With a rich and varied Jewish history,
Barcelona is a must for any traveler regardless of religious background. Before
exploring this fascinating city, it’s useful to understand the events that
shaped the Jewish community in order to understand the importance of the sites.
Barcelona is the capital and most populous province of Catalonia, as well as the
second largest city in Spain. Before the Spanish Inquisition and the Edict
Expulsion of the Jews in the 15th Century, Spain had one of the largest and most
prosperous Jewish populations the world has ever known.
evidence shows the existence of a sizable Jewish community in the province of
Catalonia, dating back from as early as the beginning of the Common Era.
Medieval Barcelona was 15 percent Jewish, with most living in the “Call”, or
historic Jewish quarter.
In 1263 Barcelona was the site of a famous
dispute between King James 1 of Aragon, who wanted to convert the Jews to
Christianity, and Nachmanides, the foremost halahist of his age, who fought to
validate Judaism. Nachmanides was declared the winner of the debate but he was
eventually forced to leave Spain and went to settle in the Land of
The 14th century saw the destruction of Jewish life in Spain, and
the decisive “pogrom” of 1391 saw the annihilation of the Jews of Barcelona.
Many Jews were either murdered or forcibly converted. While the Jewish expulsion
of Spain did not occur until the reign of King Ferdinance and Queen Isabella in
1492, all the Jews of Barcelona had either fled or converted years earlier
following the pogrom in 1391.
Barcelona remained devoid of any Jewish
presence for more than five hundred years, meaning that there are just a few
Jewish sites to see today. Yet, the historic Jewish quarter still reveals a
colorful Jewish past and there are plenty of markets to make a day here a truly
To start the day in the heart of historic Jewish
Barcelona head to the old Jewish quarter “Call”, meaning “alleyway” in Spanish
and potentially linked to the Hebrew words Kahal or Kehilla, meaning community.
The quarter is located in the medieval part of the city between the Cathedral of
La Seu, Plaça Jaume and Plaça del Pi, not far from the popular La Rambla
The main street of the Call was Carrer de Sant Domènec; this is
where the main kosher shops were, and where people lived.
In the quarter
there is the Center d'Interpretació del Call. This is a museum dedicated to the
history of the Jewish Quarter. The house, known as the Casa de l’Alquimista
dates back to the 14th Century, and was the home of Jewish weaver Jucef Bonhiac.
The museum conserves rare period details in its architecture, including a glass
section in the ground floor that allows visitors to see Jucef Bonhiac’s former
wells and storage space.
The house is open everyday apart from Mondays,
and is located at Placeta de Manuel Ribé.
The quarter is also home to an
early 21st century Jewish discovery, the Mayor synagogue. Current records
indicate that as many as four synagogues existed in Barcelona. The Major
Synagogue has been restored, and the building is believed to date back to Roman
times, making it the oldest synagogue in Europe. Documents that were found
concerning the synagogue include a record form 1267, when King James 1
authorized the raising of the building’s height. Later excavations revealed the
remains of Roman walls underneath the synagogue floor. The ruins date back to
the reign of the Emperor Caracalla around the 2nd century.
This is a
small synagogue where the main facade faces southeast towards Jerusalem. Inside
there are two large glass windows with a menorah standing between them. And next
to this is the scroll, which contains scriptures from the Torah. The ruins are
protected by a glass surface, and you can walk around above them.
synagogue is open all week, with varying opening times. Visitors are only
allowed in the subterranean level. There is a suggested donation of 2 euros per
person and the nearest metro stop is Juame I (Yellow Line).
spending the morning exploring Barcelona’s long, and rich Jewish history there
are a couple of kosher options for lunch. Firstly, El Corte Ingles on Avenida
Diagonal 167 sells a wide range of Glatt kosher products, and they offer a
delivery service. Secondly, there is the only kosher restaurant in Barcelona,
Delicias on C/ Santaló 125 Barcelona 08021. Here they serve up traditional and
Mediterranean food, and the average cost is 18 euros per
Unfortunately, beyond the Jewish quarter, there are few remnants
of Barcelona’s Jewish past. However, there is the current community, and some
good markets to visit for the afternoon.
Conveniently, the Jewish quarter
is not far from La Boqueria, an open-air market off La Rambla. This is probably
Barcelona's best-known market, and is perfect for sourcing ingredients for a
fine meal or just wandering through. The food sold here ranges from fresh fruit
salads to just-out-of-the-sea moving crabs and lobsters. And the odd sheep’s
head can be found if you look hard enough.
A good market for a souvenir
is the small art market that takes place every weekend at Plaça de
Sant Josep Oriol. There usually aren't more than about 15 artists but they cover
every style and medium, from watercolors to oils. The nearest metro line is
Liceu (Green Line, L3).
Aside from markets there is also a visit to the
current community center left to do. To get there head to Avenir 24, 08021. Here
there is the CIB (Comunidad Israelita de Barcelona). This is a small building
that houses a Talmud Torah, synagogue, mikveh, café and recreation area. The
community serves around 3,500 Jewish residents and is quite mixed. The center is
open to visitors, and holds services.
To end the day with some Spanish
flavor, head tois La Caseta del Migdia. This jewel of the park is an open-air
bar nestled under pine trees behind the Montjuïc castle. Although it requires a
little walk, at night you have a view over the sea, and as sunset approaches
samba music is played out while patrons lie back and relax in one of the
To get there walk below the walls of the Montjuïc castle or
follow the Passeig del Migdia, and watch out for signs for the Mirador del
The Jewish Virtual Library contributed to this report.
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