The second biggest city in Navarre, albeit a rather small one, is all too often off the radar, dismissed and ignored by tourists passing through in favour of the larger and more well-known Pamplona. Yet those who do make the trip here will find themselves a place that is rich in history and strongly distinct from the rest of the region. That history consists of a lost and forgotten Muslim state, a Christian reconquest and a thriving Jewish community which, in particular, left its mark on Tudela and whose streets and houses can still be found in place to this day, hundreds of years after their departure.
The Jews are believed to have arrived in Tudela in the year 802 AD, which was not long after the city became the capital of the Banu Qasi Muslim state in 747 AD. Very little is known about this specific Jewish community under Muslim rule although it is assumed that they were well-tolerated as their population grew and they remained settled here for centuries, making the Jewish community of Tudela the largest and most important in the region of Navarre.
In 1119, Christians reconquered Tudela, bringing Muslim rule to an end after more than a quarter of a millennium. When the Christians arrived, the city was already inhabited by three main communities; the Muslims, the Jews and the Mozarabs who were Iberian Christians that lived under Muslim rule, were integrated into the culture and spoke Arabic. The Jewish community had their own magistrates and sets of religious rules that they were obliged to follow by Jewish community leaders. Like in the rest of Spain, they worked in many different jobs, some of which included the trading of cloth, grain and wool. Other Jews were shoemakers, gold and silver workers, and money-lenders. Many of Tudela's Jews became famous scholars with the most famous of them being Benjamin of Tudela, who wrote about his travels and the lives of Jewish communities he encountered in distant parts of the world.
The Jewish community inhabited the houses of the narrow streets in and around the Plaza de la Judería. The names of these streets are Calle San Julián, Calle Verjas, Calle La Vida, Calle Benjamin de Tudela, Calle Cortes and Calle La Parra, all streets linked together in the same small neighbourhood. It is believed that the cloister of the nearby Tudela Cathedral occupies the site of the community's main synagogue.
During Christian rule, however, a new Jewish Quarter began to emerge on Calle San Pedro, Calle Miguel and Plaza San Salvador where you can find a monument to the twinning of Tudela with the Israeli city of Tiberias. This New Jewish Quarter, nevertheless, did not replace the old one which continued to exist at the same time as its more recent counterpart.
In 1498, the Jews of Navarre were forced to convert to Christianity or leave Spain. It is believed that the majority became Christians while the rest fled, either way bringing an end to Jewish life in Tudela. Navarre's Jews, however, faced this persecution later than the rest of Spain, making the Jewish Communities of Navarre the last ones to exist.
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