Spanish Surprise

Aug 17, 2018

Spain is an outstanding destination, both from a general European cultural perspective, and also in terms of Jewish history.

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We love the country for its joie de vivre – especially Barcelona which is famous for the good life, but also Madrid which has gone through a real revival in recent years. Experiences such as Flamenco dancing lessons and Tapas tasting tours guarantee that feel good factor! Spain is also home to some of Europe’s most breathtaking cultural sites such as Granada’s Alhambra which is absolutely unmissable, and the monumental Sagrada Familia (the Gaudí Cathedral in Barcelona). Mentioning these two sites in one breath demonstrates Spain’s great richness and diversity of history as it has been home to great Islamic and Christian empires, meaning today we see very different styles of architecture and have the opportunity to learn about a variety of cultural heritages and intertwining stories.

Must see sites in Spain include Madrid with its Royal Palace (with 3418 rooms!) and the amazing Prado Art Museum which boasts the very best of Spanish art including collections from El Greco, Goya, Salvador Dali and more. Barcelona is unmissable – it is simply such a fun city, though far from lacking in culture and history, featuring the Sagrada Familia and its ancient Gothic Quarter as well as the Boquería market. Spain’s classic cultural circuit also includes cities such as Toledo, Seville, Cordoba and Granada – all of which are UNESCO sites. These cities house extraordinary architecture, often in the form of churches, mosques and synagogues, and demonstrate the interplay between Spain’s Moorish and Catholic histories. The Alhambra in Granada is perhaps the most jaw dropping of these structures – itself being a hybrid Islamic Renaissance palace.

Spain is also massively significant in terms of Jewish heritage sites – there is a huge amount to see and understand, including how the Jews fared under both Christian and Islamic rulers through the centuries. Jews have lived in Spain since the destruction of Jerusalem’s first temple (586 BCE), though the more significant influx of Jewish refugees came with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE). Spain was home to some of the world’s earliest Christian inspired antisemitism, and so, while it may seem surprising today to some, the Islamic Moorish invasion of Spain was actively welcomed by the Jewish community. Under Moorish rule, Iberia became a place of comparative tolerance and opportunities, and many Jews from across Europe and wider afield came to settle in Spain. During this ‘Golden Age’ Jews were involved in Spanish affairs at Court level, and Cordoba in particular became the global centre of Jewish learning and scholarship – home to the ‘Greats’ such as Ibn Gvirol and Yehuda Halevi. The Golden Age was followed by a return to Catholic power, and eventually to massacres, mass conversions, the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion of 1492 – a very dark period in Jewish history. In the twentieth century, the descendants of Spanish Jews living in Morocco and elsewhere were given the right to claim Spanish citizenship, and during World War Two Spain was instrumental in the rescue of some Jews from Eastern Europe. The upshot of thousands of years of Jewish history in Spain is that there is a huge amount to learn about and indeed to see, including Jewish quarters and synagogues in Toledo (near Madrid), Girona, Besalu, Seville, Cordoba, Barcelona and more.

If you are interested in exploring one or more aspects of Spain, we would love to hear from you and help design a Spanish experience which is just right for you!

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