This collection contains photos of twelve Islamic-looking buildings in Toledo. Some were actually Islamic structures, built by the Moors, when the city belonged to them, as mosques, the most famous example being the Mosque of Bab-al-Mardum. Others were constructed after the Christian conquest of the city in 1085, often using the older Moorish structures. Traces of Islamic architecture can be found in churches, especially in their bell towers (e.g., the Church of Santiago del Arrabal), in synagogues (e.g., the Ibn Shushan Synagogue), and in secular structures (e.g., the Puerta del Sol). All these make Toledo a major centre of Mudéjar architecture in Spain (after Andalusia and Aragon) as well as one of the most syncretic medieval cities in Europe.
My portfolio is not complete. Important structures that are missing include the Church of Santo Tomé, the Church of Santa Leocadia, and the Church of San Vicente. I must have seen or visited these three and some other unlisted Mudéjar buildings when I was in Toledo in April 2016, but unfortunately I have no photos of them.
You will find the locations of the listed buildings on the map below.
1. Mosque and Church of El Salvador
Plaza del Salvador
Mosque – probably first half of 9th century; nave – after 1085; conversion to church – 1159
This church, formerly a mosque, is possibly located on the site of a 2nd-century Roman structure and a Visigothic church. The mosque was probably the first mosque in Toledo and the second most important of them, considering that it became the Great Mosque after the conquest of Toledo by Alfonso VI, instead of the previous Great Mosque, which had been made the Cathedral.
The mosque may date from the first half of the 9th century. This dating has been proposed on the basis of horseshoe arches with limestone keystones, which are typical of the Umayyad architecture, as well as of the minaret, the bonding of which was similar to that of the first minaret of the Mosque of Córdoba (793).
The horseshoe arches on the right of the nave are supported by Roman columns and a Visigothic pilaster with intricate reliefs. That pilaster is one of the oldest works of art depicting the four scenes from the life of Christ: the healing of the blind man, the raising of Lazarus, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the healing of the bleeding woman.
The current nave is from the late 11th century, when the mosque had become the Great Mosque of Toledo. The mosque also had a courtyard, where three columns with Roman and Visigothic capitals supporting four horseshoe arches framed by alfizes can be found.
In 1159 the mosque was converted to a church. The minaret was turned into a bell tower.
2. Mosque of Bab al-Mardum / Mosque of Cristo de la Luz
Calle Cristo de la Luz 22
Musa ibn Ali, 999; extension 1186-1187
This mosque is a chef-d’œuvre of the architectural style that flourished during the Caliphate of Córdoba (929-1031). Despite its diminutive size, it must have played an important role in the Islamic Toledo, as suggested by its location near the Bab al-Mardum gate of the city wall and the fortress that stood on the site of the Alcázar. It is not known if it was a private mosque or a gift by a citizen to the faithful of the city. It is also possible that it was used as a madrasa or a mausoleum.
The mosque is located in an archaeologically rich area. In the adjacent garden, a Roman road with a sewer has been discovered. Under the mosque, foundations of a Visigothic church, probably dating from the 7th century, have come to light as well. Also, a small cave under the mosque has been found. It was either used for worship or was the retreat of a hermit.
The mosque was built in 999. It had a rectangular ground plan. Four baseless columns from the earlier church divide the space into nine bays. Three have rough-cut Visigothic capitals, one of which was rebuilt after the restoration in 1909. Each bay is covered by a square vault. The central vault is more elevated than the rest, like in Byzantine churches of the period. Each vault has a unique geometrical design. The vaults are partial or total reproductions of the vaulted ceilings in Córdoba.
The main construction materials are brick and stone. The eastern wall of the mosque – the qibla wall – was originally a full brick wall. There are no remains of it today. On the western wall there are arches, a row of blind arches, a primitive sebka frieze, and an inscription announcing that the mosque was built on the initiative and with the money of Ahmad ibn Hadidi and by the architect Musa ibn Ali in 390 AH (999 AD). This inscription is made exclusively of fragments of bricks, which makes it unique in Islamic art. The other two walls are decorated with arches. The whole design makes reference to the Mosque of Córdoba.
After the conquest of Toledo by Alfonso VI of León and Castile in 1085, the mosque remained virtually unchanged for a century. In 1186-1187, Alfonso VIII gave the building to the knights of the Order of St. John, who established it as the Chapel of the Holy Cross (Ermita de la Santa Cruz). The most common name of the chapel, however, is Cristo de la Luz. There is no clear explanation how that name came about.
It was at that time that the qibla wall and the mihrab were demolished and the building was extended by a straight section and an apse. The extension respects the original style of the building. The smooth transition from the original structure to the apse is guaranteed by the use of the same materials and the same type of decoration (i.e. the continuation of the arch motif). This extension is considered to be the oldest example of Mudéjar art that has been recorded.
