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Believed to be one of the oldest synagogues in Europe, the ancient synagogue of Barcelona is located in the oldest part of the city known today as the Gothic Quarter. The building re-opened to the public as a synagogue and museum in 2002 and is still used on occasion for certain festivities. Here’s a brief historical insight into this beloved monument.
The original foundations of the synagogue are believed to date back to the third or fourth century, although what purpose they served at the time is unclear. The first documented existence of Jewish communities in Barcelona dates to the 11th century, but it is believed that there had been Jewish families living in the area for a while before that. The Jewish areas in Barcelona were known as the ‘Call,‘ from the Hebrew קָהָל (Qahal), meaning ‘community.’ For a while, Christians and Jews lived side by side in peace, the Jewish community having its own institutions and replying directly to the King, from whom they received protection. However, the antisemitism that was growing throughout Europe at the time did not spare the city of Barcelona, and in 1391, the people of Barcelona revolted against the local Jewish community during what is now known as the ‘Pogrom of 1391.’ During this episode, hundreds of Jews were murdered or forced to renounce their faith and covert to Christianity.
Following the attack, many of the Jewish quarters were occupied by Christians, and it is believed that the synagogue (if, indeed, it was the main synagogue of the time) was claimed by the local Christian community as a place of worship to Saint Dominic. After that, the building’s history is largely unknown, and it undoubtedly served a variety of purposes throughout the following centuries. It was not until 1987 when an Argentine businessman bought the building and noticed that it could, in fact, be the ancient synagogue that historians knew had existed somewhere in Barcelona. Soon after, excavation work revealed the original foundations of the synagogue, and in 2002, it opened to the public. In 2006, an American attorney donated an ancient Torah scroll worth an approximate $30,000.