Juan Francisco Rivero

Tourism and the Jewish cities of Spain

The Jews were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, the same year as the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, but the Jewish heritage still remains in the country, which they called Sepharad, with its own language, Sephardic, which is still spoken in Israel and in many parts of the Mediterranean, including the Greek city of Thessaloniki. Such was the importance of the Jewish world in Spain that before their expulsion there were some 600 villages and towns, which accounted for 10% of the nation's total population.

This centuries-old heritage is still preserved in Spain through the Network of Jewish Quarters, which brings together 21 large and small towns, where the Jewish world is still very much alive. I can tell you that relatively recently the director of the Sephardic synagogues in Jerusalem, the Hispanist Abraham Haim, presented me with the Medal of the Four Synagogues, in the presence of a packed hall of friends, among them the Egyptian Hamdi Zaki, a great tourism professional.

Zaki wrote a chronicle of the day, which we reproduce: 

"The act began with the words of the award winner, Mr. Rivero, who after thanking his friend, Dr. Abraham Haim, highlighted the high knowledge of the latter, in addition to speaking several languages to perfection, including Hebrew, Arabic, speaking it with the Egyptian Hamdi Zaki, a friend of the honoree, English and French; he also highlighted the relevant trajectory of the Israeli.

Dr. Abraham Haim, who came directly from Israel to Madrid, explained in his speech the reasons why Francisco Rivero was worthy of this award. He presented the Four Synagogues, their history and their impact on the city of Jerusalem. He also pointed out that this prize had previously been awarded to great personalities, such as Their Majesties, King Juan Carlos I and his son Felipe VI, the presidents José María Azar and Mariano Rajoy, as well as the former Ombudsman, Enrique Múgica Herzog, of Jewish origin.

In his dissertation, Dr. Haim said that the construction of the largest of these four synagogues was lower than street level because of discrimination by the Islamic religious authorities who demanded that churches and synagogues should be lower than mosques, while at the same time he said that the authorities did not allow the construction of new churches and synagogues, so only their restoration was allowed.

Hamdi Zaki, Egypt's former tourism advisor in Spain was able to address these comments, after congratulating his friend Francisco Rivero. He said that there is no paragraph (sura) in the Koran that discriminates against either Jews or Christians, nor that Islam forbids the building of synagogues or churches, but quite the opposite. It shows the tolerance of Islam in the splendour of Al Andalus, under the Caliphate, where there was a remarkable coexistence between the citizens of the three religions.

Dr. Haim replied that he completely agreed with him and said that this was concretised in the presence of three friends, referring to him as a Jew, Francisco Rivero as a Christian and Hamdi as a Muslim. Hamdi concluded his speech by mentioning Camilo José Cela's novel "Jews, Moors and Christians" and that the tolerance of his religion is such that Mohammed himself had married an Egyptian Coptic Christian and another who was Jewish and that, if it were up to me, I wouldn't mind doing the same as the Prophet".

In Hervás, Jews the most

The most populous of the Spanish Jewish quarters is Barcelona, and there is even a saying for the Extremaduran city of Hervás that goes: "In Hervás, Jews the most", but the most attractive is Toledo, the ancient capital of Spain, and the city of the Three Cultures: Jewish, Christian and Muslim, but all the municipalities have, in their medieval complexes, an architectural, historical, environmental and cultural heritage, a legacy of the Jewish communities that inhabited them. There is so much interest in belonging to this association of cities that there are still eight more waiting to join if they meet the necessary requirements.

The philosophy of this public network of Spanish cities is the defence of the historical heritage and Jewish legacy, promoting cultural, tourist and academic projects and carrying out a policy of exchange of national and international experiences that contribute to the knowledge and mutual respect of peoples, cultures and traditions. It has its own cuisine and even the popular Spanish stew, which is a very typical dish in Madrid, is based on Jewish adafina.

Many of these cities of Jewish origin are Unesco World Heritage Sites, such as Ávila, Cáceres, Córdoba, Segovia and Toledo. There is a very important fact in Spain for foreign citizens who can prove their Jewish ancestry, and that is that they can obtain Spanish nationality if they can prove their roots. That is why there are up to 45,000 people here to date who have managed to become Spanish and are settled especially in Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga, as well as other places in Spain.

As a person interested in the Jewish world, I dealt with this subject at a congress held in Zamora about four years ago, a subject that affected me because I have been the official chronicler of the town of Las Brozas in Cáceres for more than 25 years.  

