Toledo is located roughly in the center of the Iberian peninsula, 42
miles southwest of Madrid. It is situated on a large hill and is surrounded on
three sides by the Tagus river, creating a natural fortress. As a result of its
isolated position, Toledo retains a quaint medieval quality, with narrow
cobblestone streets and various handicraft shops. Toledo is still known for the
metalwork produced by expert craftsmen in a style that clearly reflects Islamic
origins. In fact, the works of gold and black metal are referred to as
damasquinos, referring to the Syrian city of Damascus, from whence the
Umayyads had come to establish their rule in Iberia.
The city was the capital
of the Visigoths, who ruled the territory until the Muslim conquest of 711. It
remained one of the most important cities of al-Andalus during the height of
Muslim power. However, its surrender to Christian forces in 1085, when al-Andalus
existed as an agglomeration of muluk al-tawa'if (petty kingdoms), was a fatal
blow for the Muslims. Alarmed, the remaining leaders of the petty kingdoms
consented to calling the Murabitun (Almoravids) from North Africa for assistance
against the Christian powers in the north, thereby preserving a balance of power
for another few centuries.
During the 12th century, the Christian ruler Alfonso established a
translation center in Toledo, where Arabic works of astronomy, mathematics,
medicine, botany, and other fields were rendered into Latin. Toledo became one
of the major points of intellectual transmission from Islamic civilization to
Europe, sowing the seeds for its Renaissance.
One of the few remaining masjids from the Islamic period is located in Toledo.
We will visit masjid Bib Mardum, a small square structure which had been
converted into a church after Toledo fell to the Christians. Today it stands as
an archeological site. The building reflects designs characteristic of
structures built by Muslims in the 10th century.
The Cathedral of Toledo is one of the largest in the world. It stands on the
site of the former jami' masjid of Toledo, as it was a common practice of the
Christian rulers to replace congregational masjids with a cathedrals, and
smaller masjids with churches. The cathdral contains a chapel, designed in the
Moorish style, that was used by the Mozarabs, Christians who had adopted the
Arabic culture while living under Muslim rule, and who continued in that style
even after the city had changed hands.
We will also visit an important Jewish synagogue that had been converted into
a church and convent. It is called the Sinagoga de Santa Maria La Blanca.
We will walk through the narrow streets of the city as we visit these various
sites, have lunch in one of the plazas, and conclude our tour with a walk across
the famous Moorish bridge that crosses the Tagus.