Toledo in the 16th century depicted in a drawing by Joris Hoefnagel



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Report claims new developments
threaten Toledo’s historic setting

By Daniel González Herrera

7 February 2006: Toledo, situated some 70 kilometres south of Madrid, is one of Spain’s most important historic cities. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, the city was once the country's capital and is renowned for its medieval architecture. It is also famous for steel making. Toledo swords were the most sought after hand weapons of their time. However, now a report by one of Spain’s oldest art academies says that the city’s historic setting could be seriously damaged by new developments planned by the city council.

The municipal authorities published a municipal urban development plan (POM) to construct some 37,000 dwellings between now and 2025 on the outskirts of Toledo, in areas known as Huerta del Rey and Vega Baja. This plan has been severely criticised by the Royal Academy of Arts of San Fernando, Madrid’s oldest art institute. The Academy said that implementation of the plan would mean the end of Toledo’s environment, which has been cherished for centuries. Toledo Mayor José Manuel Molino counters that the old part of the city would not be touched. “POM will only affect the outer edge of the old quarter,” he said.

However, for the deputy director of the Royal Academy of San Fernando, Pedro Navascués, this is no reassurance. He points out that is not only the historic part of the city, but also the natural environment that surrounds the town, which allowed Toledo to gain World Heritage status. Mr Navascués used Venice as an example, saying that if a plan like POM was applied to the Italian city, it would mean draining its canals. “The development plan poses a real threat to the symbiosis, the marriage between the medieval city and its surrounding environment,” he explained.

Pedro Navascués also accused the city council of “violating the legislation which have protected Toledo and its landscape since 1940”. A number of special laws have offered special protection to Toledo and its surrounding environment ever since. The development plan would change the current legislation, modifying classification of most of the low and high meadows on the Tagus river, on which presently no construction is allowed. The city council describes its plans as sustainable development to justify the building on land, which, until now, was considered part of Toledo’s historic legacy.

Mr Navascués stresses that the Academy was not opposed to economic growth. “We only ask that the city council considers alternative sites for expansion,” he said. The Academy also suggests that the Huerta del Rey and Vega Baja areas should be developed as “green lungs”, which would attract tourism and would allow citizens to enjoy the city without destroying its physiognomy. Another reason against POM is the presence of archaeological remains in Vega Baja, dating back to the Visigothic period, which are in danger of being damaged or destroyed if the development plan went ahead.

The academy is aware that there is a lot of money at stake. Deputy Director Navascués was surprised to learn that even though POM had not been finally agreed, land had already been allocated. He fears that if the plan goes ahead Toledo’s World Heritage listing could be under threat. The UNESCO delegate in Castile-La Mancha, Fernando Redondo, said that the city council acted rather too hastily in drawing up POM. “The council should have consulted the International Council of Monuments and Sites, an organization part of UNESCO,” he explained.

The Royal Academy has sent its report to superior authorities including Spain’s Ministry of Culture, the regional government of Castile-La Mancha and, of course, to Toledo’s city council.

Toledo was the first capital of the Visigothic Hispania, after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was declared an imperial city during the reign of Cahrles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Because of its amazing beauty, the city has been immortalized in many literary and pictorial works, including paintings by El Greco, who lived in Toledo from 1579 until his death in 1614.


Today's view of Toledo shows how little the old parts of the city have changed during the past 500 years


Toledo development plan severely criticised
In the presence of Spain’s King, Juan Carlos, and Prince Aga Khan, leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, the president of the Royal Toledo Foundation, Mr Gregorio Marañón y Bertrán de Lis, severely criticised the development plan (POM) put forward by the Toledo municipal council. He called the plan a "fatal conceptual mistake" and, if it was not corrected, "would inevitably cause the destruction of Toledo’s landscape”. Under the plan, the city wants to construct some 37,000 new dwellings between now and 2025.

The criticism was made at the Royal Toledo Foundation’s award ceremony on 2 March 2006, where an award was given to Prince Aga Khan in recognition for his work towards the protection of the artistic and historic heritage in the Islamic communities. Guests at the ceremony heard the Foundation’s president say that it was important not just to protect the city of Toledo itself but also its historical setting. Under POM, construction would be permitted on meadows along the river Tagus, which are currently protected from development.

Toledo’s Mayor José Manuel Molino, a member of the right-of centre People’s Party (PP) reiterated that POM did not constitute any risk to Toledo. “A combination between development and conservation is possible,” he said.

But the Mayor appeared isolated at the award ceremony. José María Barreda, the socialist President of the region of Castile-La Mancha, which includes Toledo, emphasised that the river landscape bordering the city were inseparable parts of the old quarter of Toledo.

Even King Juan Carlos implicitly sided with the critics of the Toledo development plan by praising the Royal Toledo Foundation for its “constant work towards the projection and preservation of the historic wealth of Toledo”.