Every good-sized city in Spain has a Judería, or ancient Jewish ghetto. Sephardic Jews lived in Spain from early Roman times, before the Christian era, until the late 15th century. The term Sephardic or Sephardi means Spanish or Hispanic and typically refers to Jews whose origin is the Iberian peninsula – Spain and Portugal. For centuries they co-existed peacefully with both Muslims and Christians. In fact many Jews immigrated to Spain during the years of Moorish rule because of the thriving intellectual life and the religious tolerance of the Muslims.
But in the late 13th century the Catholic monarchs in northern Spain began a reconquest of the Iberian peninsula for Christianity. Only the emirate at Granada (with the Alhambra as its base) was allowed to remain in an otherwise Christian Spain. The Christians were not as tolerant of the Jews as the Moors were, and there were open and brutal persecutions. Many Jews converted to Christianity to avoid persecution, which satisfied the Christians for a couple of centuries, until the Christian monarchs began to doubt the sincerity of the newly converted and suspected them of encouraging other new converts to join them in practicing Judaism in private.
In 1487 Fernando and Isabel decided to get to the bottom of the issue by “inquiring” into the sincerity of the converts’ dedication to Christianity; hence, the Spanish Inquisition. Tragically these interviews, left in the hands of some decidedly anti-Semitic inquisitors, degenerated into torture and death.
Those who still openly practiced Judaism were given a choice: 1) convert to Catholicism, 2) leave Spain, or 3) face execution. Without a doubt, an appalling era in Spanish history that continued for almost four centuries.
In 2014, the Spanish government passed a law granting dual citizenship to Jews who can trace their ancestry back to Sephardic roots in Spain to “compensate for shameful events in the country’s past.” Just a few weeks ago, 4302 Jews were granted Spanish citizenship under this new law. It is expected that 90,000 Jews will apply for citizenship.
No, it doesn’t erase the past, but it’s a start at healing an open wound.
Today these Juderías are a fascinating maze of narrow, whitewashed alleyways and gorgeous, miniature plazas. So far, Córdoba’s is our favorite. We loved getting lost among the shops, restaurants, and artisan studios. Some of the space has also been converted into residences with beautiful flowered courtyards in the Andalucían style.