Toledo, Spain

Toledo’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is richly deserved. Within its medieval walls is a treasure trove of landmarks reflecting its Roman, Visigoth and Arab occupations. You will learn about its zenith as the former capital of Castile plus see where the early days of the Spanish Civil War were fought in 1936.

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1 Railway Station in Toledo, Spain

Immediately after getting off a train, you are oriented to a dominant building style of Toledo. The clock tower and façade resemble original Moorish structures you will find around the city. The Railway Station was created in 1920 by architect Narciso Clavería de Palacios using a Neo-Mudéjar design. This was a revival of architecture characterized by the Muslims of Al-Andalus. The Moors controlled the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) from 711 until 1492.

Av. Castilla la Mancha, 45003 Toledo, Spain
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2 Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary in Toledo, Spain

The Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary is a visual highlight of Toledo. Master Martín is credited with creating the French Gothic design in 1227. Several other men assumed this role before the project was completed after 266 years. The sections of this main façade are the North Tower, three entrances named (left to right) the Portals of Hell, Forgiveness and the Last Judgement, plus the Baroque dome of the Mozarabic Chapel. Originally this was planned to be a south tower. This Catholic church measures 390 by 194 feet, is covered with white limestone from the Olihuelas Quarry and is adorned with more than 750 stained glass windows. The Cathedral stands on a site previously occupied by a Visigoth church and a Muslim mosque.

Plaza del Ayuntamiento, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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3 North Tower of Primate Cathedral of St. Mary in Toledo, Spain

The North Tower of the Primate Cathedral of St. Mary is a masterpiece of Gothic design. The bell tower anchors the Plaza del Ayuntamiento at 146 feet. Alvar Martínez finished the lower half in 1380. Hanequin de Bruselas created the second half capped with the dynamic, slate spire. Inside the belfry is the San Eugenio, named after Toledo’s first Christian bishop. Also known as La Campana Gorda, the bell weighs 19.3 tons and is still the largest in Spain. Two months after the Fat Bell was installed in 1775, it cracked.

Plaza del Ayuntamiento, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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4 Portal of Lions Primate Cathedral of St. Mary in Toledo, Spain in Toledo, Spain

The Cathedral of Toledo’s youngest gateway is Portal of Lions named after the lion sculptures adorning the pedestal tops. Archbishop Alfonso Carrillo de Acuña commissioned Anequín de Egas Cueman to create the portal in 1460. The entrance required numerous artisans six years to complete. The centerpiece is a statue of the Assumption of the Virgin suspended by cherubs by sculptor Gregorio Pardo. Surrounding this are smaller images of Virgin Mary’s life. Above the tympanum are high reliefs of the Virgin’s Coronation plus the Twelve Apostles designed by Juan Alemán. Flanking the entrance are sculptures of Solomon and David, works by Esteban Jamete.

Calle Cardenal Cisneros, 1, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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5 Archbishop’s Palace in Toledo, Spain

The Primacy of Toledo may have been established by St. James the Great (James the Apostle) during the 1st Century. During the Middle Ages, this Roman Catholic diocese was second only to the Vatican in power and riches. The Archbishop’s Palace adjacent to the cathedral was constructed in the 13th century. This façade was added in 1543. Above the entrance’s Ionic columns are reliefs of angels holding the coat of arms of Juan Pardo de Tavera. He was the Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain from 1534 until 1545. The top insignia represents the House of Habsburg. The Habsburgs ruled the Holy Roman Empire for over 1,250 years as well as produced countless European monarchs. The dynasty was dissolved during the 18th century.

Calle Arco de Palacio, 3, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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6 Ayuntamiento de Toledo in Toledo, Spain

Construction of Ayuntamiento de Toledo – known in English as the Town Hall – began in the late 16th century yet was not finished until 1703. This façade facing the Cathedral of Toledo and the Archbishop’s Palace was designed by Juan de Herrera. The mainly Baroque building is headquarters for the 25-member City Council.

Plaza Ayuntamiento, 1, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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7 Brief History of Alcázar in Toledo, Spain

The Romans were the first to build a citadel on Toledo’s highest hill during the 3rd century. It was modified by Alfonso VI of León and Castile at the end of the 11th century and again by Alfonso X of Castile during the 13th century. In 1545, while Charles I ruled the Spanish Empire and was also Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, he commissioned architect Alonso de Covarrubias to convert the Alcázar into a residence. All of these modifications explain why the Alcázar bears so many architectural styles. The former fortress now serves as the National Army Museum and the Castilla-La Mancha Regional Library.

