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The Sephardic Route Barcelona

Among the many topographical features relating to Jews in Barcelona, one of the most memorable is the Monjuich. The Mons Judaicus or Mountain of the Jews. The Monjuich in Barcelona, the Mons Judaicus or Mountain of the Jews where for centuries the Hebrew community buried its dead.

As well as the Greater Synagogue in Carrer Sant Domènech del Call in Barcelona where another of the Jewish community’s important buildings stood: the butcher’s, where kosher meat was sold, duly purified for family consumption. Historical documents from Barcelona of the time name David of Bellcaire as the owner of the butcher’s shop, and state that the fishmonger’s stood in what is now Carrer de la Fruita. In 1357, the Call water fountain was built, in the middle of Carrer Sant Honorat, so that the Jews did not have to leave the Jewish quarter to get drinking water. Carrer Banys Nouse, or New Baths Street in Barcelona, is a reminder of the new baths. The Banys Nous were founded in 1160 by the alfaqui Abraham Bonastruc, associated to Count Romaon Berenguer. The count donated some land just outside the Roman walls, under the Castell Nou, where there was plenty of water, and Bonastruc had them built and equipped.

According to the contract, the alfaqui would run the business, and both men would each take a third of the profits. Inside was a room for the mikve. A stone plaque in Carrer Marlet, which is a replica of the one in the Museum of City History, bears witness to the foundation of a hospital, under the auspices of Samuel ha-Sardí, in the 13th century. In the 15th century, another four synagogues are reported, besides the Greater Synagogue. They were all part of a tight-knit society in which Rabbis and scholars, such as mathematicians, alchemists, or geographers, all lived alongside master craftsmen of various trades, and royal treasurers or officials.

To mention the famous Gothic Quarter in Barcelona is to talk of the old Jewry, or Call in Catalan where in the Middle Ages four thousand people once lived.

Although the historical documents only bear witness of the presence of a Jewish Quarter in Barcelona as from the 11th century, various chronicles tells that Judean was an important intermediary between the Bishop of Barcelona and Emperor Charles “the Bald”, three centuries before. Known as the Call Major, the largest section of the Jewish quarter lay between the line of the Roman walls, between Arc de Sant Ramon del Call and Banys Nous, Calle del Call, the line of buildings between Calle Sant Honoral and Calle del Sisbe, and Sant Sever. It is here that a restored former Hebrew building now houses the Barcelona Call Visitor Centre. The Carrer Sant Domènech remains its axis, although little is left of the Call Menor, or Smaller Jewry, which lay outside the city walls as from 1257, due to the urban expansion of the city in the 19th century.

In the Gothic district of Barcelona Plaza del Rey Just like in other Spanish communities the Jews of Barcelona went through different stages of co-existence with other town settlers. While in the 11th century, the famous Hebrew writer and traveler, Benjamin of Tudela wrote in his Book of Travels that there was a “holy community of wise and prudent men and great princes”, at other times, particularly from the 14th and 15th centuries onwards, Barcelona Jews saw their neighbourhood become a ghetto, where they were segregated, confined and, at times, attacked. This, for example, occurred in 1367, when some of the leading representatives of the aljama, such as Nissim Girondí, Hasday Cresques or Isaac Perfet, were imprisoned in the Greater Synagogue itself, and forced to respond to accusations concerning a case of the profanation of the sacred host by Jews in Girona.

 

 


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