Antiga Sinagoga Major - Jewish Quarter, Barcelona
If you are looking for history, be forewarned: Barcelona may not be your ideal destination. Whatever history there was, the city has done a good job of covering it up. Barcelona is very much a city of the present, a city devoted to endless, and very often, mindless entertainment (OK, OK, in my opinion…). Drinking, eating, partying, and lots of Gaudi, about sums it up.
The Jews were once a vital force in Spain, playing a pivotal role in culture and commerce. After they were expelled in 1492, there was no Jewish presence in the country for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, if you look hard, a few traces of the past, including the city’s Jewish past, can still be found.
In the city’s “Jewish Quarter,” known as the Call (from the Hebrew word Kahal, or community), the remains of an ancient synagogue were found below street level. This was the synagogue of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, a famous medieval scholar who lived in Barcelona. Today you can see the subterranean structure (which was being used as a laundry before Barcelona realized its historic and tourist potential), by peering through a glass-topped floor. When we were there several years ago, a woman guide rattled off an explanation in a garbled mixture of Spanish and Hebrew that we could barely understand. From what I’ve heard, their PR effort has improved since then.
Everyone who visits Barcelona goes up to Montjuic to see the Olympic Stadium and museums, but very few are aware that Montjuic means “Mountain of the Jews.” During our visit, nobody could explain what the connection was. In researching this later, I discovered that an ancient Jewish cemetery had been located on the hilltop. It is now the site of a city park, which may or may not contain tombstone remnants (not sure about this, as nobody I know has ever gone there). I also read that Lloctinent Palace, now the archive of the Crown of Aragón, located near the Call, was constructed from tombstones taken from this Jewish cemetery.
If you have time for more sleuthing, I understand that two cafes in the neighborhood have arched underground rooms where carved Hebrew inscriptions can still be seen on the walls.
From 1492 till the mid 1920's Jews were forbidden to enter Spain. It was at that time during the government of Miguel Primo de Rivera that Sephardim were once again permitted to have Spanish citizenship.
The period before the Expulsion of 1492 was a Golden Age for the Jewish people in Iberia.
The Expulsion order of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ended that period. The subsequent exile in many nations led to the descendants of the Jews of Spain being called 'Sefaradim' ('Sfaradim', Sephardim').
Today the term applies to all whose ancestors settled in the Iberian peninsula after the Roman Exile from Israel.
Except for the period during the Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939), Jewish people have since been accepted in Spain. Today there is a small nascent Jewish community in Spain that still feels itself very much a minority. The government however is encouraging and helping to support and conserve some of the buried and hidden roots.
The remnants of 14th C Spain are few and far between. Some do still exist today, mostly in the Barri Gotico . This tour is a close look at those remnants, with an emphasis on the Jewish remains, only recently discovered.
It visits El Call, the oldest synagogue in Barcelona and some remaining cellar structures from the 4th century discovered four flights down in a building from the 17th C among other sites.
There are other tours available as well to other Jewish Heritage sites in Barcelona.
Jewish history in Spain is as profound as the Germany history. During the Inquisition, around the 14th century, the Spanish Crown required the Jews to convert to Christianity or die. The effect was dramatic. Many fled to other parts of Europe, many died, and others went into a secret hiding and became crypto-Jews that practiced behind closed doors. Barcelona's Jewish population reached about 4,000 before the Inquisition took its toll. Hard to believe when you visit this tiny two room museum.
The rooms reflect many of the phases, showing how the synagogue passed from its original intent into different uses. The caretakers give short talks about the history, and there is a tiny two shelf gift shop. For me, powerful because of the history.
Hidden away in the heart of the Barri Gotic, between Placa de Sant Jaume and Carrer dels Banys Nous, is Barcelona's medieval Jewish Quarter - 'the Call'. The Jews were expelled from the area in the late 15th century.
The streets in this small area are really narrow - not even the smallest car would fit along them. The buildings seem to lean in to meet towards the top, making it very easy to gossip with you neighbour from the comfort of your top-floor window.
Situated on Carrer de Marlet, looking very un-synagogue like from the outside, is the Sinagoga Major - the city's main medieval synagogue. In 1995, the building, which was being used as an electricians store at the time, was purchased and was going to be turned into a trendy bar. However, when work commenced the remains of the synagogue were discovered. These days you can visit the site and take a guided tour.
Even if you don't want to visit the synagogue, it is worth having a quick walk around this very interesting area.
Synagogue Opening Hours: 11am-2pm & 4-7pm Tue to Sat; 11am-2pm Sun
Admission charge: 2 euro (Jan 2007)
Forgotten during centuries it was discovered by chance in 1995 when the owner of the building, who didn't know the importance of it, sold it. The main façade is looking at Jerusalem. Years later, the excavations discovered remains of roman walls of the Ist century made of stone from Cartago (opus africanus). In the year 212 Caracalla Emperor permitted the construction of a building of cult for jewish citizens and on the walls of the synagoge you can see in a plan the position of this building inside the ancient roman forum of Barcino. Putting together all these pieces of information we can think about the possibility that this synagogue could be the most ancient synagogue of Spain and maybe of Europe.
Inside the Synagogue you can see a menorah made by Ferran Aguiló and an Aarón Hakodesh to guard the Torah
Entrance fee: 2€
There are documents that talk about the presence of jewish people in the catalan territory from the IX century. The jewish comunity was under the protection of the Crown and they lived in special districts called "calls". Inside the call there was a synagogue , a bakery, a butcher's, baths and a pub. There are few remains of the jewish district of Barcelona. In Marlet Street we can see an hebrew inscription of the XIII century that says: Samuel Ha-Sardi Pious Foundation. His light burns constantly.
It is considered the oldest Spanish (and even European) synagogue.
Although Barcelona was not important enough in the past and did not belong to the eight Jewish Quarters of Spain (such as Toledo, Segovia, Cordoba, Tudela, Gerona, etc.) the Hebrews came to this city in the VIII century. The Barcelona synagogue is described by the famous Spanish traveller Benjamin de Tudela (when I worked in a kibbutz in Israel I was surprised to learn that they have a song devoted to our Spanish Jew Benjamin, from Tudela, the first European to reach China, in the XI century, much earlier than Marco Polo!).
Until recently the entrance was for free, but now they have started to charge tickets for 2 euro.
Don't forget to visit the 'GOTHIC QUARTER'. Is the heart of the medieval part of the city. There you can find the Cathedral, Pl. del Rei....
The Gothic Quarter is also the site of 'El Call', the medieval Jewish quarter comprising the streets of La Palla, Banys Nous, Boqueria and Call.
Barcelona affords countless possibilities for recreation. Over 40 museums: monographic art collections such as the Museu picasso, the Fundació Joan Miro, and the Fundacio Antoni Tàpies which hold permanent exhibitions of works by the artists. As well as temporary shows; the world's finest collection of Romanesque art at the MNAC, and MACBA situated in Angels Square, 1. Opened from 11am to 7.30pm . Tuesday closed. Admission: 10€(pic added).
Desig is characteristic of Barcelona. You can find design in its streets, squares, bars and restaurants. In recent years, the city has become a permanent showroom for design.