Practical Tip: Pulsera Turística
The Pulsera Turística is a bracelet (€9) that gets you into six key Toledo sights (no time limit), all of which cost €2.80 on their own. Buy the bracelet at any of the sights covered, which are Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes, Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca, Iglesia de Santo Tomé, Iglesia del Salvador, Iglesia San Ildefonso and Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz.
Feature: El Greco in Toledo
Of all Spain’s old masters, El Greco is the most instantly recognisable. You don’t need a degree in art history to be able to identify the talented Greek’s distinctive religious canvases characterised by gaunt figures dressed in stark, vivid colours. Spread liberally around the museums and churches of Toledo, they practically jump out at you.
Born Doménikos Theotokópoulos on Crete in 1541, El Greco will always be intrinsically linked with Toledo, where he arrived as a bolshie 36-year-old in 1577. Never one to court popularity, the artist had already sparked controversy during a tempestuous apprenticeship in Italy where he had criticised the work of Michelangelo. His arrival in Spain proved to be equally thorny. Hindered by a thinly veiled arrogance and adhering to what were unconventional painting methods for the time (though ‘revolutionary’ by modern yardsticks), El Greco failed in his early attempts to ingratiate himself to the court of King Philip II. Gravitating instead to Toledo, he found an improbable artistic refuge where he worked to refine his style and establish his reputation.
Despite earning a degree of respectability during his lifetime, El Greco was largely ignored in the years following his death. Indeed, his prophetic work wasn’t seriously reappraised until the early 20th century, when he was embraced by artists such as Picasso whose murky ‘blue period’ echoed the melancholy of some of El Greco’s early compositions.
Outside Madrid’s Museo del Prado, Toledo protects El Greco’s greatest work. The Iglesia de Santo Tomé contains his magnum opus El entierro del conde de Orgaz (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz), depicting the count's burial in 1322. Look out for El Greco himself and Cervantes among the guests. The nearby Museo del Greco also has a solid collection of El Greco's works.
One of the oldest convents in Toledo, the 11th-century Convento de Santo Domingo El Antiguo includes some of El Greco's early commissions, other copies and signed contracts of the artist. Visible through a hole in the floor is the crypt and wooden coffin of the painter himself.
Feature: Top Toledo Views
For superb city views, head over the Puente de Alcántara to the other side of Río Tajo and follow the road that rises to your right (there's a pavement!), where the vista becomes more marvellous with every step. If you're staying overnight, along this road is the Parador de Toledo, which has superlative views, as does the restaurant La Ermita, which has a short, quality menu of elaborate Spanish cuisine.
In the town centre, you can also climb the towers at the Iglesia San Ildefonso for up-close views of the cathedral and Alcázar.