If cities had genes, we would almost say that in Toledo’s ones, there is a natural predisposition to be the centre of significant kingdoms, extensive territories and other things like that.
History has given it precisely this name, imperial city, and its due primarily to the fact that Carlos V made it the centre of his vast empire in the sixteenth century; but before, much earlier, the Visigoths had already set their capital in Toledo. They wanted to look like glorious Rome, but they were left half-hearted because the Arabs cut off their dreams. It was the year 711, and the legend says that everything was quite easy for them, due to something that happened here, where today the San Martin Bridge is.
On this occasion, we have one of those stories with a beautiful woman and an obsessed king. Her name was Florinda, daughter of an earl of Ceuta, and she had been sent to Toledo to receive a good education and get a good marriage. The girl was in the habit of taking baths in the river. One day King Rodrigo happened to see her from the San Martin Bridge, and he was utterly dazed by such a vision.
There is no agreement about what happened after: some say that Florinda seduced the monarch, and others that Rodrigo forced her a bit. Whatever it was, it reached the earl’s ears, who was furious and decided to take revenge by not moving a finger to stop the Muslim Tariq and his friends. Thus, the Arab troops found a free passage into the Peninsula, and from then on everything went from bad to worse for Rodrigo, who would end without Florinda, without a kingdom and serving as fertiliser for the cypresses of the cemetery.
It seems incredible that such a story had begun with an innocent scene on this band of the Tagus River. But if that was the beginning of the Arab presence, from this place you can also see one of the symbols of its end: the monastery of San Juan de Los Reyes, right next to the bridge.
It was commissioned by Isabella the Catholic in 1476, just a few years before they conquered the last territory dominated by the Muslims. Things were starting to turn out well for the royal couple: they had just won the battle against Beltraneja, a niece of Isabel who wanted to steal her throne, and they could glimpse the unity of all the territories under their leadership and their ideas. The monastery was built for the Franciscans, precisely because their way of living the faith, was the same way the monarchs wanted to recover after all the medieval excesses and sieges.
They really wanted to give symbolism to the monastery of San Juan, so much so that, years later, in its walls, they started to hang the chains of the Christian captives that the monarchs liberated in their battles against Islam. So, do not miss any details in your visit, and, above all, do not leave without seeing the cloister!