Calle de la Union, 45001 Toledo, Spain
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8 Siege of Alcázar Monument in Toledo, Spain

In July of 1936, during the initial days of the Spanish Civil War, a Republican force of 8,000 men began attacking the 1,000, ill-equipped Nationalists inside of Toledo’s Alcázar. The brutal Siege of Alcázar lasted 70 days, leaving most of the fortress destroyed. Yet Colonel José Moscardó Ituarte refused to surrender even when his 16 year old son was about to be executed. The Nationalists eventually won when General Franco’s reinforcements arrived. A tribute to this heroic event was erected next to the Alcázar in 1961. The sculptor was Juan de Avalos.

Calle de la Union, 45001 Toledo, Spain
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9 Church of San Miguel el Alto in Toledo, Spain

Overshadowed by the nearby Alcázar is the Church of San Miguel el Alto. Historians believe the Latin church was constructed during the late 12th century for the Knights Templar. This Christian military order flourished from 1119 – 1312 during the Crusades. The rather bland brick and stone façade of Iglesia de San Miguel is capped with a bell tower. Its Mudéjar design was probably added in the late 13th century. Shaping the belfry are two horseshoe arches with three blind arches. The church dedicated to Saint Michael experienced significant restorations during the 17th century – orchestrated by architect Juan Bautista Monegro – and again during the 1950’s. Services are still held for the parish of San Justo.

Calle Corralillo San Miguel, 4, 45001 Toledo, Spain
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10 Museum of Santa Cruz in Toledo, Spain

In the late 15th century, Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza – then the Archbishop of Toledo – commissioned Antón and Enrique Egas to build the Hospital of Santa Cruz. The facility was dedicated to healing the poor and serving orphans. The building now houses the Museum of Santa Cruz. Inside are archeological displays tracing the history of Toledo back to the Roman occupation in 192 AD. You will also enjoy fine arts from the 16th and 17th centuries including an altarpiece by El Greco. In addition, the Museo de Santa Cruz frequently has temporary exhibits from the Prado Museum in Madrid.

Miguel de Cervantes, 3, 45001 Toledo, Spain
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11 Palacio de Fuensalida in Toledo, Spain

Pedro López de Ayala was given the title Count of Fuensalida in the mid-15th century by Juan II of Castile. Then the king’s successor, Henry IV of Castile (also called Enrique IV), bestowed upon the Castilian noblemen this palace in 1470. The count’s shield can still be seen on the Mudéjar and Gothic structure. In 1539, the Empress Isabel of Portugal died here during childbirth. She was the wife of Charles I of the Spanish Empire who was also Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The historic building now is the offices for the President of Castilla-La Mancha Community Council.

Plaza del Conde, 5, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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12 Church of Santo Tomé in Toledo, Spain

Iglesia de Santo Tomé was constructed in the early 12th century and then extensively modified by commission of Gonzalo Ruíz de Toledo, the Lord of Orgaz, in the early 14th century. During that remodeling, a previous minaret was refashioned into this Mudéjar-style bell tower. Inside the church is one of the most famous works by El Greco from 1588 named The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. The painting portrays a miracle when Saints Stephen and Augustine escorted Don Gonzalo Ruíz into Heaven when he died in 1323. The Church of St. Thomas the Apostle stands adjacent to the Palacio de Fuensalida on Plaza del Conde Toledo.

Plaza del Conde, 4, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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13 El Greco Museum in Toledo, Spain

The Museo del Greco is dedicated to artist Doménikos Theotokópoulos. El Greco was born in Greece and studied in Italy. He moved to Toledo in 1577 to create paintings and an altar for the Monastery of Santo Domingo el Antigo. This success led to commissions by other Toledo churches. The Greek’s style is characteristic of Northern Mannerism, an artistic movement inspired during the early 16th century by Italian greats such as Michelangelo and Leonard da Vinci. He also experimented with Cubism long before it became popular in the early 20th century.

Paseo Tránsito, s/n, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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14 Sephardic Museum in Toledo, Spain

In 1357, Samuel Levi founded a Jewish synagogue here named El Transit. Three years later, he was imprisoned and then executed for conspiracy. In 1492, when the Catholic Monarchs issued the Alhambra Decree expelling all Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, this mid-14th century building became a church for the Convent of Caballeros de Calatrava. In 1910, it was restored as a history museum of Jewish culture and religion in Spain. The exhibits inside of the Sephardic Museum are as fascinating as the elaborate Mudéjar architecture surrounding them.

