Spain, Toledo City of Steel

Plaza Zocodover

“A castle stands sentinel across the stream; harsh grey hills are all about: the setting of Toledo is all abrasion, nothing soft, nothing hospitable, nothing amusing.  This is the Spanish character at its most intractable” – Jan Morris, ‘Spain’

After lunch we returned to the sunny streets and because of earlier confusion retraced our steps a couple of times on our way back to the cathedral.  Kim refused to take charge of the map for fear that her earlier good fortune might be exposed as a fluke and I took over again on the way to the Jewish quarter.

In the past Toledo had changed hands many times and it was renowned for its diversity and religious toleration and we found the synagogues with admission prices that put us off entering 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 too steep and narrow for any modern vehicles 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.

Micky was looking for just such a place and he was in luck because traditionally Toledo is famous for its production of steel and especially of swords and it continues to manufacture swords for the top Matadors but in a city where craftsmen once supplied swords to Crusaders and Christian Knights its main business is now to make paper knives and tourist replicas.

For soldiers, conquistadors 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 (Zorro).  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 then followed by a 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!

Upon returning to the Plaza Zocodover our circumnavigation of the city was complete so we left the way that we had come and stopped off on the way down at a pavement terrace of a little hotel and had a final rest before returning to the car and taking the hour and a half journey back to Chinchón.

There was no realistic alternative route so we returned by the same roads, passed through Arunjuez, this time without incident, and then through Villaconejos where there was some sort of public meeting that seemed to be getting people excited and then arrived back at the hotel.

Those of us that had a balcony enjoyed an hour in the sun with a glass of wine and those of us that didn’t stayed in their rooms.  Later we assembled again at the bar across the road and then went back into town for evening meal.  It was strangely quiet again but we found a place that was open, the Restaurante Comendador and we had the menu del dia, which was all right but only just because to be truthful we weren’t really that hungry.  It was a very traditional sort of place where the customers had that curious Spanish habit of throwing their litter on the floor just underneath the bar where there was a collection of papers, cigarette ends and other waste that made the place seem most untidy.

There was a sign on the wall that said “No está permitido fumar” but it was next to a cigarette machine and the rule obviously didn’t apply here because the air was thick with acrid smoke that collected in the ceiling and lingered in the corners.  Anti-smoking legislation became law in Spain on 1stJanuary 2006 but for small bars and restaurants the legislation offers the owner the choice of going smoke free or not but if it doesn’t it means that customers under eighteen years old are allowed in that bar.  Compared to other European countries, where smoking in the workplace is banned altogether, the Spanish legislation is apparently weak and confusing and it is estimated that smoking continues in 90% of all small Spanish bars.

After we had finished eating we joined the locals in the bar for a while watching what looked like the Spanish equivalent of ‘You’ve been Framed’ with a collection of amusing bullfighting and bull running clips and then we returned to the hotel for a couple of hands of cards and a carton of wine.

6 responses to “Spain, Toledo City of Steel

  1. Aah yes,Toledo Steel,better to be run through with a Toledo “espada” than have you´re head cut off than a blunt Scimitar methinks, Ha,Ha! But on a serious note, i found Toledo a magical city and i´ve never been to Aranjuez but if Miles Davis can write a whole piece on this city it must be cool! First and last photo´s are pretty cool Andrew! Great post 🙂

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