The Jewish Quarter in Cordoba is one of the largest and best preserved in Europe. There are two homes of note here, as well as a synagogue.
The Casa de Sefarad was distinctive from other homes I saw in Cordoba. It was built at the same time as the synagogue (circa 1315). The rooms here were painted in vibrant shades of blue and red, with wood planked floors rather than the more customary tile. The home was furnished with remarkable porcelains and glassware, my photos are at this link.
One of the first rooms I encountered was filled with jewelry and absolutely stunning Golden Thread textiles. Needless to say, as a textile artist, I spent most of my time in this room. I learned that Sephardic Jews introduced the production of Golden Thread from North Africa to Europe via Morocco, Turkey and the Mediterranean. Gold and silver were smelted in specialized furnaces to produce this thread, which was then spun with silk to make it pliable. Golden Thread production contributed to the social structure of single and widowed Jewish women, who were the chief creators of both the thread and the textiles it embellished. Sephardic Jews had a leading role in the production of this thread up to the 20th century.
I admired a pair of silver cloak brooches, and a metal wedding cap with coins suspended on chains, that was similar to those I saw in Bursa, Turkey. There was a display case filled with a selection of hamsa, which is a cross-cultural talisman. Muslims call them the Hand of Fatima, symbolizing the five pillars of Islam. Jewish people refer to hamsa as the Hand of Miriam, symbolizing the five books of the Torah. The hamsa were executed in several mediums, including metal piercework, enamelwork, and one that displayed a tughra (a stylized signature in Arabic calligraphy, usually indicating a sultan) on its palm.
A display case in one of the next rooms contained a beautifully crafted glass wedding chalice, and what I assumed to be a marriage certificate, written in Hebrew and intensely illuminated (the medieval scribal term for illustrated).
Mounted on a wall nearby, was a timeline showing the persecution of the Jews over the centuries, starting with the Roman inquisition of 1184, the destruction of the Jewish Quarter by fire in 1391, and the Inquisition of Cordoba in 1482. The most gut-wrenching reference was to the night of December 22, 1504, when 107 Jews were burned in a single night. By the mid-18th century, the burning of people stopped, but was replaced by the burning of books…
I turned a corner into another room and was surprised by a full size painting of Lubna, a 10th century Cordoban woman who had extensive knowledge of calculus, metrics, and math. She worked in the library of Caliph Al-Hakim II, which was considered the most important depository of knowledge at the time. She is also a doppelgänger for a friend of mine in Eugene, Oregon.
The Synagogue is located across the street. It is small, built for the family rather than as a public place of worship. It was used until the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. In 1588 it became the property of the shoemaker’s guild, who added a chapel dedicated to St. Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers.
Across the street from the synagogue is the Andalucia House, whose claim to fame is a scale model of one of the first paper making factories in the Western world. Paper was invented to China, and carried by Muslims during the 10th century to Europe via Bagdad, Sicily and Spain. I have boarded the step-by-step papermaking process on Pinterest.
The display was comprehensive, well laid out and well signed. It was pretty cool to see the entire process and the tools that were employed:
The rest of this house was pretty typical Spanish architecture, except that it was painted in a vibrant yellow. Architectural features of note included an alcove that contains a fountain; the surface of the water was carpeted with fresh chrysanthemums and roses. There was also a pair of chip-carved doors like those I had seen in the Ethnic Museum in Istanbul. I would see similar doors a few years later in Fez, Morocco.
The upstairs rooms were furnished with household goods, including beautiful ceramic wash basins, and a child-sized chair. Downstairs I found a cellar stocked with cooking implements including a bowl filled with coal, and tongs to aid in feeding the coal to a cooking stove or a brazier. I was surprised to find a well here, with a draw rope and pulley. I would find similar internal wells in other Cordoban homes later this week.
For further information about these sites in the Jewish Quarter, please click on the following links to their individual websites:
Casa de Sefarad
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Heather Daveno is from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day
and a self taught hatmaker by night. She spent most of her pandemic lockdown in 2020-2021 creating 800 masks for the Masks4Millions project.
In a normal year, her travels inspire her hats, which she handcrafts from reclaimed textiles and found objects. You can find her hats and masks for sale at August Phoenix Hats. She is currently reissuing her original journals as “Director’s Cuts” with expanded text and previously unpublished photos, which you can read for free at Daveno Travels.