Calle Samuel Levi, 2, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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15 Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca in Toledo, Spain

Built in 1180, the Santa María la Blanca is considered by some to be Europe’s oldest surviving synagogue. The exterior is bland and belies the visual treasure inside. Here you will find a large hall called a hypostyle. The five aisles are defined by white arches and columns with ornate capitals in a Mudéjar style. The centerpiece is a clamshell-shaped design. After the Jewish community left in 1411, it became a Catholic Church and renamed Saint Mary the White. The former synagogue is now a museum. Although it is devoid of exhibits or furniture, it is worth seeing the extraordinary architecture.

Calle de los Reyes Católicos, 4, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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16 San Juan de los Reyes Monastery in Toledo, Spain

The Gothic design of San Juan de los Reyes Monastery was drawn by Juan Guas in 1477 and finished in 1504. The church was dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist and commissioned by Queen Isabella I of Castile and her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon. They are referred to as the Catholic Monarchs. After they married in 1469 and won the Battle of Toro against Portugal, these events triggered Spain’s unification. Look closely between the statues of saints and you will see chains. These are from Christians who were imprisoned by the Moors. After an extensive renovation, the Monastery of Saint John of the Kings was returned to the Francian friars in 1954.

Calle de los Reyes Católicos, 17, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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17 St. Martin’s Bridge in Toledo, Spain

The Puente de San Martin was constructed in 1380 based on a commission by Archbishop Pedro Tenorio. The five-arch, Gothic style bridge is an impressive engineering feat for the Middle Ages. The center span is 131 feet wide and 88.5 feet tall. At either end are massive towers crowned with battlements. These offered protection against attacks by water for the west end of town. The medieval bridge crosses the River Tagus, the longest in the Iberian Peninsula at 645 miles.

Paseo Recaredo, s/n, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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18 St. Martin’s Bridge East Tower in Toledo, Spain

Imagine looking from the southern bank of the River Tagus towards the Jewish Quarter of Toledo’s historic center. To reach it requires a walk of 131 feet across the 14th century St. Martin’s Bridge. Its namesake is Martin of Tours, a 4th century Christian saint. Before you entered the city, you passed beneath this tower bearing an imperial coat of arms. The relief featuring a double-headed eagle (barely visible in the photo) represents Carlos I of Spain. The king was also called Charles V in his role as the Holy Roman Emperor.

Paseo Recaredo, s/n, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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19 Cambrón Gate in Toledo, Spain

The Cambrón Gate in Toledo’s northwest corner near the Bridge of Saint Martin was built with a Renaissance style in 1576. It replaced an earlier one constructed during the Visigoth occupation. It is also called the Gate of Jews (Bab al-Yahud) because of its entrance into the Jewish Quarter. Above the archway is a statue by Berruguete of Santa Leocadia, Toledo’s patron saint. She died in 304 after being tortured for her faith during Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. A bit higher is the coat of arms of Felipe II. The Puerta del Cambrón is the only gate into Toledo accommodating cars.

Puerta del Cambrón, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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20 Palacio de la Cava in Toledo, Spain

The Palace of the Dukes of Marqueda was built during the 14th century by the Cárdenas family. More interesting than its architecture is the alternative name: Cava Palace. This is the site of the former residence of Count Don Julian, a Visigoth governor. When his daughter Florinda was violated by Visigoth King Don Rodrigo, the count retaliated by inviting the Muslims to attack Spain. This resulted in the conquest of Toledo – the Visigoth capital – in 711 and the eventual collapse of the Visigoth Kingdom. In Arabic, the name Cava means prostitute.

Calle del Cambrón, 12, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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21 Royal College of Maidens Nobles in Toledo, Spain

This bell tower is part of a complex of buildings named the Royal College of Maidens Nobles. This educational institution for unwed women was founded by Cardinal Juan Martínez Silíceo in 1551. His mausoleum is in the adjacent, elegant church. The buildings were extensively renovated and expanded several times since the 16th century yet the architectural integrity of the oldest ones was maintained. In 1998, Real Colegio de Doncellas Nobles became a residence for female university students. In 2016, the historical facility opened for tours for the first time.

