If you want to get close to masterpieces by El Greco, make this museum your first stop. The museum is the repository for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of 16th- and 17th-century paintings that once decorated Toledo-area churches and convents. About a dozen of them are by El Greco, and the greatest of the lot is La Asunción de la Virgen (Assumption of the Virgin), painted 1607–13. If you stand about 18 inches from this late masterpiece, you can see how the paint flows like tiny rivers. You don’t have to be religious—or even an art fan—to appreciate the electric excitement in this progenitor of “action painting.”

This massive former hospital, an early architectural design by Alonso de Covarrubias, features carved and painted coffered ceilings—some in the Mudéjar style influenced by Muslim decorative arts, some in a pure Renaissance fashion. It was commissioned by Cardinal Mendoza, whom some historians credit (or blame) as the mastermind behind the political machinations of Fernando and Isabel. The museum is divided into three sections, with the ground level devoted to archaeological fragments from Roman, Visigoth, and Muslim periods in Toledo. Another portion of the museum is devoted to popular culture and traditional local crafts including ceramics, glass, and jewelry. The Carranza collection of ceramics of the Iberian peninsula is a thorough but not overwhelming survey of colorful Spanish and Portuguese tile work from the re-conquest of Valencia in 1238 through the 19th century.

The fine art galleries—which include the El Greco works—are the principal reason for visiting. Recent additions to the collection include works by Toledo-born avant-garde sculptor Alberto Sanchez (1895–1962).