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Tolerant Toledo - History, diversity and a side of majestic scenery

This article was written by Dexter Gauntlett, a Political Science major at UCLA who lived in Madrid, Spain and contributed to the Travel Guide Urban Lowdown

Perhaps very significant to today´s world, Toledo was one of the only cities in the world where Muslims, Christians and Jews could all live peacefully together for hundreds of years.

Nestled on a mountain top and guarded by the moat-like River Tajo, Toledo is definitely one of Spain´s historical and scenic treasures.

Passing through the hands of Arabic, Jewish and Christian cultures, El Greco, marzipan and Arabic architecture are the remaining testaments to the diversity of cultures past... and you can buy cool swords too.

El Greco, The High Renaissance painter is the most symbolic figure associated with Toledo for good reason- much more than just his renowned painting "View of Toledo" (which you can visit at his house). He was born in Greece, tutored in the finest Italian art schools and found his distinct elongated style only when he settled in the Jewish quarters of Toledo, in a neighborhood of Arabic architecture... naturally.

Perhaps very significant to today´s world, Toledo was one of the only cities in the world where Muslims, Christians and Jews could all live peacefully together for hundreds of years.

El Greco´s house is the highlight of the city if you are an art connoisseur. The most scenic and least tourist trodden path is also the most simple. Just head south from the city center until you reach a stretch of road that follows the River Tajo and follow it west, slightly uphill untill you see the signs. Not only will you be able to take a breather from local tourist draws, but this route will expose you to Toledo´s unique "islandesque" terrain. This walk is even better on a Sunday because you won´t have to worry about paying a steep museum price. The Renaissance master´s house is free on Sundays!

After being inspired by El Greco´s view of Toledo take matters into your own hands and plan for a picnic and a small hike into the surrounding hills. An hour walk from the center of town can land you in one of Toledo´s best panaramic vistas, especially at night from the government owned hotel that is labeled on maps as "parada turistica". But don´t be misled by the name- there won´t be the crowds of tourists, only a few hotel restaurant patrons eating on the deck. It´s quite easy and acceptable to walk through the hotel concierge and sit in the non-restaurant area just to the right, pop open a bottle of Toledo´s finest cheap wine and...well... bon apetite.

On a side note, Toledo is an extremely popular place to get married, especially in August and September and the hotel is a common wedding reception area, so if you´re interested in finding a Spanish wife, this might be the best place to find one.

For many, the panaramic perspective provides the perfect place to think, drink and sink yourself, if you so choose, into the handful of historic pamphlets littered through the city. I found one that described the repeated historical significance of Toledo:

Toledo was also the capitol of the Iberian Peninsula when it was inhabited by the Moors, an ancient Muslim culture that ruled the area for apporximately 800 years. And more recently, almost 500 years later, Toledo became Dictator Franciso Franco´s Nationalist Army symbolic stronghold during the Spanish Civil War.

The Alcazar, a massive fortress and the tallest building in Toledo despite being quite ominous from the hotel view, was crucial to Franco´s victory over the Republic and has a history that no Toledo visitor should miss, especially for only 2 Euros ($2). An abridged excerpt from a Nationalist general to his son who would face execution if the father did not give himself up from refuge in the Alcazar, "Let your last words be Long Live Nationalist Spain!"

So if your interests range from Spanish history to scenery to marzipan, you might just find yourself feeling a little less foreign in this eclectic city of tolerance and tranquility.

Click here for the Urban Lowdown website.

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