Cover picture credits © artisteer
Cover picture credits © artisteer

Hervás and the Jewish Quarter that survived

3 minutes to read

Hervás is the only place I’ve been to in Spain and seen the words “Hebrew is spoken here” on the front of a shop. Out of all the places I’ve visited in this country, it is by far the one which is most proud of its Jewish history and seems to make every effort to promote and preserve it. But its Jewish history is different to that of other places across Spain. Hervás was not simply another place where Jewish communities had settled and worked. Rather, it was a place of refuge for Jews who were escaping from the ongoing persecution that was taking place throughout the rest of the country centuries ago.

© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Overlooking the Jewish Quarter of Hervás and the mountains)

It all started with a hermitage

Hervás was founded by the Knights Templar who arrived here in 12th century and built a hermitage by the river. Others soon decided to settle here, drawn to the location by this place of worship, and the town of Hervás soon came to be. The original hermitage no longer stands but it is believed to have stood on the site of the Iglesia de Santa María de Aguas Vivas, the 17th century church situated on a hill in the heart of the old town.

© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Iglesia de Santa Maríá de Aguas Vivas towering over the Jewish Quarter)

Arrival of the Jews

The arrival of Jews in Hervás began in 1361. Jewish families first came here to escape from persecution and as the persecution of Jews grew bigger in Spain, so did the Jewish community of Hervás. By 1450, there were 45 Jewish families living in Hervás. This included weavers, doctors, tax collectors, merchants and a rabbi, some of which owned nearby vineyards and public buildings. The Duke of Hervás welcomed Jews to the town and aided their arrival. This was a rare gesture at the time because in other parts of Spain, Jews were being forced to live in segregated communities such as the New Jewish Quarter of Cáceres after being forced out of the Old Jewish Quarter. In 1492 however, the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave Spain. Many converted while some fled to nearby Portugal.

© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Local people selling fruit on Calle Rabilero)

Survival of the Jewish Quarter

The houses in the Jewish Quarter of Hervás were built by those Jews who arrived in the 1300s and 1400s using local materials, which is why this part of town looks so distinct from elsewhere. The fact that this neighbourhood is so unchanged, being arguably the most well-preserved Jewish Quarter in Spain, is one reason to say the Jewish Quarter has indeed survived. The other is that in recent years, much effort has been made to resurrect the town’s Jewish past and as a result, Jewish symbolism is omnipresent. Some Sephardic Jews, descendants of those who were expelled, have even returned to the town and opened up shops, such as the local Jewish bakery.

© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Flower baskets on centuries-old houses)

Streets to visit in the Jewish Quarter

Calle Sinagoga – Here the cobblestones on the ground are so old that they date back to the original pavement of the 1300s.

Calle Rabilero – A narrow street of whitewashed houses and hanging flower baskets. The former synagogue was here at number 19, which is now a house beside a basket shop.

Travesía del Moral – This is officially the narrowest street in Spain at roughly 50 cm wide.

Puente de la Fuente Chiquita – A stone bridge built in 1395, linking the Jewish Quarter to the other side of the River Ambroz.

Calle de la Amistad Judeocristiano - Here you’ll find Stars of David and more Jewish symbolism on the street that pays homage to Judeo-Christian friendship.

© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Calle de la Amistad Judeocristiano)

"I would advise anyone staying in Extremadura to visit Hervás. You will struggle to find a town more beautiful."

The author

Adam L. Maloney

Adam L. Maloney

Adam is a Londoner who travelled to over 20 European countries and lived in both Portugal and Spain for several years. Adam is a fan of exploring intriguing neighbourhoods and meeting locals.

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