Exploring the Jewish Quarter of Toledo

Exploring The Jewish Quarter Of Toledo

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Toledo, situated merely an hour’s drive from Madrid, was renowned across Europe for its vibrant intellectual and economic activities, and its illustrious history was deeply intertwined with the Jewish community. Despite facing higher taxes, Jews were granted the freedom to practice their faith during periods of Muslim and Christian rule. The city’s history exemplified religious coexistence, although it experienced some challenges along the way. Sadly, the situation deteriorated over time, leading to the expulsion or forced conversion of the Jewish population in 1492 due to increasing persecution.

Today visitors are encouraged to freely delve into the city’s rich Jewish history by exploring the charming Jewish quarters and its synagogues. Indeed, the Jewish quarter of Toledo, boasts a collection of historically significant buildings that offer a captivating glimpse into the city’s rich past. Among them are the El Tránsito Synagogue, the Synagogue of Santa María de la Blanca (formerly the Synagogue of Ibn Shushan).

Barrio Judio

During the Middle Ages, the majority of Toledo’s Jewish community resided in a district known as La Juderia, or the Jewry. In this area, they found a safe haven to work, establish families, and freely practice their religion in one of the region’s ten synagogues, free from persecution for their beliefs. Over time, much of this historically significant district has been preserved, offering visitors a glimpse into the lives of Sephardic Jews in Toledo.

A recent project has sought to honour and remember this significant past. By marking out the parameters of the former Jewish community, visitors can now identify the area where Toledo’s Jewish inhabitants once lived.

Jewish Quarter Symbol
Jewish Quarter Symbol

Installed in 2012, small blue tiles embedded in the pavement and ancient walls serve as subtle reminders of the former Jewish quarter. These markers guide visitors through the streets, creating a tangible connection to the city’s Jewish history and heritage.

The tiles show three different symbols:

  • The word “life” (Jai) written in Hebrew.
  • The symbol of the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters, reminiscent of a map of the Iberian Peninsula.
  • The symbol of the Menorah, the seven-armed candelabra.

To aid you in your journey, I’ve prepared a concise guide to exploring Toledo’s Jewish history, highlighting its main attractions for you to discover.

Should I choose a Self Guided or Guided Tour of Toledo’s Sepharad Jewish Quarter?

This guide will provide you with an overview of Toledo’s Sepharad Jewish Quarter. More personalised and informative Sepharad Jewish Quarter Walking Tours are available.

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Plaza del Salvador

Iglesia De El Salvador, Toledo
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Luis Rogelio HM

The tour commences at Plaza del Salvador, where in 1491, the “Fernando Garbal Jewish Store and Wine Cellar” once stood. This historical site serves as the starting point for an exploration into the city’s Jewish history and the vibrant heritage of the area during that era.

Location: Iglesia de El Salvador, Plaza el Salvador, Toledo, Spain
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Museo del Greco

Museo Del Greco
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Museo del Greco

Walk anticlockwise around Iglesia de El Salvador down Calle Sta. Ursula and turn first left down Calle Taler del Moro. Continue down Bajada Descalzos until you see Paseo del Tránsito on your right. As you walk into the park the Museo del Greco is on you right.

El Greco, the renowned artist, resided in Toledo after the expulsion of Jews from Spain. There are suggestions that his wife may have been a converso, meaning she had Jewish ancestry but her family had been compelled to convert to Christianity. Some believe that El Greco expressed his sympathy for the Jewish community through subtle symbolism in his art, such as incorporating vegetation in the shape of a menorah in his painting “Allegory of the Camaldolese Order” from 1599.

The house was constructed atop the remnants of Samuel Halevi’s palace, an influential figure in the city’s Jewish community. Beneath the house, the vaulted brick basements have been preserved, providing a glimpse into the grandeur and opulence that once characterized this prominent residence.

Outside the house, a statue of Samuel Halevi stands, a tribute to this notable historical figure. From this vantage point, visitors can appreciate the breath-taking views that were once enjoyed from Halevi’s home.

Location: El Greco Museum, Paseo Tránsito, s/n, 45002 Toledo, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain | Hours: 9.30am-7.30pm Tue-Sat Mar-Oct, to 6pm Nov-Feb, 10am-3pm Sun year-round | Price: adult/child €3/1.50, from 2pm Sat & all day Sun free | Website
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Tránsito Synagogue

Synagogue Of El Transito Toledo
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Antonio.velez

From the museum turn right and walk along the C. de los Reyes Católicos with the Sinagoga del Tránsito on your right.

The Tránsito Synagogue, commissioned by Samuel Levi, treasurer to King Pedro I, was constructed in 1357. It is believed to have replaced an older synagogue based on archaeological findings. In 1492, the Catholic monarchs donated it to the Calatrava military order, leading to its transformation into a priory. During the Napoleonic Wars, it served as barracks, and in 1877, it gained recognition as a national monument. Eventually, when Spain’s Jewish community was re-established, the outbuildings became the Sephardic Museum.

