When we think of Spain, the first thing that comes to mind would probably be to visit Camp Nou in Barcelona, the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid or the magnificent palaces of Alhambra in Granada and the Real Alcázar of Seville. Although banned in some cities, bullfights are also a famous tourist attraction. However, there are also many less famous but important locations that you should not miss.
I am referring to the World Heritage Site of the city of Toledo. UNESCO declared it in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage, and centuries of historical co-existence between Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures – as an epitome of example in today’s chaotic world.
It was the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, a fortress of the Emirate of Cordoba, an outpost of the Christian kingdoms fighting the Moors and in the 16th century, the temporary seat of supreme power under Charles V, Toledo is the repository of more than 2,000 years of history.
1. Take a historical stroll along its cobbled-stone pavements within the walls
It is romantic to walk along old narrow medieval streets in this city. Behind its walls, Toledo preserves an artistic and cultural legacy in the form of churches, palaces, fortresses, mosques and synagogues.
This great diversity of artistic styles makes it an open-air museum. Here you can find souvenirs and histories of the city, alongside meeting people from all parts of the globe.
2. Get lost in Toledo
There is no special itinerary here in Toledo. History is everywhere you go. Just take some time to lose yourself in its medieval streets. The city is surrounded by the River Tajo on three sides and two medieval walls on the fourth side.
The old city is relatively small and can be crossed in 45 minutes, so you are never too far from the center. If you feel lost, just head uphill and you will end up at the main plaza, Plaza de Zocodover.
3. Where literature comes alive
Every high school student would have read “Don Quixote”
considered as the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age.
It is about a simple man who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha – the autonomous community of Spain which Toledo belongs. You will see many images of Don Quixote all over Toledo.
4. Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo
The Cathedral sits grandly at the peak of the city and is considered to be the magnum opus of the Gothic style in Spain. But of greater interest to Muslims is that this, among many other cathedrals around Spain, used to be the location of the city’s central (jami’) mosque.
Under the rule of Ferdinand III, he ordered that the mosque be demolished and replaced by this Cathedral. However, the architecture has some semblance of the Mudéjar (Muslims living under Christian rule at the time) style. The minaret was retained and this used to be the very minaret of the mosque where the muezzin calls the azan (call for prayer).
5. Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz (Mosque of Christ of the Light)
The name of this fascinating historical building catches my attention immediately: Mosque of Christ of the Light. Dating from the late 10th century, it is the only surviving mosque out of the ten that once stood throughout Toledo. It is one of the oldest Moorish monuments in Spain, which has now been converted into a chapel.
An inscription written with brick in Kufic script on the south-west facade reveals the details of the mosque's foundation: “Bismillah (In The Name Of Allah). Ahmad ibn Hadidi had this mosque erected using his own money requesting a reward in paradise for it from Allah. It was completed with the aid of Allah under the direction of Musa ibn Alí, architect and Sa'ada, and concluded in Muharram in 390 (Islamic calendar).
6. Restaurante El Cristo de la Luz
The only Halal restaurant in the whole city of Toledo is situated directly opposite the Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz.
The chef and owner was Syrian but has lived in Spain almost his entire life. He is also quite the passionate entertainer as he recited to us poems when we visited the restaurant. It serves Moroccan and Middle-Eastern food, but also vegetarian-friendly with vegan options.
It is therefore popular not only with Muslims, but non-Muslims as well as it is strategically situated at the exit of the walled complex. The restaurant is rated favorably in travel websites such as Tripadvisor and other personal travel blogs.
It is divided into 2 sections: a cosy indoor area where you can have a vantage view of the city if you are seated by the window, and an outdoor section under shady trees make it a very relaxing place to sip your Moroccan tea (which is regularly served complementary) to ease your aching feet after a whole day of walking on cobbled-stone pavements.
Pack your bags and head down to Toledo!
So don’t get trapped with the touristy locations in Spain and miss out on the cradle of the Abrahamic religious tradition of living and co-existing peacefully together, as Toledo will demonstrate. Here you will see a vibrant Jewish Quarter, Christian chapels and historical locations of the various mosques around the city.
History suggested that this city was the depository of vast knowledge that its application led to the birth of the Renaissance in the Western world – bringing civilization out of darkness into light. This is how important Toledo is in history. Don’t miss it!
This post was written by guest blogger, Uztaz Saif-ur-Rahman, the director of Alchemy of Travel Pte Ltd. Find him online at Alchemy of Travel | Facebook | Instagram.