December 20, 2006

Barcelona restoring Jewish quarter

Barcelona is restoring its old Jewish quarter, but the local Jewish community says it’s being shut out of the process. In the Middle Ages, Barcelona’s Jewish community of 4,000 people played an integral role in the city. Acting as a bridge to immigrants from throughout the Mediterranean, the local Jews spoke Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Catalan, Latin and Arabic.

But in 1391, anti-Jewish riots moved up the Iberian Peninsula. A large number of Barcelona’s Jews were forced out, killed or converted. Six hundred years later, the city is in the process of restoring its old Jewish quarter, known as the Call, renovating 21 buildings and creating an interpretive center. Similar projects have been carried out in other Spanish cities such as nearby Gerona, where Jewish life also flourished.

These programs are part of a government initiative to restore ancient Jewish neighborhoods throughout the country and present them as tourist attractions.

What distinguishes the Barcelona initiative is the presence there of a modern Jewish community numbering about 5,000. Representatives of the city’s Orthodox, Reform and Chabad communities say they are being ignored in the initiative.

Adding to the community’s resentment has been theissue of Montjuic, or “Mountain of the Jews,” in Catalan. Known for its massive sports stadium, which hosted the 1992 Olympic Games, Montjuic also is the location of one of the oldest and largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe, which was used from the ninth to the 14th centuries.

In 2001, more than 500 tombs were discovered during construction on the mountain, but still there are no monuments commemorating its historic importance. A meeting in late November between urban planners andcommunity members addressed Jewish concerns about construction plans that would affect the area where the cemetery lies. Community members at the meeting said some progress had been made in terms of protecting the site and eventually placing a monument there.

Keyword: Archaeology