the seat of a university from 1498 to 1845, and is still an important educational centre, having numerous elementary schools, a military academy and a provincial institute; it also contains the provincial court of justice and several modern hospitals. Its characteristic industry is the manufacture of swords, carried on by private firms and especially in the royal factory (1788), which, like the railway station, is about I m. from the city. Toledan blades have been famous for 2000 years, the culter toletanus being mentioned in the Cynegetica of Grattius (Faliscus), during the 1st century B.C. The industry throve under the Moors and especially during the 16th century; it is now practised on a smaller scale, but the blades produced are still remarkable for flexibility and strength.


Toledo is of immemorial antiquity; Spanish legend variously ascribes its foundation to Hercules, to Tubal, the grandson of Noah, to "Iberia, daughter of Hispanus," and to Jews who, having been exiled by Nebuchadrezzar, settled here, naming their city Toledoth, the "city of generation." It was a stronghold of the Carpetani and may have been a Carthaginian trading-station. Livy (xxv. 7) mentions Toletum as urbs Marva, sed loco munita, which was captured by the Romans in 193 B.C. Under Roman rule it became a colonic and the capital of Carpetania. Various fragmentary remains have been preserved, including parts of an aqueduct, of a circus, which seems never to have been completed, and of a temple (the so-called Cave of Hercules). Toletum was never captured by the Vandals. Its ecclesiastical importance is coeval with the introduction of Christianity into Spain; numerous church councils (see below) were held here, notably in 396, 400 and 589, and here was the chief battle-ground in the long political and religious struggle which ended (589) in the triumph of Spanish Catholicism over Arianism. From the reign of Athanagild (534-547) until the Moorish conquest in 712, Toletum was generally regarded as the capital of Visigothic Spain. The Moorish chroniclers grow eloquent over the treasures captured by Musa and his army in 712; these are said to have included the "Table of Solomon," carved from a single flawless emerald, and a copy of the Psalms, written upon gold with ink made from melted rubies. Tolaitola, as the city was now called, prospered under the Moors, first as a provincial capital in the caliphate of Cordova, governed by an emir (712-1035), afterwards as an independent state (1035-1085). Its rulers protected the large Jewish colony, founded extensive silk and woollen industries, and made their city an important centre of Arab and Hebrew culture, one of the great names associated with it being that of Rabbi ben Ezra (1119-1174). The Spanish and Jewish inhabitants adopted the language and many customs of their conquerors, becoming "Mozarabs," but retaining their own creeds. In 1085 Alphonso VI. of Leon and Castile captured Toledo, aided by the Cid, and in 1087 made it his capital. For a time the Castilians emulated the tolerance of the Moors, but the Jews were expelled in 1492 and the Arabic language was forbidden (except in church services) in 1580. Before this the archbishops of Toledo had become almost independent of any secular power; they possessed enormous wealth and some of them, such as the Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros, directed the policy and even led the armies of all Spain. In 1521 Toledo was the centre of the revolt of the Comuneros (see Spain: History); its commercial and political decline dates from 1560, when Philip II. chose Madrid as his capital. The city was the home of Lope de Vega (1562-1635) and forms the scene of several of his dramas. It suffered severely during the Peninsular War, being several times occupied by the French in 1808-1812.

See J. Ibanez Marin, Recuerdos de Toledo (Madrid, 1893); H. Lynch, Toledo (London, 1898); A. F. Calvert, Toledo (London, 1907).

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