Have you ever walked through a Spanish city and noticed a small golden symbol on the ground? It’s in the shape of the Iberian Peninsula, and there are Hebrew letters engraved on its surface. I first noticed it in Cáceres on Calle Paneras and asked myself “What is that? Why is it there? And what does it mean?”
The symbol belongs to an organisation known as ‘la Red de Juderías de España’ who are dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of Spain’s historical Jewish communities. Any time you see one of these golden symbols on the floor, it means you are now entering a Jewish Quarter or a street where vast numbers of Jews used to live. The Hebrew letters on the symbol spell out the word ‘Sepharad’, which is the name that Spanish Jews gave to the Iberian Peninsula. Descendants of these Jews are to this day known as Sephardi Jews.
The Jews are believed to have arrived in Cáceres during the years of Muslim-rule (711 – 1229). Originally, they were based in the Old Jewish Quarter known as Barrio de San Antonio, an exceptionally beautiful and distinct part of Cáceres just inside the old city walls. In 1478 however, the Jews were forced to leave the area and relocate to a neighbourhood just outside the walls, which became known as the New Jewish Quarter.
The New Jewish Quarter is a small area of narrow streets between the Plaza Mayor and Plaza de la Concepción. The exact and precise limits are not known for sure, but it is certain that the main Jewish streets were Calle de la Cruz, formerly known as ‘street of the Jewish Quarter’ and Calle Paneras. On these streets, you will find the golden Sepharad symbol on the ground.
130 Jewish families lived here, approximately 650 people, which was a very large Jewish population considering that the total population of Cáceres at the time was just 8,000. The Jews who lived here worked as blacksmiths, tailors, cobblers and doctors to name a few. The New Jewish Quarter, however, was not a ghetto, as Jews could move freely throughout the city and would gather daily in the markets of the nearby Plaza Mayor.
Some of the wealthier Jews are documented to have lived on Calle Ríos Verdes and Calle Andrada, within the same vicinity. The Cohen family, who were wealthy bankers, were responsible for the building of the Palacio de los Galarza where they lived until they were forced to sell it to the noble Dávila family. The well-known Rabbi Sergas Cohen had lived here among his family. This Rabbi was an important figure in the Jewish community, responsible for many official duties.
In 1492, the Jews were forced to either convert to Christianity or leave Spain, meaning the New Jewish Quarter came to an end after 14 years. In 1520, the Renaissance style Palacio de la Isla was built on the site of the neighbourhood’s former synagogue. Much of the structure of the interior, however, remains the same. Nowadays, the building is a library and cultural centre open to the public, where inside you will find Stars of David and Hebrew inscriptions paying homage to its past.
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