In the 13th century, the presbytery of the church was decorated with frescoes. These depict Christ the Pantocrator on a blue background, surrounded by the Evangelists, female saints, and a cleric (probably the archbishop or the clergyman who commissioned the work). The Kufic inscriptions with no meaning are from the same period. The scene of angels taking the soul of a deceased girl is from the 14th century.
3. Mosque of al-Mustimim / Mosque of las Tornerías
Calle Tornerías 27-31 / Plaza Solarejo 7
Second half of 11th century
This mosque was located near several markets in Arrabal de Francos, an old Muslim neighborhood. It is unique because of its two-floor layout. Its ground floor, on the level of the Tornerías Street, dates back to the Roman period, as there used to be reservoirs of drinking water, or castellum aquae, here. The entrance from the Plaza Solarejo is practically on the level of the upper floor, where the worship area of the mosque is.
Like in case of the Mosque of Bab al-Mardum, its ground plan is rectangular, and the space is divided into nine bays by four baseless columns. These support horseshoe arches with various proportions. All the bays are covered by vaults, and the central vault has a cruciform structure.
The building functioned as a mosque until 1498-1505. It was first turned into an inn and then given to use for businesses, factories, and even as a residence. It was rediscovered in the late 19th century.
4. Church of Santiago del Arrabal
Plaza Santiago del Arrabal 4
Tower – late 11th or early 12th century; church – 1245-1248
This church, built at the orders of Sancho II, King of Portugal, is the only church in Toledo to have retained its Mudéjar design in full. Located near the Puerta de Bisagra in an old Muslim neighborhood, it probably stands on the site of a former mosque. That mosque, known to have been used since at least 1125, may have replaced an earlier Visigothic church.
The oldest part of the church is its separate-standing Mudéjar tower. Its design follows the artistic principles of the pre-Reconquista architecture, which is why it must have been erected quite soon after 1085. It can be compared to the tower of the Church of San Bartolomé, which was constructed around the same time.
The church has three semicircular apses. The external walls of the apses are decorated with blind arches. These are either multifoil, round, or pointed (including pointed horseshoe) arches. The presence of the last two types of arches shows the influence of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
The western and southern façades of the church have Mudéjar portals made of brick. These are similar to the portal of the Church of Santa Leocadia. The western portal is especially impressive.
On the inside, the arches of the naves and the vault of the transept are Gothic. Arabic symbols can also be found in the interior, such as the hamsa and inscriptons on the wooden ceiling.
5. Church of San Bartolomé
Calle de San Bartolomé 1
Tower – late 11th or early 12th century; apse – late 13th century or later
This church is located on the site of a former mosque. Its oldest part is its Mudéjar tower, which rests on the structure of the minaret of that mosque. Under the tower a tomb has been found, which may be the resting place of the builder of the tower. The tomb is typical of the Reconquista period, which helps to date the tower to the late 11th or the early 12th century.
The church was originally a one-nave church. This is apparent in the thickness of the old walls of the apse, which are now part of the presbytery. The apse is decorated with arches of various shapes on three levels. The presence of round and pointed arches on the apse makes the church a good example of the Mudéjar architecture of Romanesque and Gothic inspiration. One can perceive the similarity to the apses of the Hermitage of El Cristo de la Vega, the Church of San Vicente, and the Church of Santiago del Arrabal.
The church was modified at the end of the 15th century. Two small funerary chapels were added to the thick walls in the presbytery section. Two aisles were added to the nave as well. In order to connect the aisles with the apse, two cubic spaces were built. The external surfaces of these spaces are decorated with the same blind arcades as the central apse, which makes these structures blend in naturally.
6. Ibn Shushan Synagogue / Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca
Calle de los Reyes Católicos 4
This building, constructed by Muslim architects for Jewish use under the Christian Kingdom of Castile, is considered to be a prime example of the Judeo-Mudéjar architecture of Spain. It is sometimes considered to be the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing.
It is not known if the synagogue is located on the foundations of an earlier building, such as a mosque. The patron of the synagogue may have been Joseph ben Meir ben Shoshan, the son of the finance minister of King Alfonso VIII, who, upon his death in 1205, is recorded to have built a synagogue. Some theories suggest that Joseph rebuilt the synagogue after a pogrom against Jews. The synagogue may have been renovated or reconstructed after a fire in 1250. Some date the synagogue to even later periods. Once terminated, it become the Great Synagogue of Toledo.
The synagogue is wholly unusual in its plan. Its measurements vary between 26-28 metres in length and 19-23 metres in width, possibly because it might have been built upon an earlier building. 24 octagonal piers and 8 engaged piers support series of horseshoe arches, which divide the space into five aisles. The hypostyle hall makes the building look like a mosque rather than a synagogue.
