The Jewish Quarter of Seville: beyond the Santa Cruz neighborhood

When talking about the Jewish quarter of Seville, it is always associated with the neighborhood of Santa Cruz, with its narrow streets and thousands of corners to discover. However, the Jewish quarter encompasses much more than this well-known Sevillian neighborhood. Would you like to join us for a walk through its streets and history? We promise you will not be disappointed.

The Jewish quarter of Seville extended through the current neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, San Bartolomé and Santa María la Blanca, delimited by a wall that separated it from the rest of the city. It occupied an area of 16 hectares. It is believed that if not the oldest in Spain, it is among the oldest. But when and why was this neighborhood created?

Since Roman and Visigothic times, the presence of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula has been confirmed. But there is no confirmation that they did so in separate quarters until the time of al-Andalus. The Jews helped and contributed to the occupation of Spain by the Arabs (711).  In gratitude, the Muslims allowed them to settle in the conquered cities. Due to their great qualities in the economic and business fields, they had a great influence on society.The Jewish community was so large at that time that they even received a special denomination, they were known as Sephardim.

The Jewish quarter of Seville became one of the most populated and hard-working of the time. In the 11th century, it reached its maximum extension.

                                                   

However, in the middle of the 12th century, Almohads arrived in the Iberian Peninsula and due to the strong restrictions imposed on Jews, many of them emigrated. It was not until 1248, when Ferdinand III of Castile conquered Seville, that the Jewish community re-emerged. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Jews helped to boost the city's economy, making Seville a hub of international trade. They even reached the King's Court itself.

However, in the mid-1300s, animosity towards the Jews began to develop, among other reasons, because of the fame and power they were achieving, which led to their persecution and numerous anti-Semitic riots. The Jews were plundered, harassed and persecuted. In 1391, the worst episode for the Sevillian Jews took place, the first pogrom. It is believed that up to 4000 Jews were mistreated and killed. Others converted to Christianity for fear of reprisals. This served as a prelude to the future of the rest of the Sephardic Jews living in Spain. It was even Seville where the first Inquisition court was created to persecute the converts.

Over time, some families returned to the city, but there was no longer a Jewish quarter. In 1396 the Jewish quarter was reformed and became the Villa Nueva, all the synagogues were expropriated and converted into churches. There was still some caution regarding Jewish converts, also known as marranos, as there was suspicion about the sincerity of their conversion to Christianity. This resulted in the definitive expulsion of the Jews from Seville in 1483.

The neighborhood suffered a period of decadence and was practically abandoned until the beginning of the 20th century, when it was remodeled under the direction of the architect Juan Talavera y Heredia.

And now that we know its history, why don't we go deep into their way of life and customs?

It is known that Jews were quite skilled in economy and finances. In general, the Sephardic Sevillian Jews were engaged in river (because of the importance of Guadalquivir river in Seville) and land trade, crafts and medicine. They occupied high administrative positions in the city, especially related to tax collection. At the intellectual level, there were also great writers, astrologers, astronomers, poets and philosophers. Great scholars of the stature of the theologian, physician and astronomer Rabbi Salomon or the famous Talmudist Ibn Gauison were born there.

Other great Sevillian Jews were Manuel Levi, treasurer of King Don Pedro; wise astronomers like Yosef ibn Rabbi Elazar or the distinguished Mose ibn Zarzal, skilled in medicine. Yusaph Pichon, the king's chief accountant or the famous translators of the court of King Alfonso X Abraham Alfaqui and Samuel ha Levi also stood out.

The most surprising thing is that such illustrious characters of the Spanish panorama as Cristóbal de Mesa, Santa Teresa de Jesús, Fernando de Rojas, Góngora, Cervantes or even Velázquez himself, just to mention a few, were Jewish converts or descendants of these.

In its time of splendor, in the 11th century, 3,000 Jews lived within the walls of the Jewish quarter of Seville, enjoying a good way of life. They had the protection of the King of Castile, who allowed them to speak his language, maintain their customs and practice their religion in exchange for a series of special tributes.

But why did they live within walls? Originally walls were created so that the Jews could have a place to live in community and be able to maintain their laws and customs, as well as defend themselves more easily from enemy attacks. In this way they could also keep better control. It should be noted that not all Jews lived in the Jewish quarter, just as not all who lived in this neighborhood were Jews. The quarter was surrounded by a wall with access gates and strategically located in the center of the city, bordering the area where the cathedral is located today.

                                 

The Jewish quarter of Seville was communicated with the city and the countryside through three gates:

1.            The door that gave access to calle Mesón del Moro. It was made of iron.

2.            The current Puerta de la Carne gate, known as Puerta de las Perlas gate by the Arabs, was the one located on the outskirts of the city.

3.            The Puerta de San Nicolás gate, in front of calle Rodrigo Caro.

4.            Finally, there was a small gate, known as Puerta del Atambor, facing calle Rodrigo Caro. It was so called because it was closed at night to the beat of a drum.

All the doors were closed with the ringing of Angelus at 18 p.m. and opened at dawn.

Over the years, the traces Jews left in Seville has not been erased. Their traces are still imprinted in traditions and legends, but also, and much more tangible, in the architecture of its Jewish quarter, the flavors of its gastronomy, the notes of its melodies or the beauty of its handcrafts.

Despite being expelled from the territory of Castile in 1492, the Jewish legacy still survives in many aspects of Spanish society. Did you know that Spanish people have two surnames thanks to the Jews? Or that dishes as typical of Spanish cuisine as pipirrana, pisto, meatballs, rice pudding or torrijas have a Sephardic influence? And that techniques such as brine or the stir-frying of fish come from their legacy? This is just a small sample of their heritage.

                                            

Another of the curiosities surrounding this neighborhood is its cemetery, which is believed to have extended as far as the Buhaira neighborhood. Recently, burial remains were found in the San Bernardo neighborhood. This is because Jews were looking for virgin land that had never before been used to bury their deceased. For this reason, we can find a cemetery in this location.

It is also interesting to know that three of its main churches: the churches of Santa María la Blanca, Santa Cruz and San Bartolomé were first mosques, then synagogues, to finally become churches, three hidden gems that you can't miss! Enter and enjoy their beautiful interiors, be amazed by the different styles and walk the surrounding streets in search of beautiful facades.

                                                         

If you want to visit the Jewish quarter, apart from the already famous Santa Cruz neighborhood, be sure to take a walk beyond its limits. Enter its narrow streets and get lost in its thousands of corners and courtyards. Be sure to enter the Venerables Hospital (Hospital de los Venerables - if it is allowed due to the current situation) or the Interpretation Center of the Jewish quarter (Centro de Interpretación de la Judería) to go deeper into its history. Let yourself be captivated by its legends, discover why there are wooden crosses anchored on the walls of calle Cruces, discover where the name of the streets calle Pimienta or calle Vida comes from and why the latter is so closely related to a beautiful lady known as the Susona. Find the narrowest street in Seville and decide if calle Reinoso street deserves the name of La Calle de los Besos. You won't be disappointed by any of them!

                                                                           

If you want to know more, we can delve into all the legends that hides this neighborhood in one of our next posts.

 

 

 

Information obtained from Cromacultura, Visitar Sevilla, Todo Calidad, Turismo Sevilla, Tendenciashoy, Diputación de Sevilla, XLSemanal y Enciclopedia Aragonesa.

Some photographies have been obtained from Cromacultura, Diputación de Sevilla, Centro de Interpretación de la Judería, Wikipedia, ABC de Sevilla y Recetas Asagaya.