Wandering Jew
The Jews of Spain: Back to Barcelona — A Bit Basic, and Lacking in Sites

The Jews of Spain: Back to Barcelona — A Bit Basic, and Lacking in Sites

Barcelona once had a population that was 10% Jewish, but today, it’s hard to find much Jewish history left

It was one fast, winding year ago right now that I was schlepping my oversized suitcase and some Arabic and Burber wares across Morocco before boarding a plane for cooler climes: Amsterdam, then off to Barcelona for a quick 2-night jaunt.

For a brief summer, Barcelona was home. I still find it wild that I lived there briefly and in fact, today marks 6 years since my arrival. But there’s a reason I left: it’s not my favorite place—overhyped, monochromatic, and the food isn’t typically very good. You go to different places in Spain and get a bit more color and flavor, not to mention culture. Like many spots that were once more affordable and accessible, it’s overstuffed and oversaturated, and while costs increase, quality inverses.

There’s a strangeness to Barcelona and I’m unsure if it’s particular to the city only or to Spain as a whole, but everything outside is the same color: the street, the sidewalk, the buildings are all hues of beige and sand, and every block is the same shape. I get lost and never really figured out my way around. Go to Granada: pops of color! The blocks are irregular, which is confusing at first in a city grid but quickly helps you mark distance. “The tiny block that’s a triangle”, much easier to navigate! Barcelona largely serves colors indoors. Even La Sagrada Familia with Gaudi’s towers—and utterly random fruits and vegetables perched atop them— is beige; to see its amazing technicolor you have to pay and go inside.

But I wanted to revisit BCN: it was 5 years since I’d left and I had once spent so much time there! It has a familiarity, a safety to it. So I stayed near the Ramblas, the super-touristy area where there’d been a terrorist attack while I was still living there, adjacent to the Gothic quarter. What was I saying about safety in the familiar?

I meandered through some of the maze-like back alleys, a medieval sort of sandstone, serpentine tourist trap with overpriced sneakers and plastic crap from Asia. Google had informed me of an ancient synagogue site there, and having not been aware of it or my Jewishness in 2017, I was keen to find it.

And I sorta did? There’s nothing there except a sad little plaque: Here once was the synagogue in the Jewish quarter, long since destroyed and replaced with a tapas joint or overpriced boutique hotel. Or so I thought for a solid year.

Upon revisiting digitally, it appears it was just closed for renovations while I was there. Horrible timing. It’s one of the oldest surviving synagogues in Europe with the original Roman floor. There were no photos or website on Google when I last checked, so I clearly should’ve looked up a tour: https://www.sinagogamayor.com/

Marker for the former Jewish Quarter

Spain, and Barcelona in particular, of course, has a nasty history with the Jews after centuries of allowing us to thrive. At one point, Jews were 10% of the Barcelona population.

Some say the Spanish obsession with pork in many of its meals is a direct “Eff You” to the Jews, the product of disputations like this one. Whatever that origin, don’t eat the pork unless you want, and do yourself a favor and eat outside the tourist zones, like this fine rabbit paella I enjoyed, ironically, one Easter.


Barcelona Trip Highlights:

  • Amazing sunset light!
  • A gorgeous Airbnb with some older guests from Germany
  • Finally seeing the Palace of Music / Palau de la Musica with its incredible details and unique stained glass droplet overhead, and sitting in the audience while string players warmed up
  • Seeing some of my old favorite shops in El Raval and seeing what all had closed and changed
  • Realizing an English friend, Marcus, still lived there and connecting

Things I missed and will return for:

Palau Musica; again all the colors of BCN are indoors, except at sunset! 🌅
  • To tour the ancient synagogue now that it’s reopened
  • See the discovered Jewish cemetery at Montjuic, which I’ve visited before and only now know means “Jewish Mountain”!

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