Toledo, officially granted Heritage of Mankind status by UNESCO in 1987, is one of the historically richest and culturally endowed cities in Spain.
Toledo is also the capital of the province of the same name and, covering over 15,000 square kilometres, is divided in two by the River Tagus, which cleaves its way through it from East to West and on whose banks rise the main urban centres. The population numbers fewer than half a million inhabitants.
In the north-east, the valley of the River Tietar is flanked by a series of mountain ranges; to the South, the Toledo Hills (Montes de Toledo), with its Holm Oaks (encinas), white-leafed rock roses (jaras) and aromatic plants, survey a sizeable stretch of terrain abounding in game.
Eastwards the area opens out into the region of La Mancha which, overlapping into neighbouring provinces, is marked by characteristically flat expanses and towns so indelibly portrayed by Cervantes.
Toledo, one of the five provinces which make up the Comunidad Autonoma de Castilla-La Mancha (Castile-La Mancha Regional Authority), is situated South of Madrid, to which it is linked by road and train; the distance between the two capitals is 75 kilometres.
The climate is similar to the whole of Spain's central plateau: cold winters, hot summers, plentiful sunlight and sparse rainfall. Temperatures though are never excessively rigorous during either of the seasonal extremes thanks to the protection afforded by the mountain ranges lying to the South and North.
Toledo is a farming and ranching province, studded with vineyards, fields of wheat, cotton and tobacco. With ever-present flocks of sheep and goats, most of its industries are connected with agriculture or handicrafts. Toledo's idyllic setting on a plateau high above the Tajo River has always given it a special mystique for the visitor. It was this setting that appealed to centuries of painters including El Greco, whose home and museum contains an extensive collection of his paintings.
During its heyday as capital (before it was moved to Madrid in 1561), Toledo was one of the most enlightened cities in Europe and a famous center for medicine, translation and manuscripts. While the rest of Europe was suffering during the Dark Ages, Toledo was a shining light and prosperous.
Toledo was a society of great tolerance that attracted Muslim, Jewish and Christian men of learning and commerce. It was the scholars of Toledo who preserved the works of the Greeks and Romans. Prominent schools of science, mathematics, theology and mysticism developed here, as well as schools of the occult and alchemy.
Although often overshadowed by nearby Madrid, it is Toledo, with its narrow, winding streets, stone houses and unpretentious museums, that embodies the soul of Spain's intriguing past.