CENTRO DE INTERPRETACION JUDERIA DE SEVILLA
Many centuries ago, Seville had the biggest Jewish community in Spain, with as many as 33 synagogues and scores of money-lenders, doctors, scientists, lawyers and merchants; then came the Catholic Kings and the Inquisition, and all the city's Jews were forced to either convert or flee. Now you can learn about the fascinating history of the city's Sephardim, or Spanish Jews, in a new cultural centre in Barrio Santa Cruz (Sepharad is the Hebrew word for Spain)
The Jewish barrio in Seville (or Juderia) was a walled area encompassing much of Barrio Santa Cruz, bounded by modern-day streets Callejon del Agua, Cano y Cueto, Conde Ibarra, Federico Rubio, Mateos Gago, the Alcazar wall, and Juderia itself. In the heart of this maze of narrow, winding alleys is calle Ximenez Encisco, where the Centro de Interpretacion is located.
The Juderia had three main synagogues: one in Plaza Santa Cruz, which was demolished in 1810 by the French; the buildings which are now Santa Maria la Blanca church and Convento Madre de Dios in calle San Jose. Additionally, there was a cemetery near Jardines de Murillo (you can see a Jewish tomb in the car park).
This small museum offers a fascinating insight into the culture and life of Jews in medieval Seville: where they lived, bathed, worshipped; where their baker's and shoe shops were; even which hermandades (brotherhoods) were founded by conversos (San Bernardo). As a means of proving their non-Jewishness, the marranos changed traditional recipes to contain mantecado (lard) instead of olive oil.
You can read stories of Jews who lived in Seville, such as Sosana, who had a Christian lover, ended up losing both her family and her love, and came to a sticky end thanks to the Inquisition. You can see how those targeted by the Santa Sede were treated, how lists of suspects' names (those who outwardly converted, but secretly continued to practise their faith) were compiled. The fate of the Inquisitions' victims ranged from a fine and penance, to being burned at the stake. All their possessions were seized by the Crown.
Panels explain about "Purity of Blood Statutes", which served to delete a person's past (ie Jewish ancestry), so they could have a "decent life". These were produced by lawyers, for a large fee, to solve personal disputes. Suspicion that someone was a false converso was enough to accuse.
Other items you can see include a megillah, a leather scroll in which the Jews hid their true beliefs; a mezuzah - a parchment for blessing the house; and a large glass used for the kidush ceremony, as well as a hannukah lamp. Less spiritual, but equally interesting, are household items such as clay pots used to cook in, which kept food hot until the next day (from Friday to Saturday), and information about Sephardic music and literature, an essential part of the culture which was kept alive by the women who taught their children at home. These art forms still exist in Sephardic communities abroad, notably in Morocco, Turkey and Israel.
The gift shop is well-stocked with books and CDs, and traditional ceramics and handicrafts with Jewish motifs.
For more about the Inquisition, the Castillo de San Jorge in Triana is a must-see.
The Centro de Interpretacion Juderia de Sevilla is at Ximenez Encisco 22A. Tel 954 047 089. Opening hours Monday to Saturday 10.30am to 3.30pm and 5pm to 8pm; Sundays 10.30am to 6.30pm. Entry costs 6.50 euros, or 5 euros for students and Seville residents.
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