During the Middle Ages, the kingdom of Al-Andalus (now part of Spain) was home to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. For travelers today, that means a rich mix of cultural influences – and, for those who know where to look, a network of historic Jewish destinations. From Barcelona’s Gothic quarter to Andalusia’s mountainous Jaén province, no fewer than 22 urban centers across Spain retain centuries-old Jewish heritage. Using popular cities as a base, travelers can trace Jewish history along the country’s Caminos de Sefarad (Sefarad is the Hebrew name for Spain).
Here, a sampling of where to go and what to do in Spain’s Jewish quarters.
If You’re in Barcelona, Spend an Extra Day in …
In this Catalonian city, a maze of narrow, cobblestoned streets forms the heart of El Call, a well-preserved Jewish quarter that flourished until the late fifteenth century. Visit the Museum of Jewish History for a detailed overview of the town’s medieval past and artifacts such as a signed act of sale of the local synagogue to the canons of Girona Cathedral in 1492, when King Ferdinand’s Decree of Expulsion forced Jews to leave the city. In December, the museum hosts a Hanukkah celebration and a children’s puppet show.
If You’re in Madrid, Spend an Extra Day in …
A must-see in this UNESCO World Heritage-recognized town is El Puente, the aqueduct – a massive, 221-pillared testament to the Roman Empire’s technical prowess, built in the first century AD. Head to the south part of town for another type of history: The Jewish Quarter Education Center, located in the home of Abraham Seneor, an influential fifteenth-century community leader, leads complimentary walking tours. Among other highlights, the tour guides visitors to San Andrés Gate, once the entrance to the Jewish neighborhood. Today, the gate provides great views of Segovia and the Cuesta de los Hoyos Jewish Cemetery.
If You’re in Seville, Spend an Extra Day in …
This Andalusian town knows how to throw a party. Every spring in the Old Quarter, hidden courtyards and patios strung with flowers open to the public for the Fiesta of the Patios, a UNESCO-recognized event. (The lovingly preserved fourteenth-century Córdoba Synagogue also has a frescoed interior courtyard.) In the fall, the International Sephardic Music Festival welcomes travelers of all ages to the Royal Botanical Garden on the banks of the Guadalquivir River to celebrate Jewish song, dance, and food, and partake in cultural talks and seminars.
This article is sponsored by the Tourist Office of Spain. All images courtesy of the Tourist Office of Spain, unless otherwise noted.