Across Andalucia: The Jewish Quarter Part II – 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 to the Jewish Quarter in Cordoba.

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. I had just visited the first – Casa de Sefarad, where I learned about Golden Thread Work. The second home was the Andalucia House, where I would learn about papermaking.

The Andalucia House displays a scale model of one of the first paper making presses in the Western World. Paper was invented to China, and carried by Muslims to Europe via Baghdad, Sicily and Spain during the 10th century. The series of photos below shows the paper making process.

First, a wheel shaped water driven mortar was used to crush rags (which had been collected in a basket just off screen). Traditional stone mortars were used as well to crush the rags into the pulp that would become rag paper.

Next, a paper mold, called a deckle, is a screen which is dipped in a vat of paper pulp, then pulled out and left to drain. A single piece of paper is formed on the deckle, although an expert can produce sheets of paper pretty quickly by using multiple deckles. Next, the paper sheets are put into a press to further extract water from the newly pulled paper. After this stage, the paper sheets are hung to dry. The horsehair brush shown at the front of the press was used to apply sizing to the paper, usually rice or wheat starch. Finally, a metal burnisher was rolled over the dried and sized paper to smooth its surface.

The display also included a porcelain ink well in the shape of a building, and another ceramic which held a selection of scribal tools (sharpened bamboo instead of quills. At the end of the display were a couple of finished documents that had been hand calligraphed, including the one shown here in Hebrew.

Beyond the display, you enter the home itself. An alcove in the entryway featured a fountain, the surface of the water was covered with a carpet of fresh flowers, mostly chrysanthemums and roses. I was pretty well smitten by the chandelier in the stairwell.

A pair of carved doors reminded me of those I had seen in the Pasa Palace which houses the Ethnic Museum in Istanbul. I would see similar doors a few years later in Fez, Morocco.

There was a display of household goods upstairs (lower left), next to a child-sized chair. The goods shown at center were in the cellar. The bowl with tongs was filled with coal, possibly to fuel a cooking stove or brazier. The stairs at lower right led to the well – an indoor water source. I wondered if it was an architectural holdover from the days of siege-warfare, where you would want to protect your resources if you were under attack. It was definitely more convenient than carrying water from a community well…

I wrap up my tour of the Jewish Quarter in time for lunch. Today’s attempt at ordering tapas and a mojito are ‘corrected’ by the waiter who insists that I should more properly order a crab salad and a glass of white wine. Apparently I was trying to order bar food, as well as offending sensibilities by trying to defy the meal choices appropriate for a gentlewoman. The salad comes with a small loaf of bread, packaged in crinkly, soda-cracker style cellophane. There is so much pre-packaged food here.

I take a seat at a window table, and eat my delicate meal with American rock from the ’50’s filling the background, watching people and looking forward to my next grand house – the Alcazar.

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