The presence of piers instead of columns is a reference to the Almohad architecture (cf. the Tin Mal Mosque from 1156 and the first Koutoubia Mosque from 1157). The capitals of the piers are decorated with intricate volutes and vegetal imagery in stucco. This includes pine cones – a typical Jewish decorative element, symbolising the unity of the people of Israel. The design of the capitals was also influenced by the Corinthian order as well as by Byzantine examples.
The presence of the later Nasrid and Marinid architecture is visible in the arch spandrels, which are decorated with disks. Above the latter, there are friezes with geometric patterns.
Higher up small multifoil arches can be found. These were originally open but have been walled for some time.
The Torah ark must have been located under the scallop-shell vault at the end of the central nave. On the other end of the central nave, on a high wooden tribune, the women’s area was located, constructed after the fire of 1250.
The synagogue was turned into a church shortly after 1391, when Vincent Ferrer, a Dominican priest, preached a series of sermons against the Jews, inciting a massacre, in which almost all the Jews of Toledo were slaughtered. The name of Santa María la Blanca is from that time.
The architecture of this synagogue has been very influential throughout the history. It influenced greatly the Old Main Synagogue of Segovia, built in the 14th century, as well as many important synagogues in Europe and America in the 19th century.
7. Apse of the Church of San Antolín and the palaces of Juana Enríquez / Convent of Santa Isabel de los Reyes
Plaza Santa Isabel
Church – late 12th century; palaces – 14th century
The Convent of Santa Isabel de los Reyes was founded in 1477 by María Suárez de Toledo, known as ‘Sor María la Pobre’. It uses the structures of two 14th-century Mudéjar palaces, which had belonged to Juana Enríquez, the mother of Ferdinand V, King of Castile. In 1480, the Church of San Antolín was added to the convent. It has a polygonal brick apse in Mudéjar style from the end of the 12th century.
The design of the blind arches of the lower level of the apse of the church is also repeated on a wall next to the entrance to the premises of the Convent (probably part of one of the mentioned palaces).
8. Church of San Román
Calle San Clemente 4
The Church of San Román stands on the site of a Roman building, a Visigothic church, and a mosque. It was consecrated in 1221. Originally, the prayer room of the preceding mosque was used as it was (a common practice after the Reconquista). To that a choir with a semicircular apse and a tower, both in Mudéjar style, were later added. In the 16th century, the choir and the apse were significantly altered. The Plateresque coffered dome that covers the choir is from that period.
The prayer room consists of three naves separated by columns with Visigothic capitals. These carry horseshoe arches, above each of which there are three small windows with round arches. Almost all the wall surface is covered by Romanesque frescoes of great beauty.
On the outside, the most interesting elements are the horseshoe-arch entrance, a small window with a multifoil arch and, of course, the tower. The tower is very similar to that of the Church of Santo Tomé.
The church houses the Museum of the Councils and the Visigothic Culture.
9. Church of San Miguel el Alto
Cobertizo de San Miguel 2
Original church – 12th century; tower – late 13th or early 14th century; significant alterations in 17th century
This church was founded in the 12th century by the Knights Templar, serving as a chapel or an oratory of an inn for the knights of the order. It was altered almost totally in the 17th century. Only the Mudéjar wooden roof and tower survived from the medieval structure.
The tower is one of the most decorated Mudéjar towers in Toledo, which helps to date it to the later period of the Mudéjar architecture of the city (the late 13th or the early 14th century). As usual, the decoration is concentrated on the upper part of the tower and consists of three levels. On the lower level, there are big round blind arches which interlace so that small pointed arches are created. On the middle level, there are blind multifoil arches supported by columns of glazed ceramics – a detail which resembles the towers of the Church of San Román and the Church of Santo Tomé. The upper level has two windows with pointed horseshoe arches surrounded by an alfiz.
10. Synagogue Samuel ha-Leví / Synagogue of El Tránsito
Calle Samuel Leví
Meir Abdeil, 1357-1363
This synagogue, built on the site of an Arab bathing complex, was the family synagogue of Samuel ha-Leví Abulafia, the treasurer of Peter, King of Castile. The king probably agreed with its construction to compensate the Jews of Toledo for the destruction that had occurred in 1348, during anti-Jewish riots caused by the arrival of the Black Death.
Because Samuel ha-Leví had the approval of the king, he defied all the laws proscribing that synagogues had to be smaller, lower, and less decorated than churches. While the building looks sober on the outside, its interior is one of the most splendid examples of Mudéjar architecture in Spain. It has a rich stucco decoration, comparable with the Alhambra palaces in Granada and the Alcázar of Seville.
