View of the ancient stone bridge with gatehouse,
and the walled city of Toledo rising behind it
The Escalators of Toledo,
Spains Walled City
Story & Photographs by Richard Frisbie
returned from a visit to Spain, the number one tourist destination in
the world. As I traveled the Spanish countryside of La
Mancha, just outside of Madrid,
staying in the government owned Paradores chain of hotels, I kept marveling
at how innovative Spain has been in promoting tourism.
One of the elements that insure Spains tourism
success is the composition of new, modern buildings tied into ancient
structures. We are not just speaking of the juxtaposition of modern
and old buildings, but their synergy into one functional artistic statement.
View of the ancient walled city of Toledo from the
Parador de Toledo on a neighboring hilltop.
In Kingston, New
York, we have the Old Dutch Church, which was the first church built
between Manhattan and Albany. It has records going back to 1660 even
though the current structure dates from the 1800s. Diagonally across
the street from it is the glass and steel Ulster County office building.
It is an ugly abomination, very '60s modern. We have old and new together,
but in more of a utilitarian, rather than a functionally attractive
way. Architects in Spain make it look as if we should have tried harder.
When they put old and new together it works!
View of the old escalator through the
ancient walls of Toledo from below.
There is an excellent example in Spain that combines
ancient and modern in a way which would be considered sacrilege here
in the US. The walled medieval city of Toledo was a regional government
center and an important tourist destination with limited parking and
poor access for all those people. The narrow cobbled streets are simply
not big enough to accommodate all the pedestrians and vehicles necessary
to support the urban center, not to mention how the vibrations and pollution
damaged the ancient buildings.
The innovative solution in 2001 was to have the firm
Lapeña - Torres Arquitectos design a series of escalators
and covered walkways from an underground garage into and through the
ancient walls. Instead of one
very long escalator, as was used in Medellin, Columbia, recently
to climb a quarter mile into the hillside slums, the architects planned
a total of 6 differently angled ones protected from the elements and
taking advantage of the views. Their international award-wining project
won the Elevator World Project of the Year Award for 2002/2003.
Closeup view of the old escalator.
To build the escalator meant a section of the centuries-old
fortifications had to be bulldozed so the old and new could meld into
an unobtrusive and sculptural egress. I cringe at the thought of the
initial destruction, their medieval ramparts breached by shiny stainless
steel, but the resulting structure is simply astounding! It works! The
reconstructed walls look as if no stones were touched, while the escalators
sinuously wind their way through and behind them. At peak usage, as
many as 40,000 people a day ride those escalators. It is an amazing
Entrance to the new escalator from above.
In fact, it worked so well, a second desecration
of the historic walls is underway. On my recent visit to Toledo
I entered via the first escalators and left via the partially
completed second! Thats right. The first were so effective
that they needed another set, on the other side of the city, complete
with both above and underground parking, and a flying escalator
down to the Tajo riverside below.
Looking down the new escalator
At that time the escalators stopped at the bus
parking area and underground garage just below the ancient walls.
The last stretch wasnt completed, but from the heights above
I looked down on a landing area and parking lot under construction.
Soon it will continue all the way down to the plains below the
hilltop city center. I hope I can get back to ride it again when
it is completed.
Where the new escalator will land (see
construction site in lower right corner.)
I NEED SPAIN: http://www.tourspain.es
Air Europa: http://www.aireuropa.com
Food & Wine Tour; Madrid
Quixote's La Mancha; Memories
of Madrid; Madrid
and the Art of Armor; Tossa
de Mar, Spain; Valencia,
Rose of Saffron Festival