Sheparad's Pearl

18/05/2015 17:11

Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula had strong support in the Jewish community who believed that it would be better treated then under Visigoth rule. It was not always so, though they lived a golden age at the time of the Caliphate. Upon arrival of the Almoravid dynasties and Almohad Caliphate intolerance followed by Christian persecutions would end in the Edict of Granada, the 1492 expulsion.

During that golden age when sciences, philosophy and literature shone there was a singular city. It was known as Elissana for Jews, Al Yussana for Muslims and Lucena today. Was known as the Pearl of Sepharad and had the peculiarity that it was constituted only by Hebrews and so they were not segregated as in any other towns and cities where they lived apart in minority. The geographer Abu Abd Allah Muhammad Al Idrisi, who visited in the year 1142 described it: Between the South and West is Lucena the City of Jews. Literally as well as affirm the Navarra-born rabbi Menahem ben Aaron ben Zerah: The whole city was Jewish.

The proclamation of the Caliphate in 929 by Abd ar-Rahman III favoured the splendour of the Jews in Al-Andalus. Among other reasons it was due to the presence in government of an extraordinary character, Abu Yusuf Hasday ben Ishaq ibn Saprut. He was born in 910 in a wealthy family from Jaen where young Hasday began to study medicine and grammar which he completed in the capital of the Caliphate, Cordoba, the dazzling city of the West. Thanks to his knowledge, he entered the court, first as a medicine doctor. With his abilities and knowledge of languages he ​​translated with the help of a Byzantine scholar the Book of Dioscorides, a great pharmacology treaty. Integrated into the court he was appointed as Customs chairman and later as Chief of Protocol while also Nasi or Prince of the Jewish communities. As a diplomat he was involved in treaties with Constantinople, the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Navarre and the Counts of Barcelona. As Nasi he collaborated in the creation of the Talmudic school in Córdoba, which, with the decline of Eastern academic centres became after 948 the main core of Jewish culture in all areas.

The Jews of Cordoba suffered more or less the same avatars as in the rest of Al Andalus. Along the fitna, the civil war that ended the caliphate, the Jewish quarter was ravaged. During the Taifa and Almoravid periods living conditions were restricted but Lucena lived a new parenthesis of splendour. The arrival of the Almohad fundamentalism unleashed new exodus, this time towards the northern Christian kingdoms, to the cities of Toledo and Narbonne.  

In Cordoba the Jewry spread west of the mosque where even today is seen in the layout of its narrow streets. No missing references: the statue of Maimonides in Tiberias square and of course the synagogue, in Judios Street. It was built in 1315, during the reign of Alfonso XI, when Christians already had taken the city according to an inscription inside the temple: miniature shrine and witness dwelling ended by Ishap Moheb, son of Mr. Efrein Wadowa. The door leads to a courtyard and then to a small lobby followed by the prayer hall and a gallery for women. On the wall overlooking east is the Hejal where Torah scrolls were kept. The prayer hall is decorated with gypsum arabesques and inscriptions with verses from the Book of Proverbs and Psalms. Nearby, Maimonides Square was the centre of the neighbourhood, where has been opened the Bullfighting Museum. A few steps away are the famous Flowers and Handkerchief alleys.

After the 1013 persecution many Jews moved from Cordoba to Lucena. Al Yussana had its own ordinances which were based on the rabbinical laws and its school particularly shone after 1010 during the rule of the Taifa of Granada, when it enjoyed its highest social and cultural zenith under the Nasi Samuel Ibn Negrella. The arrival of the Almoravids had seen a sharp increase in taxation in exchange for maintaining privileges. In the thirteenth century, after the closure of the Academy of Talmudic Studies by the Almohad the poet Abraham Ibn Ezra wrote: Felt on Sepharad the evil of heaven, a lament hangs over the West.

Modern Lucena retains in the city outskirts the old Jewish cemetery, the largest ever excavated in the peninsula where 346 burials have been found. The two best tombstones are exhibited in the Archaeological and Ethnological Museum, inside the Castillo del Moral, an eleventh century fortress. There is also some belief that the churches of Santiago and San Mateo were built on sites previously occupied by the synagogues, or that at least their materials were reused to build the Christian churches.

