Jewish Quarter | Barcelona Bus Turístic

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Jewish Quarter

The medieval Jewish quarter with Spain’s oldest synagogue

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The Jewish Quarter of medieval Barcelona is home to one of Europe’s oldest synagogues, which has been restored and opened to the public. From the 9th century to the 14th century Barcelona had a large Jewish community that is thought to have numbered around 4,000 people. Two neighbourhoods of narrow streets, called "calls" from the Hebrew word "kahal", which means community or congregation, sprung up around them.

Why visit the Jewish Quarter?

The Call or Jewish Quarter forms part of what is now the Gothic Quarter. It was one of the city’s centres of culture in the Middle Ages and home to two synagogues. One of them, the Sinagoga Major, is one of Europe’s oldest, as it is believed to date back to the 6th century.

The Jewish Quarter was home to schools, baths and hospitals, but now only a few houses are left standing. It was surrounded by two city walls on the limits of the old Roman settlement. The Jews, however, did not close themselves off from the rest of city as they had houses and workshops outside of these city walls. In the early 13th century the population had grown so much that the Call Menor, the smaller Jewish quarter, was created. Now practically nothing remains of it.

The Call Major, the larger Jewish quarter, is home to the Sinagoga Major or Shlomo ben Aderet Synagogue, as it is also known, after the man who was the 13th-century leader of Catalan Judaism, the Rabbi of Barcelona and a banker to kings like James I (the Conqueror). It was the centre of Jewish life in the city until the start of the attacks on the community, the most serious of which, in 1391, ended with the death of 300 Jews. In the following years Jewish cemeteries and synagogues were destroyed and Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. Due to the expulsion decreed by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, the quarter fell into decline and its buildings were converted. The Sinagoga Major became a dye works and the Sinagoga Menor was transformed into a Trinitarian convent, of which today only the parish church on Carrer de Ferran dedicated to Saint James remains.

Now, the Barcelona City History Museum includes a space called MUHBA El Call in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, where the sailmaker Jucef Bonhiac lived. This section of the museum explains the entire history of the Jewish community in Barcelona and its cultural legacy.

 

How do you get to the Jewish Quarter?

From the Barri Gòtic stop on the Red Route of Barcelona Bus Turístic you can explore the old Jewish quarter of medieval Barcelona.

 

For the most curious of you

  • Did you know? On Carrer de Marlet, in the centre of the Jewish Quarter, there is a Jewish tombstone from the 9th century. It was found among the rubble during the construction of a house in 1820. A translation of the inscription, made shortly after the stone’s discovery, is provided beneath it.
  • Local’s tip: If you walk through the Jewish Quarter, take a look at the doors on streets like Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call and you may see the holes where the Jews nailed in their "mezuzahs", rolls of parchment containing two verses of the Torah that are traditionally displayed at the entrance to Jewish houses.
  • A must: For those who want to discover another side to the history of Barcelona.