The creation of the capital of the Kingdom of Galicia in 103 by Don García, and the immediate prosperity of Ribadavia meant that, in the 11th century, many Jewish families settled in the town, and the Jewish quarter in the heart of the medieval town has now been declared a Cultural Heritage Site. The Jews of Ribadavia owned the vineyards and were fully integrated into the society of the time. The names of people such as Abraham de León, Judá Pérez or the physician Salomón, are a part of local history, and a reminder that among the town’s Jews there was a privy councillor to the King and several administrators of the House of the Counts of Ribadavia. Others were traders, craftsmen, physicists or money-lenders. They all contributed to Ribadavia’s wealth, based on the production and trade of Riberio wine, particularly in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Calle de Merelles Caula, traditionally known as Calle de la Judería, or Jewry Street, soon became the heart of a large neighbourhood between the Plaza Mayor and the Medieval walls, and which housed the synagogue. At some points, it was home to many families, right up until the 17th century. Ribadavia’s historic centre, including the Jewish quarter, has been declared a National Monument. Its street layout is medieval, with long, narrow streets, and arcades underneath the overhanging balconies to protect the lower floors from rain, and it is mainly built of stone. The Jewish quarter ends at the Plaza de la Magdalena, the old Plaza Vieja, the oldest square in the town, which is very close to the Porta Nova gate, the natural entrance to the Jewry through the walls.
But all this Jewish past, with five centuries of peaceful co-existence, is not just another aspect of the town’s history; it is, today, one of its main tourist attractions. The Galician Sephardic Museum, which belongs to the Town Council, and the Centre for Medieval Studies actively organize the Festa de la Istoria, or History Festival, in which the whole town of Ribadavia takes part. The Centre for Sephardic Studies regularly organizes concerts, conferences and cultural activities related to the Jews, and it actively participates in the organization of the Festa de la Istoria, which has been declared a National Tourist event. The Festival, which takes place every year on the last week-end in August, when Ribadavia becomes a Medieval town once again, includes events such as the ritual celebration of a Jewish wedding or the performance of the play “Malsín”, of 1606, which proved that the town’s Jews continued their traditions in secret, in collusion with the local inhabitants, more than a century after the Catholic Monarchs expelled them. The Tourist Office in the Plaza Mayor houses the Galician Sephardic Musuem.
A Tafona de Herminia, a traditional bakery, makes confectionary with poppy seeds, and cardamoms, mostachudos made of walnuts, cloves and cinnamon, according to original Hebrew recipes; some ingredients are even imported directly from Israel. These tiny delicacies are a reminder of flavours from a time when Jews were an essential part of Ribadavia’s everyday life.