The Caves of Hercules, a passageway to subterranean Toledo

The king Don Rodrigo, the last Visigothic monarch, ruled the Iberian Peninsula during the 8th century, Toledo, in that time known as ‘Toletum’. Inside the ancient capital, there were caves with a padlocked door, on which was written: “Do not come in if you are afraid of death”. This place was known as ‘Casa de los Candados’, in English ‘the House of Locks’, which was the supposed basement of the palace that Hercules set up in the centre of the city. A basement full of priceless treasures to which mortals were forbidden to enter.

For many years, nobody accessed to the basement, and every king who ruled the different reigns of the city put a padlock on the door. However, Don Rodrigo was the first one who broke the locks in order to get the treasures. Inside the basement, he found a parchment with a drawing of strange men with crescent swords and turbans on their heads. This spot was the cave of Hercules and those drawings were the prophecy of the Muslim conquest. So, due to this, Don Rodrigo caused the end of ‘Toletum.’

Entrance to the Caves of Hercules in Toledo.

Entrance to the Caves of Hercules in Toledo. | Wikimedia bajo licencia CC BY-SA 4.0

A bit of history of the caves of Hercules of Toledo

This legend, above-mentioned, is based on the caves of Hercules, which are really significant among the inhabitants of Toledo. Besides, it is said that Hercules, the supposed founder of the city of Toledo, practised magical arts and necromancy here, but these are just legends.

In terms of history, what is known with certainty about the caves of Hercules is that they used to be under the church of San Ginés, until 1841 when the building was demolished. Previously, it is believed that there was a mosque here and, even earlier in time, it is said that there was a Visigothic temple. The entrance wall of San Ginés is preserved, where several Visigothic reliefs are embedded.

Furthermore, since the beginning of the 20th century, the place was already considered to have Roman origins, although its function was still unknown. But, in 2004 the ‘Consorcio de Toledo’ promoted an archaeological investigation of the site of San Ginés and the caves of Hercules. Then, it was concluded that the caves were built in the 1st century and were used as a water supply cistern in the Roman city.

Key facts of the caves

These caves are located in an alley called San Ginés, as well as this church of the same name. They are significant attractive spots for tourism and they were declared an Asset of Cultural Interest. Its scheduled is from Tuesday to Saturday, from 12.00 a.m. to 02.00 p.m. and 05.00 p.m. to 07.00 p.m. and you can visit for free. In its first room, there are many temporary exhibitions promoted by ‘Consorcio de Toledo’ and it is possible to access to the water supply by a spiral staircase.

This room was altered considerably at an undetermined time. The original construction was covered with large granite ashlars and the interior was divided in two by three arches, also made of granite. Over the two resulting naves, two vaults were built with blocks of white limestone, only one of which belongs to the ‘Consorcio de Toledo.’

The most interesting aspect of these caves are the mystery that surrounds them. Not only it is known the legend and history of Hercules, but also, it is said that they are connected to some subterranean galleries that reach to the outskirts of Toledo and widen to create large vaulted halls. In fact, there were some expeditionsm, which went into the caves of Hercules in order to find out how far the passages reached.

In 1564, Cardinal Silíceo ordered the cave to be explored. However, they came across a waterfall and decided to give up. Almost three centuries later, in 1839, a second expedition descended the waterfall and reached an ossuary. In 1851, some sappers discovered a subterranean room that we now know to be the water deposit. However, the question will always remain if there is something else behind the walls of the cave…

Special spots near the caves

The caves of Toledo are located in the centre of Toledo, really close to the cathedral, an amazing gothic temple. This is another fascinating monument that everyone should visit. However, there are a huge variety of monuments in this city, also known as the city of the three cultures, Muslim, Christian and Jewish. There are many other monuments that are a must, such as the ‘Alcázar’, the monastery of ‘San Juan de los Reyes’ and the synagogue of ‘Santa María La Blanca.’

Cathedral of Toledo

Cathedral of Toledo. | Shutterstock

Toledo is also well known due to its link with ‘El Greco’, specially thanks to a museum based on this artist. Nevertheless, its most popular work is located in the parish of Santo Tomé, which is ‘El entierro del señor Orgaz’, in English ‘The Burial of the Lord of Orgaz.’

It is important not to forget to mention the subterranean Toledo because under the capital of Castilla-La Mancha there is another hidden city full of labyrinths, galleries and legends. Some of these places are the Roman baths, the Cenizal baths, the Arab baths of the Angel or the dungeons of the Inn of the Brotherhood. Numerous tours organise visits to these hidden spots.

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