History of Toledo

Mother Earth Travel > Spain > Toledo > History

Toledo, declared Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO, has a long and prodigious history. It was a fortified urban zone even in the era of the Iberians, before the arrival of the Romans who conquered it in the year 192 BC. Later, the Barbarians would invade the by-now decadent empire. Among these were the Alanis and the Visigoths. In the year 411, the Alanis captured the town, but their victory was short-lived; seven years later the Visigoths would conquer Toledo. By the 7th century, the Visigoths completely dominated the Peninsula, making Toledo the capital of Spain. This situation lasted for 124 years, until the arrival of the Moors in 711.

During the first three-and-a-half centuries of Moslem rule in 'Al Andalus', Islam dominated Toledo, called 'Tolati-Tola' by the Moors. This period saw the three major religious communities ' Moslems, 'Mozarabes' (Christians living under Moslem rule in medieval Spain) and a significant Hebrew minority - all living peaceably together.

In 1035, Alfonso VI of Castilla captured the city and made it his capital. The Jewish community continued to have a significant presence, and became one of the most flourishing in the world. The heritage they left includes two ancient synagogues in the Jewish quarter. Along with the Jews and the Christians were the 'Mudejars', the Moslems living under Christian rule. They gave birth to a unique artistic style, the 'Mudejar', a synthesis of Christian and Moslem aesthetics and possibly the most characteristic of Spanish artistic trends that survived well after the Moslem presence quit the Iberian Peninsula.

Toledo in the 13th century saw a tremendous cultural revival under King Alfonso X 'El Sabio, (The Wise), and the School of Translators was established. The sages working there translated works from Arabic or Hebrew into Latin. They thus brought to Europe the knowledge of the erudite Moslems, far superior to Christian learning of the time. But even more importantly, these translations were the means through which Europe rediscovered classical learning, as the works of all the great Greek philosophers and other learned men had first been translated into Arabic.

Despite the fact that later Monarchs had itinerant courts and no longer established them in Toledo, the city retained its significance until the end of the Christian "Reconquest" of Spain in 1492. It was then that the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled the Jews from their kingdoms. The expulsion of the Jews, and with them their cultural and socio-economic importance, had a serious impact on the city.

In the 16th century, when the Spanish Empire was in full bloom, Carlos I of Spain and V of Austria settled his court in Toledo. Unfortunately, the Empire itself led to the decline of Toledo. The city was too small for administering the Empire's vast resources, and in 1561, Felipe II moved the court to Madrid. Ironically, Madrid had gained importance only as a military outpost for the defence of Toledo. The once-imperial city fell into decline, and never again regained its past importance.

In the 20th century, the last of the Spanish civil wars rent the country between 1936 and 1939. At the beginning of the struggle, Toledo acquired crucial psychological and propagandistic importance as the city was entirely in Republican hands, except for the besieged Alcázar (castle). Nevertheless, the city languished again during the four decades of Franco's dictatorship. This changed with the arrival of democracy at the end of the 1970s. Spain was structured into 17 autonomous communities (similar to federal states) and Toledo became the capital of one of them, Castilla La Mancha. As a regional capital, it has successfully recovered some of its dynamic past.