Spain Guide


Toledo History

Today's city of Toledo is a 2,000 year old masterpiece created by various cultures including the Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians. It's hey day was in the 16th century when it became the capital of the mighty Spanish empire. The beautifully preserved buildings of this ancient town provide striking testimony of Toledo's rich and colourful past.

The Iberian Celts were the first settlers here until they were ousted by the Romans in 192 BC. The Romans fortified the town and called it Toletum. Archaeologists have excavated part of a vast Roman arena, the Circo Romano, dating from the second half of the 1st century AD. The huge amphitheatre would have been capable of entertaining 13,000 spectators during the glory days of the Roman Empire.

With the decline in power of the increasingly decadent Romans, the Barbarians invaded Toledo and during the 6th century it became the capital of the Visigoths who became masters of the entire Iberian Peninsula.

The Visigoths ruled until 711 AD and legend has it that the lust of their leader, Rodrigo, for a local maiden led to their ultimate downfall. Rodrigo is said to have raped the girl on the banks of the River Tagus, little realising that she was the daughter of an important noble family from a Spanish province in North Africa. Her furious father incited the Muslims to invade Spain; an army of 700,000 Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated Rodrigo's men at the Battle of Guadalete near Cadiz.

Toledo, called Tolati Tola by the Moors, remained under Muslim rule for the next three centuries a period when Arabs, Christians and Jews co existed peaceably and their different cultures flourished.

In 1085 Alfonso VI captured Toledo, ending the era of Muslim dominance. The city grew and thrived as a political and cultural capital. Tolerance was extended to both Moorish and Jewish communities and Toledo became the first Hebrew city in Spain with no less than 12,000 Jewish residents. The two synagogues which stand in the city today are powerful reminders of that period of religious tolerance before the dark age of the brutal Spanish Inquisition.

The 13th century saw a major cultural revival in Toledo with the establishment of the School of Translators under King Alfonso X, called "El Sabio" (the Wise One) because of his love of learning. Great academic and philosophical works were translated from Arabic and Hebrew into Latin, bringing vast stores of knowledge to Europe for the first time.

In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Toledo by order of the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who instituted the reign of terror under the Spanish Inquisition. For the next 400 years, Jews and all other heretics were tortured and murdered in the name of Catholicism.

In the 16th century, when the Spanish Empire was at the height of its power, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V moved his court to Toledo. Ironically, it was the might of the empire which led to a subsequent decline in Toledo's fortunes as the city was too small to administer its vast resources. In 1561, Felipe II moved the royal court to Madrid which had previously been little more than a military outpost for the defence of Toledo. The city never regained its former importance.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936 39) Toledo was the focus of world attention when the Republicans laid siege to the city and a group of Nationalist supporters, holed up in the alcazar fortress, held out against them for two months. Troops were sent from North Africa to end the siege of the Alcazar a victory which did much to enhance the reputation of Nationalist leader General Franco.

The city remained in the doldrums under Franco's repressive regime. With the advent of democracy, after the dictator's death in 1975, Toledo regained an element of its former political importance when it was made the capital of the autonomous community of Castille La Mancha.