Plaza Cardenal Siliceo, s/n, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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22 San Román Church Now Visigoth Museum in Toledo, Spain

The Church of San Román was constructed with a Mudéjar design during the 13th century. It is one of the oldest in Toledo. Inside are stunning horseshoe arches characteristic of Islamic architecture. They are decorated with Romanesque and Arabic frescos painted with warm hues of orange and red. The structure is now the Museum of Visigothic Councils and Culture. You will enjoy seeing displays of Visigoth art and artifacts from the 6th through the early 8th centuries when Toledo was the capital of Visigoth Spain.

Calle San Román, 2, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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23 Church of San Ildefonso in Toledo, Spain

Construction of this Jesuit church began in 1629 on the former house of its namesake, San Ildefonso de Teledo. He was the city’s archbishop from 657 – 667. More importantly, he experienced a Marian apparition in 665. During this miraculous appearance, the Virgin Mary gave San Ildefonso a chasuble (priestly vestment) from God. San Ildefonso was named a Father of the Latin Church. The Church of San Ildefonso was not finished for 136 years, shortly before the Jesuits were expelled from Spain by King Carlos III in 1766. If you like this perspective, then imagine the view from the tower’s observation deck.

Plaza Juan de Mariana 1, Toledo, Spain
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24 Catholic Monarchs’ Shield in Toledo, Spain

When Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon married in 1469, they unified the kingdoms of Spain. In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs adopted this coat of arms. The heraldic shield features symbols from Castile-León and Aragon plus the eagle of Saint John. This giant relief is on the side of a building by Arturo Melida for the School of Arts and Crafts. The institution was founded by Alfonso XII in 1881.

Calle de los Reyes Católicos, 15, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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25 Toledo Municipal Archive in Toledo, Spain

In a city filled with historic buildings, it is surprising to find a modern one like this adjacent to the Plaza del Salvador. Ironically, it is filled with the city’s history. The Toledo Municipal Archive manages and makes available for research documents from 1136 until the present. The collection includes thousands of books, newspapers, letters, lithographs and photos. The public facility is managed by the Ayuntamiento de Toledo (City Council).

Calle Trinidad, 7, 45002 Toledo, Spain
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26 University Palace of Lorenzana in Toledo, Spain

The Royal University College of Santa Catalina was established during the late 15th century. During the 18th century, a separate regional university emerged and required a campus. Cardinal Lorenzana commissioned Ignacio Haan. The architect finished the University Palace of Lorenzana in 1799 with a dramatic, Neoclassical façade. This architectural style was popular in Spain from 1750 until 1850 although rare in Toledo. Sculptor Salvatierra created the angels holding the coat of arms of Cardinal Lorenzana. The building now serves as the offices for the Vice Chancellor of the University of Castille-La Mancha. UCLM was established in 1982 and educates about 30,000 graduate and undergraduate students.

Calle Cardenal Lorenzana, 1 45002 Toledo, Spain
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27 Church of San Nicolás in Toledo, Spain

The Church of San Nicolás was constructed during the 16th century yet extensively renovated during the 1700’s. This explains why its non-assuming façade is a mix of Romanesque and Baroque styles. The church’s nave is adorned with paintings spanning three centuries plus an impressive one called San Nicolás of the Greater Altar by Zacarías Hernández. Also inside is a 1767 organ by Francisco Díaz Miró.

Calle Cadenas, 7, 45001 Toledo, Spain
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28 Iglesia Santiago del Arrabal in Toledo, Spain

These three, semicircular apses with a Moorish design called Meudéjar are the architectural highlight of Iglesia Santiago del Arrabal. It was commissioned in the mid-13th century by Sancho II while the King of Portugal. The Catholic church’s namesake is St. James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles. Also known as Santiago, he is Spain’s patron saint. The Spanish word “arrabal” means suburb. It was applied to the name because the Church of Saint James was outside of the city walls when it was constructed.

Calle Real del Arrabal, 22, 45003 Toledo, Spain
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29 Puerta del Sol in Toledo, Spain

Puerta del Sol was the northern entrance to the medieval city of Toledo. Some believe it was constructed during the 14th century while others contest it dates back to the 10th century. What is known is the Sun Gate was heavily fortified by command of Archbishop Pedro Tenorio at the end of the 14th century. This back view shows sections of the semicircular and quadrangular towers flanking the center section. All are crowned by battlements.