The most elaborate decoration is on the eastern wall, where beautiful polychrome arabesque patterns can be found.
The uppers part of the walls are covered with arcades of windows and blind windows with septfoil arches, supported by small colourful double columns. Under the arcade there is a frieze with floral motifs in which Gothic influence is visible. Multiple coats-of-arms of the Kingdom of Castile can also be found here, a proof of Samuel ha-Leví’s loyalty to the king.
The synagogue is famous for its Hebrew inscriptions, often considered to be among the most beautiful Jewish inscriptions of the Middle Ages. Running along the horizontal lines, these praise Peter (the king), Samuel ha-Leví (the owner of the synagogue), and Meir Abdeil (the architect), as well as quote holy texts, especially the Book of Psalms. Some Arabic inscriptions can also be found, showing the high status of the Arab culture among the Jews of Spain at the time.
The building has a beautiful artesonado ceiling made of cedar wood. It is divided into six sections by large pairs of beams. The decorative inlays of the ceiling are made of ivory.
After the expulsion of Jews from Castile and Aragon in 1492, the synagogue was given to the Order of Calatrava, who converted it to a church. In the 16th century, some minor alterations were carried out in the building, and the bell tower was added. In the 17th century, the name of the church was changed to Nuestra Señora del Transito, after a painting by Juan Correa de Vivar (now at the Prado Museum in Madrid).
Today the building houses the Sephardic Museum.
11. Puerta del Sol
Callejón San José 2
Last quarter of 14th century
The Puerta del Sol is a city gate built by the Knights Hospitaller in the last quarter of the 14th century. It stands on the site of a 12th-century gate, which, in turn, replaced a 10th-century Albarrana tower. Showing great influence of Nasrid art, it is a beautiful example of Mudéjar military architecture.
The gate consists of a gate proper, a semicircular tower, and a square tower, making it look more like a triumphal arch than a defensive structure. The gate proper has a round horseshoe arch surrounded by a pointed horseshoe arch. Above it there are two brick panels identical to the ones decorating the western façade of the Church of Santiago del Arrabal. The rectangular tower has two windows with round arches that are covered by friezes with dental motifs. The semicircular tower boasts with small bartizans, decorated with blind multifoil arches, and also has windows and blind windows of different shapes. The gate, the towers, and the bartizans are topped by Almohad-style merlons.
The medallion above the main arch is from the 16th century and depicts the ordination of Saint Ildefonsus, the patron saint of Toledo. The name of the gate comes from the images of the sun and the moon, once painted on either side of this medallion. We also find a small classical bust and an early-Christian sarcophagus on the wall.
12. Toledo Cathedral
The Cathedral of Toledo is often considered to be the magnum opus of Gothic architecture in Spain. Many influences of Islamic architecture can also be traced in it.
The cathedral is located on the site of a former Visigothic church, which was torn down after the Muslim invasion in 711-712 and in the place of which a mosque, the Great Mosque of Toledo, was built. Some researchers have suggested that the layout of the five naves of the current cathedral corresponds to the prayer hall of the mosque, a part of the current cloister and the Chapel of Saint Peter coincide with the sahn of the mosque, and the bell tower of the Cathedral is located on the site of the minaret. It is also thought that the mosque had columns supporting horseshoe arcades, similarly to the mosque on the site of which the Church of El Salvador stands.
One of the few places in the Cathedral where some remains of the Great Mosque can be seen (a column with a capital, in particular) is the Chapel of Saint Lucy.
Several characteristics of Mudéjar architecture are present in the Cathedral as well. These include, for example, the triforia of the choir, where multifoil arches resting on paired columns can be found. Multifoil arches are present in the arcades of the antechoir as well. It is not known if these themes existed in the previous mosque and were copied as a reminder or if they were added as something original and tasteful.
Detail of the antechoir (1360s)
Other places where Mudéjar influence can be traced are the Chapel of Saint Eugene, the cloister, and the tower.
Last but not least, we should mention the early 16th-century chapterhouse and its anteroom, located behind the chapels of the ambulatory. These both have elegant artesonados, and they are separated by a beautiful portal combining Mudéjar features with Plateresque decoration.
Detail of the artesonado of the chapterhouse
(Diego López de Arenas & Francisco de Lara, 1508-1510)
Detail of the portal of the chapterhouse
(Master Pablo and Bernardino Bonifacio de Tovar, 1510)
Detail of the artesonado of the anteroom of the chapterhouse
(Francisco de Lara, 1517)
Great article! Informative, interesting, and wonderful pictures. I was supposed to go to Spain this fall but corona happened :/. This makes me all the more excited for future travels
There is also a doorway off the cloisters which no-one ever comments upon