Across Andalucia: The Jewish Quarter Part I – The Director’s Cut

My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To celebrate, I’m reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text as well as larger and additional photos. 

My travels have taken me from Venice to Florence, Genoa, and Istanbul. In 2012 it brought me to Andalucia, in search of the remnants of medieval Spain when it was under Moorish rule, and the Jewish Quarter in Cordoba.

I leave the Mezquita and admire the palms, as they filter shade onto the hard-packed clay that paves the public spaces here. I am off to the Jewish Quarter, one of the best preserved and largest urban Jewrys in Europe. There are two homes of note here, across the street from each other, as well as the Synagogue.

The first home is Casa de Sefarad. The first room of this house is filled with absolutely stunning metal worked textiles as well as jewelry and household objects. I have included a few more detail shots at August Phoenix Hats.

Sephardic Jews introduced the production of Golden Thread, from North Africa to Europe via Morocco, Turkey and the Mediterranean. Gold and silver were smelted in specialized furnaces to produce this thread, which was then spun with silk to make it pliable. Golden Thread production contributed to the social structure of single and widowed Jewish women, who were the chief creators of both the thread and the textiles it embellished. Sephardic Jews had a leading role in the production of this thread up to the 20th century.

I admire cases of jewelry, including a pair of silver cloak brooches that are at least 4″ long, and a metal wedding cap (lower right) similar to those I saw in Bursa, Turkey.

A selection of Hamsa, which was a cross-cultural piece. Muslims call it the Hand of Fatima, symbolizing the five pillars of Islam. Jewish people call it the Hand of Miriam, symbolizing the five books of the Torah. There are several mediums represented here, including metal piercework, enamelwork, and one piece that displayed a Sultan’s tughra (calligraphed Arabic signature) on its palm.

Hands of Fatima (Muslim) / Hands of Miriam (Jewish)

The Casa de Sefarad was very distinctive from other homes I saw in Cordoba. It was built at the same time as the synagogue across the street (circa 1315). The rooms here are painted in vibrant shades of blue and red, with wood planked floors rather than tile. There is carved detailing in unexpected places, like the ceiling corner supports shown at lower right.

The home was furnished with remarkable porcelains and glassware, much of which I was unable to photograph successfully due to the low light levels.

I turned a corner and ran smack dab into a life-size portrait of Lubna, a 10th century Cordoban woman with extensive knowledge of calculus, metrics and math. She worked in the library of Caliph Al-Hakim II, the most important collection of knowledge at the time. It was also a rare place for a woman to work at the time.

I was stunned to find a doppelgänger in Spain for a friend of mine, whom many know as Kate O’Guinn.

Across the narrow street is a synagogue, built in 1315, at about the same time as the house. Its small size indicates that it was a private space, built for the family. It was used until the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. In 1588 it was the property of the shoemaker’s guild, who added a chapel dedicated to St. Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers.

There is a timeline here showing the persecution of the Jews over the centuries, starting with the Roman inquisition of 1184, the destruction of the Jewish Quarter by fire in 1391, and the Inquisition of Cordoba in 1482. The most wrenching reference is to the night of December 22, 1504, when 107 Jews were burned in a single night. By the mid-18th century, the burning of people stopped, but was replaced by the burning of books…

Across the street is Andalucia House, whose claim to fame is a scale model of one of the first paper making factories in the Western world. I will cover that in a separate post.

To learn more about the Jewish Quarter, visit this website.

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