Callejón San José, 2, 45003 Toledo, Spain
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30 Landmarks Outside City Walls of Toledo, Spain

For defensive reasons, historic Toledo was built on top of a 1,736 foot mountain. This elevation provides panoramic views of the Tagus River on three sides. Most tourists to the “Imperial City” restrict their sightseeing to the old town. Yet there are some wonderful landmarks in the northern valley you should explore. They include the Roman Circus ruins (1st century AD), Puerta de Bisagra Nueva (city gate from 1559), Plaza de Toros (bullring from 1866), Old Hospital of San Lãzaro (1481) and the Hospital de San Juan Bauista (1603). Also called the Tavera Hospital, there is a fine arts museum beneath that dome. Let me show you a few of these in the following photos.

Calle Gerardo Lobo, 1, 45001 Toledo, Spain
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31 City Walls Reflect History in Toledo, Spain

Toledo’s old walls reflect its illustrious history. The Romans where the first to build walls after capturing “Toletum” in 192 AD. The defenses were significantly expanded by the Visigoths from the early 5th century until 711. Then the Moors added their fortifications until conquered by King Alfonso VI in 1085 when the city became the capital of Castile. Each culture left its architectural mark on Toledo. This section, defining part of northern edge, stretches from the Gate of Alfonso VI to the Bisagra Gate, two of the eight entrances into the historic city.

Calle Real del Arrabal, 26, 45003 Toledo, Spain
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32 Puerta de Bisagra Nueva in Toledo, Spain

The original Moorish Puerta de Bisagra was created during the 10th century. This Renaissance version of the New Bisagra Gate was designed by Alonso de Covarrubias in 1559. He was the most prolific architect in Toledo during the 16th century. Among his work are the Toledo Cathedral, Alcázar and the Tevera Hospital. Puerta de Bisagra Nueva is one of the city’s most recognized structures because of the twin towers capped by a green and white checkerboard motif. This city view bears the coat of arms of Charles I. Also known as Charles V, he was King of the Spanish Empire and a Holy Roman Emperor during the first half of the 16th century.

Calle Real del Arrabal, 26, 45003 Toledo, Spain
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33 Former Tavera Hospital Now Art Museum in Toledo, Spain

In the mid-16th century, Cardinal Tavera established a Catholic hospital and orphanage dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. This Florentine Renaissance building by architect Alonso de Covarrubias began in 1541 but was not finished until 1603. The church was rebuilt in 1762. Inside it is Cardinal Tavera’s white marble crypt. Hospital de Tavera is now a fine arts museum managed by the Museum Foundation of Lerma. It is owned by the House of Medinaceli, a Spanish family of nobles dating back to the Middle Ages.

Calle Duque de Lerma, 2, 45003 Toledo, Spain
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34 Old Hospital of San Lázaro in Toledo, Spain

The Hospital of San Lázaro was founded by Juan Sánchez de Greviñán in 1481. The Brotherhood of Sorrows cared for those suffering and dying from ringworm and leprosy. Consequently, people assume it was named after Lazarus of Bethany who died from leprosy before Jesus miraculously rose him from the dead. However, the actual namesake is Lazarus from the Gospel of Luke parable. He was the poor beggar who entered Heaven after the rich man was rejected. In 1560, Philip II of Spain renamed the facility the Real Hospital. During the second half of the 19th century, this medieval landmark served the military and later a school before returning to army use until the 1960’s. It is now a restaurant.

Calle Marqués de Mendigorría, 0, 45003 Toledo, Spain
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35 Plaza de Toros in Toledo, Spain

After bullfighting began in Spain in 711 AD, the corrida de toros (bullfight) became immensely popular and eventually was declared as the national sport (Fiesta Nacional). Yet attendance has been dropping since about 2000. A growing animal rights movement is demanding the end of these bloody spectacles. The Moorish style of the Plaza de Toros de Toledo was designed by Luis Antonio Fenech. This 905 foot, 8,500 seat arena opened in 1866.

Calle Huérfanos Cristinos, 2, 45003 Toledo, Spain
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36 Castle of San Servando in Toledo, Spain

Evidence suggests there was a monastery on this land adjacent to the Tagus River dating back to the 7th century. The current Castle of San Servando was founded in 1085 by Alfonso VI, King of León and Castile. The Brave then donated it to the Order of Saint Benedict. From the early 13th through early 14th centuries, the Knights Templar expanded the stronghold to defend Toledo against the Muslims. Castillo de San Servando was abandoned in 1312 when the Templars – a powerful Christian military order – was dissolved by Pope Clement V.

Cuesta de San Servando, 45006 Toledo, Spain
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