Jewish Barcelona

Barcelona Travel Blog

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Carrer de Sant Honorat. The Palau de la Generalitat is the structure on the right.

Medieval Spain was known as a land of three religions, as Christians, Muslims, and Jews coexisted there, albeit uncomfortably at times. The face of today's Spain presents different faces of this past coexistence depending on the locale. Here in Barcelona, Christian Spain is readily evident in such medieval churches as the cathedral and Santa Maria del Mar. The Muslims only held Barcelona for a few decades in the 8th century, and left little more than a few place-names, including the famous Rambla. Although a thriving Jewish community called Barcelona home for centuries until the expulsions and forced conversions of 1492, today it is difficult to locate evidence of their presence from that era.

Hotel Call, on l'Arc de Sant Ramon.
 Today I took a walking tour of Jewish Barcelona sponsored by the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat (City History Museum) to find out more about the Jewish presence in medieval Barcelona.

We started in Placa Sant Jaume, where the city hall and the Palau de la Generalitat (seat of Catalonia's regional government) are located. When facing the Palau de la Generalitat, to the left is Carrer de Sant Honorat. Where this street meets Placa Sant Jaume once stood a tower guarding the entrance to the Jewish quarter (called el call in Catalan). The Palau itself was constructed on property confiscated from the Jewish community, including the Sinagoga Menor (Little Synagogue).

Adjacent to Carrer de Sant Honorat on the western corner of Placa Sant Jaume is Carrer del Call, today a typical shopping street of the city's "Gothic Quarter" (Barri Gotic).

Inscription in Hebrew on the exterior of the Sinagoga Major.
When you leave Placa Sant Jaume via this street, you enter the narrow and winding lanes characteristic of the call. The second street on the right along Carrer del Call is l'Arc de Sant Ramon, which holds a special place in my memory. On this street is the Hotel Call, where I stayed during my first trip to Barcelona.

The first right off of l'Arc de Sant Ramon is Carrer de Marlet, location of the oldest synagogue in Europe, the 13th-century Sinagoga Major (Great Synagogue). In 2006, the Sinagoga Major reopened for its first services in more than 600 years. The temple was closed, confiscated, and sold off by the crown following an attack on the Jewish community in 1391. The fact that it had ever been a sacred place was forgotten until the 1990s, when historians and archeologists deduced the original nature of the building and began restoring it.

Inscription in Hebrew on the Palau del Lloctinent, Placa Sant Iu.
It is open to the public on weekdays from 11 AM-6 PM and weekends 11 AM-3 PM. Entrance is 2 euros, and the staff will gladly explain the history of the building (in English upon request).

There are of course more sites relevant to the history of Barcelona's Jewish community outside the former boundaries of the call. Elsewhere in the Barri Gotic, on the north side of the cathedral, is Placa Sant Iu, where the entrance to the Museu Frederic Mares is located. On the other side of the plaza from the museum entrance, in the wall of the 16th-century Palau del Lloctinent ("Viceroys' Palace," today an exhibition center run by the State Archives), you will see inscriptions in Hebrew. This is because the building was constructed with stones pilfered from the Jewish cemetery on Montjuic.

Seal of the Inqusition, Carrer dels Comtes.

The building housing the Museu Frederic Mares was once part of the royal palace of the kings of Aragon. Along the side of the palace facing the cathedral, on Carrer dels Comtes, you will see the seal of the Spanish Inquisition, which used to meet here. The Inquisition was set up in the 15th century to police Spanish Jews who had converted to Christianity and ensure that they were following the doctrines of their new religion. The Inquisition continued to regard the descendants of these converts with suspicion for many generations, out of fear that they were secretly preserving the practices of their ancestors. (On a side note, the courtyards of both the Museu Frederic Mares and the Palau del Lloctinent are worth seeing, and can be entered freely.)

You can find out more about Barcelona's historic Jewish community from the Associacio Call de Barcelona (in English and Spanish) and by asking for the pamphlet "Barcelona's Call" at the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat (entrance on Placa del Rei).

jteddyb says:
Been there, done that, got the pics! Will blog on it soon.
Posted on: Nov 30, 2007
boxinbcn says:
If you get a chance - and haven't been there yet, check out Girona and it's Call. It's beautiful.
Posted on: Nov 30, 2007
fluturas says:
I have like 2 questions Ted..since ur the pro in history area: where in Barcelona did they hold the prisoners of the Inquisition? and any auto publicos took place in Barcelona...and if they did take place..where?
Posted on: Oct 20, 2007
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Carrer de Sant Honorat. The Palau …
Carrer de Sant Honorat. The Palau…
Hotel Call, on lArc de Sant Ramon.
Hotel Call, on l'Arc de Sant Ramon.
Inscription in Hebrew on the exter…
Inscription in Hebrew on the exte…
Inscription in Hebrew on the Palau…
Inscription in Hebrew on the Pala…
Seal of the Inqusition, Carrer del…
Seal of the Inqusition, Carrer de…
Carrer del Call.
Carrer del Call.
photo by: fivepointpalm