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Virtual Jewish World: Seville, Spain

Seville (Sp. Sevilla) is the capital city of the Spanish province of the same name. It lies along the left bank of the Guadalquivir River in Southwest Andalusia in the land region known as the Guadalquivir Basin. The basin is a dry but extremely fertile region in the hottest part of the country. Its average yearly temperature is 18 degrees centigrade. The population of Seville is approximately 700,000 people with a minimal Jewish presence.

The mythical origins of Seville date back to the Phoenicians, who, it is said, established an ancient city with the aide of Hercules. An ancient tradition places Jews in Seville at the time of the destruction of the first Temple (586 BCE). In fact, several influential Jewish families of Seville (Abrabanel included) claim to be descendants of King David. Amazingly, there is even some speculation that Jews settled in this region as far back as the 11th century B.C.E. The source of this belief rests on the identification of Seville with the distant port of Tarshish which is mentioned in the Bible. For the king had a Tarshish fleet on the sea, along with Hiram's fleet. Once every three years, the Tarshish fleet came in, bearing gold and silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks(I Kings 10:22).

Recorded history begins with the Carthaginians in 256 BCE who occupied the city, but encountered strong resistance from the natives. In the last decade of the 3rd century the Carthaginians burned the city to the ground. When the Romans (206 B.C.E.) marched into the Guadalquivir valley, they rebuilt the city as a rest and recuperation site for their legions. As in other parts of Spain, the Visigoths (400-710) brought Christianity to Seville and the series of Church Councils played an increasingly important role in the region's culture. The presence of Jews in Seville at the time of the Visigoths is more easily verified. During the seventh century C.E., Isidore of Seville wrote anti-Jewish polemics there.

When the city was conquered by the Muslims in 712, they formed a Jewish guard for its defense; these soldiers settled in the city and its surroundings. During the Arab occupation (711), Seville emerged as the second most important city, after Cordoba, in the Ummayad Caliphate. The Jewish community of Seville was one of four major communities in Muslim Spain. Saadia b. Joseph Gaon addressed Seville Jewry in the mid-tenth century in his letter to the leading communities in Spain (Abraham ibn Daud, Sefer ha-Qabbalah, Book of Tradition, ed. by G. Cohen (1967), 79).

During the Ummayad Caliphate, Seville prospered and the Jews who lived there were engaged in commerce, medicine and the dyeing industry. The Juderia, or Jewish quarter, was in the western part of the city, in what is now the parishes of Santa Magdalena and San Lorenzo. The al-Shawwār Gate, known as the Judería Gate during the Middle Ages and later as the Meat Gate (Puerta de la Carne), was situated within the boundaries of the quarter. Seville served as a refuge for Jews escaping from Cordoba after the Berber conquest in 1013. Jewish opponents of Samuel ha-Nagid in Granada fled to Seville, its major opponent. During the 11th century the Jewish population increased as a result of the anti-Jewish riots in Granada, as well as a large influx of Jews from North Africa seeking economic improvement.

Under the Abbasid dynasty (1023–91) prominent Jews served in various capacities at court. Under the rule of Al Mutamid (1024–69), the city maintained a wealthy, picturesque and vibrant society. The wealthy scholar Isaac b. Baruch Albalia served as court astrologer and head of the Jewish community. His son, the scholar Baruch b. Isaac Albalia, uncle of the historian Abraham Ibn Daud, was born in Seville. Abraham b. Meir ibn Muhajir also served as vizier and head of the Jewish community under the Abbasid king. Important families included the Ibn al-Yatom, Ibn Kamneill, Ibn Mujahir, and the Abrabanel families.

Al Mutamid made the tragic mistake of inviting the African Almoravides into Andalusia to assist in defending Seville against the Christians from the north. The fanatic Muslim sect eventually expelled the king and took power. Under the Almoravids (11th century), Seville was a major cultural center. Abu Ayub Sulayman ibn Mu'allim of Seville served as court physician and Abu al-Hasan Abraham b. Meir ibn Kamneil as a diplomat under King Ali ibn Uūsuf (1106–43). The poets Abu Sulayman ibn Mujahir and Abul al-Fatḥ Eleazar ibn Azhar and the scholar Meir ibn Migash lived in Seville in the early 12th century.

When Seville was reconquered by the Christians (1248), the Jews welcomed them with open arms. They presented Ferdinand III with a key to the city, which has been preserved in the cathedral treasury. For a period of time, the Jewish community was revived. Though they were taxed heavily, they received real estate, and good land for farming. Those who participated in annual fairs and were granted freedom to trade and exemption from taxes. At one point, tax registers indicate that the Jewish community of Seville paid 115, 333 maravedis and 5 solidos; a staggering sum for a community of about 200 families.

