Jewish Heritage in Spain

 

Sinagoga Mayor
Sinagoga Mayor is an ancient synagogue in Segovia and is now converted into the Convent of Corpus Christi.

Have a client who’s interested in learning about his Jewish heritage in Spain? Madrid is a good starting point, since the high-speed AVE train can take visitors to any city in Spain in just a few hours, advises Brunilda Dejesus, owner of Mainly Spain.

While only a few noteworthy Jewish attractions remain in the capital city, an existing Jewish community will welcome guests looking for information. Researchers can find a good assortment of national institutions that hold antique Jewish texts (some of them hundreds of years old) that cannot be found anywhere else. Check with the Tourist Office of Spain for more information and for navigating the following routes outside of Madrid.

In Toledo, a private guide can provide tours of two former synagogues that have been converted into churches. (They feature some of the best examples of Spain’s three architectural influences: Jewish, Christian and Moorish.) Stop first at the former Synagogue del Transito, which is now the Sephardic Museum. The synagogue’s prayer room is adorned with geometric and plant motifs, and the hekhal contains scrolls of Jewish law. The Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca and La Escuela de Traductores are where Jewish scholars facilitated cultural exchange, translating works from Arabic and Hebrew.

In Segovia, several restaurants in the Jewish quarter offer cooking classes. Visit the New Jewish Quarter Street (Calle de la Judería Nueva) and the ancient synagogue, Sinagoga Mayor, now the Convent of Corpus Christi. Down Santa Ana Street is the Plazuela del Rastrillo, a stone plaza which is illuminated at night. Visitors can see all of the Jewish quarter from Casa del Sol, an old house on a cliff that was once a kosher butcher shop. Nice Touch: The old Jewish dwellings are elevated, allowing panoramic views of the city.

Advisor Insight:

Wendy Epstein, a Spain specialist with All Ways Travel, says that Ronda in Granada is a must-visit. “Isram World of Travel has a tour of Spain with Jewish highlights, called Travel with a Scholar, which goes to regular sites as well as Jewish-interest sites. There are tastes of Jewish life all over Spain, but Toledo, Granada, Córdoba and Seville are the highlights. There are also interesting Jewish attractions in Gibraltar, including three or four synagogues.”

 

The ancient walled city of Avila is where Moses de Leon wrote the Book of Splendor, the last part of the Jewish Kabbalistic mystic trilogy (along with the Bible and Talmud). Today, the city houses a Museum of Mysticism and a garden in tribute to Moses de Leon. The decree of Expulsion of 1492 is also housed in Avila’s archives.

Head south to Andalucía to Córdoba, home to the famous Mosque Cathedral. Those looking into Sephardic history should head to the Jewish quarter, known as the Juderia. Dejesus calls it one of the most important places in Córdoba, and a synagogue stands as testament to the important contributions made by the Jewish community. The Plaza de Tiberíades honors one of the great thinkers in Sephardic Judaism, Maimonides. Córdoba is also home to one of the most venerated synagogues in the Hebrew world, built by Yishak Maheb.

To the west, Cáceres is home to one of the oldest Jewish quarters. The Hebrew district, known as Barrio de San Antonio de la Quebrada, has unique architecture; the entire area is full of archways and arcades filled with small shops in whitewashed buildings.

In northeast Spain, Girona was one of the most influential centers of Jewish religious and philosophical thought in the Middle Ages and was once called the “Mother City of Israel.” The medieval Call (as Jewish quarters were called in Catalonia) is one of the best preserved in Western Europe—even the grooves Jews carved in their doorway to place the mezuzot are still visible. The Centro Bonastruc ca Porta, location of the last synagogue, has exhibitions displaying Jewish history. This complex includes the Catalan Museum of Jewish Culture, the Institute for Sephardic Studies, and a library with Jewish manuscripts dating back to the Middle Ages.

In Barcelona, visit the “El Call” Jewish quarter, as well as the “Ancient Synagogue,” which is believed to have been built between the third and fourth century, and is acclaimed as the oldest synagogue in Europe.

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