Jewish Heritage in Spain and Portugal

Barcelona (E)

Synagogue, Barcelona, Spain

Strategically located on the Mediterranean coast, the capital of Catalonia has been a major center for commerce since it was colonized by the Romans in 15 B.C.E. 

Barcelona is an important European center of culture in all its manifestations, but perhaps it is most well-known for its architecture. From its 14th-Century Gothic Quarter to its late 19th-Century “Modernista” buildings designed by Gaudí, the city will impress you at every turn. 

Archaeological findings point to evidence of a Jewish community in Catalonia as early as Roman times, though the first document referring to Jews in Barcelona itself is from the 10th Century.  By the 14th Century, the city was a vibrant multicultural mix of Jews, Christians, Arab traders, and immigrants from all over the Mediterranean.

During the pogroms of 1391 the Jewish population of Barcelona was massacred or forced to convert; the few who managed to escape left the city for other parts of Spain or North Africa.  So the Jewish community of Barcelona ceased to exist a hundred years before the expulsion.

At the beginning of the 20th century a few Jewish peddlers from Morocco and Turkey settled in Barcelona.  Others arrived from Poland during World War I, followed by immigrants from North Africa and artisans from Eastern Europe.  In 1931 the government of the recently instituted Spanish Republic announced its willingness to encourage settlement of Sephardic Jews on its territory, and Jews from Turkey, Greece, and other Balkan countries migrated to Barcelona.  By 1935 there were more than 5,000 Jews living in Barcelona.

After the Spanish Civil War Roman Catholicism became the official religion in Spain, and the only one that was permitted.  The small Jewish community was forced to practice their faith clandestinely until 1968, when freedom of religion was restored.  At present, there are several Jewish communities in Barcelona, with services offered by the Orthodox Comunidad Israelita de Barcelona and ATID (Reform).


Jewish Barcelona: