The Sephardic Route Palma de Majorca - Spain
The capital of the Balearic Islands, a secular maritime college and a reference for Mediterranean culture over the centuries, Palma de Mallorca can pride itself on being one of the Spanish cities with the earliest Jewish settlements, dating from the 5th century, when Jews lived alongside Christians long before Moorish rule. The xuetes, or chuetas, which was the name given to Majorcan Jews even today, were experts in astronomy, astrology, mathematics, medicine, philosophy and science, and contributed greatly to the cultural prestige of Palma de Mallorca in the Middle Ages.
When the Christians re-conquered Palma (1229-30), they found the Jewish quarter lay inside the Moorish fortified town, north of the Almudaina castle, and the first transfer of the Hebrew population took place, to the Call Menor, or Smaller Jewish Quarter. It stood at the top of the San Nicolás neighbourhood, along Calle San Bartolomé and Calle Argentería, but no original buildings remain.
A new quarter, the Call Mayor, was created under King Jaume II, who confirmed the privileges granted to the Jews by Jaume I the Conqueror, but in 1303 Hebrews were obliged to eat and sleep inside the Jewish quarter, although they could run their business outside of it. Many of the houses in this quarter belonged to the Knights Templar, who protected the Jews until the order’s demise in 1313. Some of the more noteworthy buildings can be seen on Carrer del Sol, previously known as Carrer de Call dels Jueus, or Jewry Street, where there stands a house that once belonged to a rich Jew, and which has now been turned into the Tourism College; or the Carrer Montesión, with a church of the same name that stands on the site of the old synagogue, the Carrer Montserrat, where the Old Synagogue or Jewish School once stood, the Plaza de Sant Jeroni, near which is the so-called Sapienza land, where the house of cartographers Abraham Cresques and his son Jafuda once stood; the Prince’s bulwark, built over the 14th-century Jewish cemetery; the Carrer de les Ecoles, or Carrer Pelleteria, (Furrier’s Street), also known as New Synagogue Street, which reminds us of the importance of the furrier’s trade in the Hebrew community, and where you can still see the crosses that the New Christians placed on the façade of their houses to avoid trouble.
One of the many testimonies of the Jewish presence in Palma de Majorca is the Torre de l’Amor, or Tower of Love. It was built in 1365 by Mossé Faquim, in order to spy on his next-door neighbour, the wife of his rival, Magaluf Natjar, with whom he was in love. By making a petition to the king, Natjar managed to have the tower shortened by 12 hands, in order to keep his privacy. There are also the splendid Rimmonims of the Torah, which today are part of to the Cathedral treasure, and which became part of the Christian liturgy after the 15th century conversions. In 1391, the local peasants attacked the Jewry, a bloodthirsty event that resulted in the loss of over 300 lives, and which was the forerunner of the 1435 conversions. This did not prevent many Jews secretly continuing to remain faithful to the tradition they had held for so many generations. Even in 1678, the Inquisition caught a group of 212 xuetes, or false converts to Christianity who still practiced Jewish rites, in Palma de Mallorca.