Granada is the Andalusia of people’s imagination, with its hills, white stucco buildings, flamenco, tea houses, and the Alhambra. It’s no surprise really that its Moorish influenced culture is still so strong, as Granada remained Muslim far longer than any other place in Spain – all the way up until 1492.
What Granada’s lengthy Muslim kingdom also means is that there isn’t anything tangible remaining from Granada’s Jewish history. While Jews returned to most of Andalusia following the Reconquista in 1248, as Granada remained Muslim, they were never able to return to there following the 1148 Almohad invasion which forced them out in the first place. Alas, even the remarkable Alhambra was only built after Jews no longer lived in the kingdom. However, this lack of Jewish presence hasn’t stopped not one, but two, Jewish related museums from opening their doors in this enchanting city!
The newest is called the ‘Palace of the Forgotten’ and it is located in the moorish Albacin neighbourhood. The museum begins with a focus on the Inquisition’s methods of torture. On the upper floor the museum finally presents a bit about Judaism, and then about the history of the Inquisition in Granada. As Granada hadn’t been Jewish or Christian for hundreds of years, there weren’t any conversos there when the Inquisition was first established elsewhere in Spain. However by the 1530s some conversos had relocated to the area, not to mention the local presence of a large forcibly converted Muslim population (Moriscos). Therefore, a tribunal was finally established in Granada too. The museum includes an Inquisitor’s desk and chair, which to me is the most interesting artefact in their collection.
The other museum is run by a Jewish couple, and it nicely compliments the more recent museum. The ‘Centro de la Memoria Sefardi’ preserves the memory of Granada’s actual Jewish history, from the time of the Taifas. In 1031 the Iberian Muslim caliphate broke apart, and many smaller Moorish kingdoms were established. One of them was Granada. With Granada now the capital of its own kingdom, its Jewish community grew. Amazingly, a Jew – Shemuel Hanagid, became its vizier and military commander.
Appropriately, the museum is located in the Realejo neighbourhood, the area of the former Jewish community. In fact, at the entrance to the area there is a statue celebrating one of Granada’s medieval Jewish celebrities, Yehuda ibn Tibbon. Ironically, he had to flee Granada in 1148, however, he successfully made his way to Provence. There, he and his descendants played an important role in translating many Jewish Arabic texts into Hebrew so that Jews could continue to study them. This helped to reintroduce Greek learning back into Christian Europe following their ‘Dark Ages.’
The last important Granada connection to Jewish history relates to the end of Spanish Jewry, the Expulsion. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella captured Granada in 1492. That finally completed the Christian reconquest of Spain that began shortly after its fall in 711. This achievement seems to have inspired their religious zealotry and played a role in their determination to ‘purify’ Spain of all non-Christians. The Edict of Expulsion is also called the Alhambra Decree. So important was Granada to the monarchy, that they are laid to rest next to the city’s Cathedral.
However, when one door closes, another opens. An impressive monument also celebrates Isabella’s charter to Columbus to sail west, as it was in Granada that she gave her blessing to him. Conversos and Jews would eventually follow in his wake.
Despite Ferdinand and Isabella’s impressive achievements, I found it disappointing that there are no public memorials to their cruel treatment of Jews, Conversos, and Muslims. Perhaps that is why the new Jewish museum is called ‘los Olvidados,’ ‘The Forgotten.’