Ancient synagogue turned into hospital, church and bar discovered in Spain
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Archaeologists working in southwestern Spain have excavated a 14th-century Sephardic synagogue, unearthing a completely intact floor plan, including the women's section and ritual baths.
The synagogue complex in Utrera, in the province of Seville, is considered one of the largest ever found in the Iberian Peninsula of the Middle Ages, comparable to the historical synagogues in Toledo, Cordoba and Segovia. It is known that only a few synagogues have survived to this day after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.
The building has been used for many purposes over the centuries: as a hospital in the 17th century, a Catholic chapel, an orphanage, and most recently in the 20th century as a school, restaurant and cocktail bar. But a 1604 reference by a historian named Rodrigo Caro suggests that it was once a synagogue.
Excavations have confirmed this. According to archaeologist Miguel Angel de Dios, the synagogue is well preserved. The prayer hall has been identified, and since its plan is intact, it is possible that the original area and shape can be restored.
The synagogue was “a unique, unusual place and a gathering place for the emotional and cultural heritage of the people of Utrera,” Mayor José María Villalobos said during a press conference at the excavation site on Tuesday. city to look into the Jewish history of Utrera and the Sephardic diaspora.
“Until now, there were only four such buildings in all of Spain – two in Toledo, one in Segovia and one in Cordoba,” said Villalobos. – This is an impressive synagogue that has been a part of Utrera and part of the life of its inhabitants for 700 years. This building was built in the 1300s and has survived into the 21st century.”
The Jewish community provided “considerable support” according to him. during the excavations, which began in November 2021.
Work on the restoration of the excavated object will continue. The Utrera City Council intends to open it to the public soon, in line with a trend among Spanish cities to invest in restoring or reopening Jewish heritage sites to attract Jewish tourists, especially from the US and Israel. (Barcelona launched two similar initiatives last year, although its mayor's decision this week to sever ties with Tel Aviv could play against them.)
Villalobas told the Jewish Telegraph Agency last year that the opening of the synagogue "will put our city on the world map, along with cities like Seville. This would be a powerful attraction for Utrera as a major tourist destination.”
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