Returning to the vizier of Abderrahman III, Hasday Ibn Seprut, he probably lived his childhood in Casa de los Rincones, the home of the corners, in Jaen Plaza de la Madalena, Yayyan in Arabic. On the hill there were three strengths, but not much remains of the Old Fortress and Abrehuí Castle transformed its remains in the Parador, the five stars hotel. The six towers belong to the newest fortress or Castillo de Santa Catalina, built up in the Christian period. From there is seen the maze of streets of the old Jewish quarter: from the rooftops of Villadompardo Palace to the Convent of Santa Clara. Literally beneath the palace, built in the sixteenth century by Don Fernando de Torres y Portugal, Count of Villadompardo and viceroy of Peru, are located the Arab baths, the best preserved in the peninsula, now part of the Museum of Arts and Traditions of Jaen. It is certain that there are other baths of the time, one known as Hammam ibn Ishaq, possibly located near the chapel of San Andrés, which is believed to be a former synagogue.

Jaen’s Jewry had two entrances, one at present Doctor Blanco Nájera square or Orphans square. Here was Baeza Gateway. Some foundations that have been left are exposed after the square was remodelled. In the middle a large menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum, was installed. The second gate was where the square of the Sewers, near the Santa Cruz street that runs through almost the entire neighbourhood. Next is the Rostro Square, an empty space facing the street of the same naming that overlooks the rear entrance to the chapel of San Andrés. Cat Alley, after saving several nooks and corners leads to the main church entrance.

Sevilla had several Jewish quarters, after Fernando III conquest, it was decided to concentrate them in the area between the Alcázar wall, Mateos Gago Street and Puerta de Carmona, grosso modo between the Santa Cruz and San Bartolomé neighbourhoods. Alfonso X gave three mosques to be converted to synagogues. One stood in Santa Cruz Square. It was destroyed during the persecutions of 1391 and instead a church was raised. In turn it was demolished in 1810. Here was buried the painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and as the temple ruins disappeared also did his. Other two were the current churches of San Bartolome and Santa Maria la Blanca. A fourth synagogue might have been on Lope de Rueda Street.

The most picturesque entrance is certainly by the Alcazar’s Flags Courtyard. A covered walkway bends before ending precisely at Jewry Street. Here are the streets of the Pepper, Venerable Priests Square and Justino de Neve Street, he was the founder in 1675 of the Hospital for the priests. Water Street runs along the wall of the Alcázar to reach Santa Cruz Square. This gives name to the district. Below a tangle of narrow streets: Cruces, Mosque... that ends at Santa Maria la Blanca. The names betray the trades that were performed on them: Refiners, Tanners, Zurradores, Dye or Glass streets and finally the Good Voyage.

A few miles away from Seville, Utrera also had a small Jewish neighbourhood that was located next to Altozano square and whose core was the alley now known as the Lost Boy, a whitewashed passage whit hanging flowerpots and barred windows. It is accessed through a stone arch that have sculptured a cross and a shell that may refer to a pilgrimage route.

In Malaga has been restored a seventeenth-century Moorish tower. Nothing to do with the old Jewish quarter except that it has become a centre for receiving visitors called Ben Gabirol, a philosopher and native poet, along with a new square, which has been called Jewish Quarter square, and links Granada and Alcazabilla streets. Actually only remains the layout of some streets running between San Agustin street and the Roman Theatre: San Agustin del Postigo, Marques de Moya and Pedro de Toledo, near the Picasso Museum.

Nothing remains of the Garnata al Yahud that coexisted with the Muslim city of Granada. In 1988 was placed a statue between Plaza Isabel la Catolica and Pavaneras street, at the entrance of Realejo neighbourhood. Here was once the Jewish settlement. It represents Yehuda Ben Saul Ibn Tibon, a physician, philosopher, poet and translator, who, like many others, had to take the road of exile. He did it when he was 28 years old, in 1148, leading his steps to Montpellier. Recently it has opened on one corner of Berrocal square the Granada Sephardic Museum dedicated to the history of the Jewish community of the city.

The end of the presence of the Jewish community in the peninsula was sentenced on March 31, 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs signed the text written by Fray Tomas de Torquemada. With the implementation of the so called Granada Edict were ordered the expulsion from all territories of the crowns of Castile and Aragon. The other option was to consider converting to Christianity but the lack of confidence of the conversions generated new persecutions and a boost of inquisitorial institution. Even as late as the February 25, 1767 was published in Seville Inquisition an edict entitled Contra la Ley de Moysen, y la Secta de Mahoma, y la Secta de Lutero, y la Secta de los Alumbrados, y libros reprobados y prohibidos por los Censores y Catálogos de el Santo Oficio de la Inquisición, que venga a noticia de todos. (Against Mose Law, and sect of Mahomet, and Luther's sect, and the sect of Lighting, and reprobated and banned books by the Censors and Catalogues of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, who comes to news of all.)

© J.L.Nicolas 


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