The Sephardic Route Caceres
The earliest documents on the Jewish community in Caceres are dated 1229, in the Charter of Caceres, granted by Alfonso IX of Leon, but there is little doubt that there was a Hebrew population throughout the several hundred years of Muslim rule. In fact, recent theories mention the possible existence of a Jewish community in Caceres back in Roman times, as part of a contingent that came to Extremadura after being expelled from Jerusalem by Emperor Titus in the 2nd century.
This is according to the Book of Tradition, by the 12th-century thinker and historian, Abraham Ibn Daud. Alongside their traditional professions as craftsmen and tradesmen, the way of life of the Jews of Caceres also revolved round agriculture and livestock. The aljama grew in size in the 14th century, with the arrival of Jews fleeing the persecutions of 1391, and for several years it was the last refuge of Andalusian Sephardic ic Jews, prior to their definitive expulsion in 1492, and following their exile, nine years earlier.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 1986, Caceres has one of the most well-preserved and charming old medieval town centres in Europe. The ancient Norbensis Caesarina was founded in the year 34 BC by the Roman Proconsul, Caius Norbanus Flaccus. The flourishing Hizn Qazris, which was an Almohad stronghold in the 12th century, that resisted attack by Christian kingdoms, had a Jewish quarter that should not be missed by tourists visiting this city full of ancient tales and history.
In the lower part of the walled town in Caceres , spreading upwards to meet the sheltering walls of the noble houses of Las Cigüeñas and Las Veletas, the aljama, or Jewry, of Caceres was home to some 130 families in the 13th century. They lived in modest dwellings that stood on narrow, sloping alleys. It was a popular neighbourhood, still filled with bright flowers and light even today, and it stands on either side of the Calle Barrio de San Antionio.
The Arco de Cristo, the only Roman arch still standing, which led from the aljama to the outside of the town, or the Olivar de la Judería, or Jewry Olive Grove next to the walls, still have a strong feel of the past to them. The hermitage of San Antonio today stands on the site of the synagogue of the Old Jewry, which was demolished by the Lord of Torres Arias, Alfonso Golfín. He had bought it in 1470, thanks to the Decree on the removal of Jews. Up until then, local Hebrews had had the right to prove their innocence by swearing on the Torah, here in the synagogue. According to this privilege, “Should they have no Torah, they shall use the Book of the Ten Commandments”. As for the magnificent private baths that can be seen on the tour of Yusuf al-Burch’s House and Museum, on the Cuesta del Marqués, nobody has yet been able to decide whether they were Arab baths or a traditional mikve, where Jewish ritual baths took place.
A MEDIEVAL FLAVOUR
In the 15th century, the Jewish Quarter of Caceres was one of the five highest tax contributors in the Kingdom of Castile. In the last quarter of the century, under the auspices of Isabel the Catholic, the New Judería, or Jewish Quarter, began to be built outside the city walls, around the Plaza Mayor. The Calle de la Cruz, which, along with today’s Calle de la Panera, was the heart of this new settlement, was known as the Calle de la Judería up until the 16th century. The elaborate Palace of La Isla stands on the site of the synagogue of the new Judería, and it still contains details that are reminders of the spirit of the Jews of Caceres.