A second Jewish quarter was established after the city was conquered by the Christians, which extended from the Carmona Gate, through the San Esteban, Las Aguilas, and de Abades streets, to the Cathedral, the Oil Street, and the Alcazar to the city wall. Ballesteros (see bibliography) may, however, have been correct in stating that from the Alcazar the boundary of the quarter passed through Matías Gago Street, Sole-dad, to San Nicolas and from there to Madre de Dios Street, St. Bartholomé Square, and Vidrio Street to Tintes Street, through the Rose alley. The main street of the Jewish quarter was the one that started in the Puerta de la Judería (today de la Carne) and ended at the gate that used to be in front of San Nicolás, in other words the streets that nowadays are called Santa María la Blanca and San José. The busiest part of the quarter was the square that is today called plaza de Santa María la Blanca. Important localities and streets in the Jewish quarter were the Cruces street and the streets of the Levíes and Archeros, where the original doors of the synagogue (now Santa María la Blanca) were and are still preserved but not used.

Santa María la Blanca had been a mosque before it was given by Alfonso X in 1252 to the Jews to use as synagogue together with other two mosques. In 1391, this synagogue was converted into the present church. In the Santa Cruz place there was a synagogue, also formerly a mosque, which was converted into a church in 1391. Before its destruction by the French in 1810, it occupied a large part of the Santa Cruz place. The third mosque that was turned into a synagogue used to be where San Bartolomé church stands.

Gradually, as the reconquest succeeded, and the Christians no longer needed money, or help from the Jews, live became increasingly more difficult. An important turning point came with the anti-Jewish activities of archdeacon Martinez, who was the confessor to the child king's mother. Though he was repeatedly ordered to stop his diatribes, Martinez succeeded in arousing passionate hatred among the masses. In 1391, disaster struck in Seville. The entire Jewish community was nearly destroyed and the synagogues were converted to churches. In 1481, Seville became the first site for an Inquisition Tribunal, which sat in Triana castle, after a brief period in the Dominican monastery of San Pablo. The once vibrant community never recovered and along with the other Jews of Andalusia, they were exiled in 1483.

In Susona street, according to legend, lived Susona, who was connected with the plot of the Conversos against the Inquisition. At the time of the expulsion of the Jews, the quarter was surrounded by a wall which ran as far as San Esteban. The inner wall had two gates. There were many synagogues in the quarter, including one erected by Samuel b. Meir ha-Levi Abulafia of Toledo during the 14th century. The archdeacon of Ecija, Ferrant Martínez, enumerated 23 synagogues in Seville during the second half of the 14th century, and related that he destroyed them. The origin of such a large number is unknown; he may have included the yeshivot in this number. Some of the synagogues were converted into churches: Santa María la Blanca is particularly well known. After the quarter ceased to exist, it was named New Quarter (Barrionuevo) but its remains may still be seen in the Santa Cruz quarter. The Jewish cemetery of Seville was near the Puerta de la Carne, formerly de la Judería, in the Bujaira, where the Colegio de Potacoeli now stands. 


Baer, Spain, index; Baer, Urkunden, index; A. Ballesteros, Sevilla en siglo XIII (1913); J. González, Repartimiento de Sevilla, 2 vols. (1951); Cantera-Millás, Inscripciones, index; B. Eloy Ruano, in: Hispania, 85 (1962), 23–37; Suárez Fernández, Documentos, index; H.C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, 1 (1906), 160ff.; 4 (1906), index; B. Llorca, in: Sefarad, 2 (1942), 118ff.; F. Cantera, ibid., 4 (1944), 295–349; B. Llorca, Bulario Pontificio de la Inquisición (1949), 48–67. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. de Mata Carriazo, in: Homenaje a don Ramón Carande, vol. 2 (1963), 95–112; J.V. Baruque, in: Historia, Instituciones, Documentos, 1 (1974), 221–38; A. Collantes de Terán Sánchez, in: Historia, Instituciones, Documentos, 3 (1976), 167–85; K. Wagner, Regesto de documentos del Archivo de Protocolos de Sevilla referents a judíos y moros (1978); A. Domínguez Ortíz, in: Nueva revista de filología hispánica 30 (1981), 609–16; A. Herrera García, in: Sefarad, 41 (1981), 95–110; I. Montes Romero-Camacho, in: La sociedad medieval andaluza; grupos no privilegiados. Actas del III Coloquio de historia medieval andaluza (1984), 57–75; idem, in: La ciudad hispánica durante los sig;os XIII al XVI; Actas del coloquio, 1 (1985–87), 343–65; idem, Andalucía entre oriente y occidente (1261492). Actas del V Coloquio internacional de historia medieval de Andalucía (1988), 551–68; R. Sánchez Saus, in: En la España medieval, V, Estudios en memoria del Profesor D. Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, 2 (1986), 1119–39; F. Fernández Gómez and A. de la Hoz Gándara, in: I Congreso de Arqueología Medieval Española. Actas, 4 (1986), 49–72; J.A. Ollero Pina, in: Hispania Sacra, 40 (1988), 45–105; F.J. Lobera Serrano, in: Cultura neolatina, 49 (1989), 7–53.

Sources: This material was originally published in Sparks! - an e-zine for Jewish families and Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.