Date: Dec, 2014
Location: Cordoba, Spain
Cordoba, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, was a cross-road for different cultures at the richest period of its history.
The Juderia (Jewish Quarter) is perhaps the best known part of Cordoba’s historic center and is one of the largest in Europe, to the northwest of the Mosque-Cathedral and along the city wall. Its medieval streets have a distinctly Moorish flair, reminiscent of the Jews’ prosperity under the Caliphate of Cordoba. Jews formed a part of Cordoba’s cultural mix from as early as the 2nd Century until their expulsion from Spain in 1492 after the Christian reconquista. Under the Muslims, both Jews and Christians were given religious freedom and self-governing communities. This arrangement was profitable to their rulers, who improved their tax revenue with special household taxes for non-Muslims.
During the 11th and 12th centuries the Jewish population in Spain reached its point of greatest prosperity, intellectual energy and well-being, coinciding with Cordoba’s greatest moment in history. Cordoba was the star of western Europe, seat of an independent Caliphate and a center for prosperity, commerce and learning in the midst of the so-called Dark Ages. Its mosque rivaled that of Damascus, its markets and palaces amazed travelers, and scholars came from afar to its prestigious university and library.
With the fall of the Caliphate in 1031, however, came the decline of both Arab and Jewish vitality in Cordoba. Civil war and the religious intolerance of the Almohad berbers from North Africa laid waste to much of the city’s prosperity. During this time, Maimonides was born in Cordoba, who became one of the two most-studied Jewish philosophers of all time (also recognized by Christians and Muslims as a revolutionary religious thinker), as well as a physician and astronomer. Among his works are the great Misneh Torah and the controversial Guide to the Perplexed. He eventually went into exile with his family to finally settle in Egypt.
In 1492, as a part of consolidation of power over a newly unified Spain, Ferdinand and Isabel presented the Jews with the choice of forced conversion or exile, causing the mass emigration of the Sephardic Jews from all over Spain. Many families fled from Spain taking the key to their homes, which some still preserve down to this day, along with a medieval Spanish dialect, called Ladino.
There are a few notable sites that remain of the Old Juderia:
In the center is the Synagogue one of the only three originals remaining in Spain. A Mudéjar construction dating from 1315, it was converted to a church in the 16th century and then held the Guild of Shoemakers until it was rediscovered in the 19th Century. The interior includes a gallery for women and plaster work with inscriptions from Hebrew psalms and others with plant motifs on the upper part. Its main beautifully restored wall, has a semi-circular arch where a chest with the Holy Scrolls of Law used to be kept.
Casa de Sefarad
A Sephardic house, restored to how it would have been in the 14th century, before the Spanish Jews were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Kings. It has five themed rooms where serve as Museum on Jewish life in the city.
La Casa Adalusi
A restored 12th-century Islamic house showing Islamic art and decorations. The rooms serve as a Museum with artifacts from Moorish times.
La Puerta de Almodavar
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An entrance gate with a statue of Seneca (a Roman philosopher), which together with the streets La Muralla and Averroes form the western boundary of the Juderia. The Juderia reaches as far as Calle El Rey Heredia to the north east and the Mosque to the south. More of the Juderia can be seen here.