Toledo, the City of Three Cultures

In the Dark Ages, Toledo was a European hub for culture science and philosophy featuring the first  School of Translators, contributing to the creation of  perfect conditions for the Renaissance

It was my first trip to continental Spain and I soon realized I do not know much about Spain. I knew that Toledo, Cordoba and Granada would have been definitely on my “to do “ list but I had only some vague knowledge about them. The lack of vegetation I saw on my way to Toledo surprised me because I was not expecting to see a semi-arid landscape in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula Definitely it was not the image I had in my mind about it.

Toledo is in the central Iberian Peninsula, placed on a tall and rugged promontory surrounded on three sides by the Tagus river. Seeing it from afar looked like a natural fortress with Alcazar`s symmetrical shape distinguishing on the skyline.

The hills surrounding Toledo, Spain
The hills surrounding Toledo
River Tejo/Tagus flowing around Toledo, Spain
River Tejo/Tagus flowing around Toledo, Spain

I think that probably before entering the city using one of its gates is the best to walk along the river banks and admire the walls. The history of Toledo is stretching back to Roman times and most likely even beyond. Being so well preserved is impossible not to observe its deep roots in history. Make sense since it was declared UNESCO-Wolrd Heritage Site.

Toledo and the river Tagus/Tejo, Spain
River Tagus
Saint Martin Bridge, Toledo, Spain
Saint Martin Bridge
Toledo and the river Tagus/Tejo, Spain
Tagus River

Chasing for a parking spot I ended up on the west side of the city and in my opinion, probably Toledo`s best side. The Saint Martin Bridge built in the 13th century is completing the image of a Medieval fortress and lead me to La Juderia, the Jewish Neighbourhood. Stepping on the bridge is like passing through a time portal and I am a time traveller. The influences of the three cultures can be seen even from the entrance where a Mudejar influence entrance is welcoming me into the city. The carvings on the other side are Christians and the neighbourhood behind that gate used to be Jewish

The entrance on Toledo through Saint Martin Bridge, Spain
The entrance on Toledo through Saint Martin Bridge

Saint Martin Bridge, Toledo, Spain

Saint Martin Bridge

Saint Martin Bridge, Toledo, Spain
Saint Martin Bridge

It is the first city after Jerusalem in which I could see the presence of the three cultures and I was so intrigued. I heard about the famous swords of Toledo and even briefly about the scholars present here but never imagined the magnitude of the influence of these cultures. I was charmed by the city from the moment I stepped on the bridge and now the curiosity was drawing me on every street, every corner that might have brought some new clarification about the history of Toledo.

Street in the Jewish Neighborhood, Toledo Spain
Samuel Ha-Levi Street, La Juderia
El Transito Toledo Spain
Synagogue El Transito, La Juderia
La Juderia Toledo Spain
La Juderia Overview

When I was back home I spent days doing research trying to put two and two together and make some sense about the things I saw and find out in Toledo. I was so fascinated because I wanted to understand and draw my own conclusions. What I was going to find out was that Toledo was not only the city of the three culture but because of being the confluence point of this three cultures without knowing it had an important role in the beginning of Renaissance.

 

The streets of Toledo, Spain
The streets of Toledo
The streets of Toledo, Spain
The streets of Toledo

Looking for my answers I particularly enjoyed walking on the narrow streets, it gave me the true feeling of a medieval city. Il looked like a labyrinth and although without Ariadne`s thread I did manage to find my way. Every corner of that city tells a story and somehow it seems like past and present to be so tangled. The history of the city is like a big jigsaw and every story is a piece of the puzzle and to be able to solve the puzzle I wanted to know all of them.

Street in the Jewish Neighborhood, Toledo Spain
Street in the Jewish Neighborhood
The streets of Toledo, Spain
The streets of Toledo, Spain

Throughout centuries Toledo had periods of peace and prosperity and periods of war and confusion and the best way to hear about them is to take a tour through the Jewish Neighbourhood. Being the biggest community in Europe at that time their history intertwined with the history of the city. But is not the history of Toledo or the Jewish community I want to talk about, although maybe I should write an entire article only about this because is quite fascinating, what I want to write about is the turning of events that lead towards Toledo becoming a beacon of light in the gloaming night of the Dark Ages.

The streets of Toledo, Spain
The streets of Toledo
The streets of Toledo, Spain
The streets of Toledo
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Toledo, Spain
Plaza del Ayuntamiento

Since the time of the Visigoths there was a library in Toledo, but when the Moors conquered the city they did not destroy it, they brought new books. What is interesting though, is that the books they brought were written by Arab scholars but also Arabic translations from Greek and other languages on vari domains, like medicine, science, philosophy, astronomy and so on. Following the model of House of Wisdom from Bagdad, scholars were put to translate these works from Arabic to Hebrew or Castilian. Soon Toledo became a true hub for scholars in search of knowledge.

Cathedral Treasure Museum, Toledo, Spain
Cathedral Treasure Museum
Arco de Palacio Street/Calle, Toledo, Spain
Arco de Palacio Street/Calle
Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, Spain
Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada, it was a translation centre in the 12th century

In 1085 when Castilia regains control over the city, the Moorish library was kept and scholars were hired to translate the works from Arabic and Hebrew into Latin and Castilian and Toledo School of Translators was established. It is amazing only to think about that, in an Epoque when certain works of classic Greeks were considered heresies those works were translated into Latin and Castilian which made them even more approachable. To make this even more interesting, all this was happening in a Cathedral. The translator’s works ensured that long-lost knowledge to spread through Chrisitan Europe

Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, Spain
Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada
Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo Roftop, Spain
Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada Rooftop

Sadly, all good things are coming to an end, in the middle of the 13th century the school was closed, the scholars left the city in search of other patrons and the cultural importance of Toledo faded away. The influence of this school transcends time and although its activity was put to an end it created a trend. The Holly Roman Emperor Federico II employed Judas Moses Kohen of Toledo that later become of Tuscany to translate some treatises from Arabic.

Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo Alley, Spain
Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada Alley
Alcazar de Toledo, Military Museum, Toledo, Spain
Alcazar de Toledo, Military Museum

Some people are wondering why the renaissance started in Florence. Maybe because at that time Inquisition was not very powerful in Italy, so many scholars could find refuge there. Maybe because in Florence, Medici family were offering the perfect place for those in need of patronage. Maybe because after the destruction of the vast library in Baghdad by the Mongol troops in 1258 humankind needed so badly a place where all that knowledge to be found again. Who knows? This is to be discovered…

View above the city from Alcazar de Toledo, Spain
View above the city from Alcazar
View above the city from Alcazar de Toledo, Spain
View above the city from Alcazar
View above the city from Alcazar de Toledo, Spain
View above the city from Alcazar

No doubt about it, Toledo is both intriguing and fascinating. Walking through it is like going through a maze passing through a different period of time at every corner. What I learned, is that in Toledo the present is deeply connected with the past. Maybe because the past was the cradle of what is present or maybe in the labyrinth of Toledo, there is no present nor a past, there is only right now…