While the brick façade appears austere and unadorned, the interior boasts remarkable beauty, showcasing one of Spain’s finest examples of Mudejar style. The synagogue exhibits harmonious proportions, with a stunning coffered larch-wood ceiling. The women’s gallery features a separate entrance and is illuminated by five large windows. Its fame comes from the interior decoration, adorned with panels, a plaster frieze sculpted in the oriental tradition, and numerous inscriptions commemorating Samuel Levi and Pedro I. Psalms verses complement this exquisite decoration, lit by windows featuring ornamental columns and delicate mashrabiyahs.

The museum within the outbuildings displays an array of gifts and artefacts collected from all over Spain, providing visitors with an immersive journey through Spanish Jewish history. Notable exhibits include tombstones from León and the oldest object, a sarcophagus adorned with inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, decorated with royal peacocks, a tree of life, a shofar, and a menorah. Throughout the year, seminars, courses, and talks centered around Spanish Judaism themes are organized. Although no longer utilized for worship, the Tránsito Synagogue stands as a testament to Spain’s rich Jewish heritage and serves as a cherished cultural and historical site.

Location: Sephardic Museum C. Samuel Levi, 2 45002 Toledo Spain | Hours: 9.30am-7.30pm Tue-Sat Mar-Oct, to 6pm Tue-Sat Nov-Feb, 10am-3pm Sun year-round | Price: adult/child €3/1.50, after 2pm Sat & all day Sun free | Website
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Casa del Judío, Toledo

Casa Del Judío, Toledo
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Rafael Tello

From the Tránsito Synagogue turn left into C. Samuel Levi, head straight across to walk along Tr.ª Judería.

The Casa del Judío, recovered in 2009, is located at Travesía de la Judería number 4, in the heart of the Jewish quarter. It is a privately owned building whose basement has been ceded for 25 years to the Toledo Consortium.

The two spaces of greatest interest are the patio, which preserves abundant Mudejar plasterwork, and the basement, which apparently was a Jewish liturgical bath or miqva, used for spiritual purification and preparation for some important event in the life of a Jew. because, according to the Hebrew custom, on such occasions the person must wash beforehand.

In the accessory rooms, hydraulic plasters have been found with almagra that suggest the use of water both from the underlying cistern and from possible underground currents.

An element of great relevance is a piece of wood used as a lintel to access the basement, carved with floral motifs and with an inscription in Hebrew that, translated, reads:
«I give you thanks, because you have answered me»; text corresponding to verse 21 of Psalm 118:
“Here is the gate of Yahveh, through which the just enter. I give you thanks, because you have answered me, and you have been salvation for me».

The house must have been built in the 14th century and has undergone transformations in subsequent centuries.

Legend has it that this house belonged to the Jew Isaac (Ishaq) Abravanel. Born in 1437 in Lisbon, Abravanel was a Jewish theologian and businessman who was in the service of Isabel de Castilla. His grandfather, Samuel Abravanel, had been treasurer of Enrique II, Juan I and Enrique III of Castile. His father, Judah Abravanel, raised Isaac in a refined and scholarly environment. The Abravanels considered themselves descendants of King David’s lineage.

Location: Casa del Judío, Travesía Judería, c, Spain | Website
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Santa María la Blanca

Synagogue Of Santa Maria La Blanca
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Roy Lindman

As you come out of the Casa del Judío turn right and walk towards Plaza Barrio Nuevo. Coninue along C. de los Reyes Católicos. Santa María la Blanca in on your right up some steps.

The Santa María la Blanca, originally a synagogue, now serves as a Christian church. Built in the early thirteenth century, it was converted into a church in 1411 by San Vicente Ferrer, the preacher responsible for the conversions in 1391. Throughout its history, it has been repurposed as an oratory from 1600 to 1791, and later used as a barracks. In 1851, the building underwent restoration and was declared a national monument.

This Mudejar-style structure, while less ornate than the Tránsito Synagogue, still exhibits an impressive design with twenty-five horseshoe arches and thirty-two columns that create a sense of spaciousness. The building’s capitals display remarkable variety and quality, reminiscent of Andalusian mosques.

Location: Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca, Calle de los Reyes Católicos, Toledo, Spain | Hours: 1 March – 15 October 10:00 – 18:45 * 16 October – 28 February 10:00 – 17:45 * | Price: Adults €4,00, Children €3,00 | Website
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Baños del Ángel

Baños Del Angel
© Callejón del Ángel

Turn right when leaving Santa María la Blanca, and right again into Cjón. de los Jacinto. At the end walk up the steps to reach C. del Ángel and turn right again. Baños judíos del Ángel
is on your right.

Located a 2-minute walk and three streets away from the Synagogue of Santa María de la Blanca is the Baños del Ángel. One of the best-preserved bathhouses in Toledo, the Baños del Ángel assist visitors in understanding social life in the city during the Middle Ages. The baths were restored and also contain the hypocaust, a feature rarely found in other bathhouses.

Location: Baños Árabes del Ángel, Calle del Ángel, Toledo, Spain
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