July 31: the Alhambra Decree

2012/07/31 § Leave a comment

By this day in 1492 all Jews were ordered to leave Spain.

The expulsion was the result of the Alhambra Decree issued by Ferdinand and Isabella, the great Reyes Católicos.  It was the final act of the Reconquista, the cherry that garnished their overthrow of Boabdil in Granada, ending Muslim rule in Europe.  Before their conquest, Christians, Jews and Muslims had lived together in brilliant political, scientific and cultural centers like Cordoba.  The concept of the Catholic monarchs “recapturing” the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims nad Jews who had lived there for centuries might have been funny for them (not to mention the Prehistoric Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, Romans and even some of the Visigoths who got there earlier) had it not been for their livelihoods taken away, their homes destroyed, their families scattered at the hands of these godly royals.

Where once thousands of synagogues stood throughout Spain, a handful now survive, and only those that were altered for other uses.  This adaptation is especially clear in a place like the Synagogue of El Transito in Toledo.  Built in 1336, the synagogue was turned to use as a church in 1492. Its plan was easily adaptable; its ornament, which spoke to the aesthetic sensibilities of fifteenth-century Iberians who did not judge the formal quality of art differently because they worshiped differently, perfectly acceptable to its new owners.  The building’s carved stucco shows all the richness of the Nasrid period, the jewel of which is the Alhambra, where Ferdinand and Isabella were equally happy to reside.

The synagogue is now a museum to the Sephardi Jews–those who lived in Spain prior to the expulsion. The expulsion itself lasted 476 years; it was revoked only in 16 December 1968.

Image: interior (from this source)

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