The village of Las Brozas in Cáceres was no exception in terms of the interculturality of its inhabitants. In the village, as in almost all of Extremadura, there was a Christian community, a Muslim community and a Jewish community.

The scholar of the Jewish world in Extremadura is, par excellence, my good friend Marciano Martín Manuel, better known as Marciano de Hervás, whom I met at the 6th Congress of the Jewish World in Zamora. He has studied the Jewish populations in Hervás, Coria, Granadilla, Plasencia and Trujillo. He took him to the Castilian-Leonese capital to present his novel "La llama azul" (The Blue Flame), with the fascinating theme of the imaginary Jew in Extremadura's history and narrative. He brought a single copy of his book "Abraham Zacuto, el astrólogo de don Juan de Zúñiga", published in 2010.

Marciano mainly studies Don Juan de Zúñiga in the four-year period from 1485 to 1488, when he governed the destinies of the Military Order of Alcántara and was its last master. He was accompanied at his courts in Alcántara, Brozas, Zalamea de la Serena and Villanueva de la Serena by other great figures of the stature of Elio Antonio de Nebrija; his son Marcelo, Commander of La Puebla, and the Jewish astrologer Abraham Zacuto. Don Juan de Zúñiga was a man of letters and also a man of arms, participating in March 1487 in the conquest of Vélez-Málaga and also of the fortress of Málaga city, which they conquered on 19 August of that year.

Precisely for the conquest of these Muslim territories of the Peninsula, Marciano de Hervás indicates that the Catholic Monarchs requested taxes "from the Hispano-Muslim communities residing in the episcopates of Coria and Plasencia. They had to pay the Crown of Castile extraordinary levies to help finance the war campaign against their Muslim co-religionists in the Kingdom of Granada". According to the General Archive of Simancas, there were Muslim populations in Brozas and other nearby towns such as Alcántara, Ceclavín, Valencia de Alcántara, Cáceres and Trujillo, among others.

There were also Jewish communities in these Alcantarine territories, such as Brozas, Alcántara, Valencia de Alcántara and Gata, according to the Valencian researcher Francisco Galavís Bueno in his work "Consideraciones sobre el Barrio Gótico de Valencia de Alcántara" (Considerations on the Gothic Quarter of Valencia de Alcántara), with the collaboration of the historians Bartolomé Miranda Díaz and Dionisio A. Martín.

The author makes a disquisition arguing that Antonio de Nebrija must have spent some time with Abraham Zacuto in Las Broças between January and February 1487, while Zúñiga was accompanying the kings in Andalusia. Both intellectuals would chat and discuss their grammatical and astral theories in my village, one writing part of his Dictionary there, as El Brocense would explain in his prologue to his work "Minerva", and the other perhaps trying to draw up the astral chart of his master, the Alcantarine master. The house where Antonio de Nebrija lived with all his sons is still preserved in this village in Extremadura and one has the honour of having been able to place a plaque there on the 5th centenary of his death in 1522 in Alcalá de Henares.

Antonio de Nebrija's House in Las Brozas

Some experts consider that the Jewish quarter of the town of Las Brozas was located in a neighbourhood near the temple of the Santos Mártires, bounded by the streets Mártires, Hornos, Capitán Herrera and Cuesta Manopla, which would reach the Plaza de la Encomienda, and someone even delimited the number of Sephardic Jews in this town in Extremadura.

At the Jewish congress held in Zamora, two experts, a Cuban and a Spaniard, the former in Miami and the latter in Jerusalem, studied the genealogies of the Sephardic Jews, one of whom is the famous Israeli singer David Broza, who told me that his family possessed the key to the house of Las Broças, before its expulsion to Portugal in 1492, I had the pleasure of talking to him more than 20 years ago when he was awarded the "Golden Tench", a festival that I had the honour of creating 30 years ago, dedicated to a fish from the ponds of Cáceres, and which was declared the first Festival of Gastronomic Tourist Interest by the regional government of the Junta de Extremadura.

To become a member of the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters, each municipality needs three requirements: historical justification of its Jewish past, real estate and monuments of Jewish origin that can be visited and the economic capacity to be able to manage this heritage from the point of view of tourism. The Jewish population in Spain is around 12,000.

Juan Francisco Rivero

Honorary President of the Skal of Madrid

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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