A free audio guide is available through wi-fi on your smartphone - highly recommended for deciphering all the decorative detail.
As with so many buildings in Toledo, the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes bears witness to a whirlwind of cultural influences. Completed in 1504, the building is an example of what is called Isabelline Gothic: the architectural style of the Crown of Castile, this is a transitionary stage between late Gothic and early Renaissance modes, with original features and decorative ideas taken from Mudéjar and Flemish architecture.
Its full name in Spanish means ‘Monastery of St. John of the Kings.’ King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I built it to celebrate the birth of their son Prince John - as well as their victory over Portuguese forces at the Battle of Toro - and it was also dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, for use by Franciscan friars. The monarchs also initially intended it to be their mausoleum, but later changed their minds and were buried in Granada.
Among the monastery’s highlights are the larchwood Mudéjar ceilings in its upper cloisters, which stand in contrast to the German cross vaults of the ground floor. Intricately carved and painted, they feature the monarchs’ motifs and coats of arms and the motto Tanto monta, monta tanto (‘As much as the one is worth, so too is the other’) - a vow that the two didn’t really stick to in their marriage, but apt testament to the building’s mixture of architectural influences. The cloister also features a delightful garden and courtyard, surrounded by a menagerie of stone gargoyles.
The north-facing granite exterior features the unusual decorative feature of rows of iron shackles and manacles, ordered there by the Queen in 1494: they were removed from prisoners freed from the Moors after the long Granada campaign, and remain as a symbol of Christian triumph over adversity. Badly damaged during the Napoleonic occupation of Toledo, the monastery underwent a long period of restoration between 1883 and 1967. Today it remains a high point in the fascinating world of Toledan architecture.
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