Toledo has always been one of the most important cities in Spain and for many years it contested the status of capital with nearby Madrid and was in fact the principal city until 1560. But Madrid gradually came to prominence under the Hapsburg Monarchy and Phillip II moved his court there and made it his capital in 1561. Toledo compensated for this by reinventing itself as the principal religious city in the country and today remains the seat of the Primate of all Spain.
After lunch we walked to the Cathedral and paid the entrance fee of €7, which turned out to be excellent value compared to the €2 to get into the church in Belmonte. It is one of the biggest cathedrals in the world and the interior is not at all austere as some cathedrals can be. Slightly annoying was the fact that for those who didn’t want to pay the admission charge they could enter by a side door and although they couldn’t walk around freely and see all of the internal rooms and the especially impressive choir area, they could certainly see and appreciate the magnificent structure for free.
Outside the Cathedral we found a tourist information office and now we had a map the city was suddenly much easier to negotiate. In the past Toledo had changed hands many times and it was renowned for its diversity and religious toleration and we visited a synagogue with, unusually for a synagogue, free admission and then after walking through a warren of mazy streets came out on the other side overlooking the modern town to the north. Every available square metre of this rocky outcrop has been built upon and the buildings are heaped together in a random and haphazard way with cobbled lanes revealing new delights at every twist and turn. We negotiated the narrow confusing streets and the surprises back towards the Plaza Zocodover and as we did so passed through an area of artisan’s workshops where metal workers were making swords and knives and displaying them in the windows.
Traditionally Toledo is famous for its production of steel and especially of swords and the city is still a centre for the manufacture of knives and other steel implements. For soldiers and adventurers a sword made of Toledo steel was a must have item because the quality of the steel and the skill of the blacksmiths combined to make an exceptionally strong and perfect lethal weapon. The Three Musketeers had Toledo steel swords and so did Don Diego de la Vega who was more famously known as Zorro, who first appeared on 6th August 1919.
The manufacturing process was a carefully guarded secret and to make such an exceptional weapon they had to select the very best raw materials and then follow a complicated technical process to achieve the right balance between hard and soft steel forged at a temperature of 1454º Fahrenheit for exactly the right length of time and followed by the critical cooling and shaping process. So complicated was this whole procedure and so perfect was the finished weapon that to achieve this level of precision a master craftsman would typically only be able to make two or three blades in a year. No wonder they were expensive!
We had spent nearly four hours in Toledo but that wasn’t nearly enough time to appreciate fully the medieval magnificence of the place and in truth we had given ourselves too much to do in one day and with still a long way to go to reach our final destination for the day and we had to leave before we were ready and before we had seen everything we wanted to see. On reflection our itinerary should have included a night in Toledo to give us more time but that wasn’t an option now because we had a hotel waiting for us in Ávila.