Middle Ages Call Jueu

Benjami Tudela

There is not much information about Jewish presence in Barcelona during the Middle Ages. It is known that Count Ramon Borrell kept the land that had belonged to Jewish people that died during the siege of Al-Mansur in 985. The Count said that the land and the vineyards were located in an area called Mogoria that was part of Barcelona. (Feliu 2010: 49).

In the 12th century, Benjamin of Tudela, who was a traveler that came to Barcelona circa 1166, praised the mosque and highlighted the trading activities that were taking place in the city:
” [Tarragona ] is two days away from Barcelona. There is a [Jewish] community of wise and intelligent men of noble lineage like Rabbi Séseet , Rabbi Saltell, Rabii Salomon and Rabbi Abraham ben Hasday. It is a beautiful small town located by the sea, where traders from everywhere bring goods: they arrive from Greece , Pisa, Genoa , Sicily, Alexandria in Egypt , Israel and all the areas of Africa ” (Feliu 2010: i Magdalena Nom de Déu 1982).

Documents from the 11th and the 12th centuries show that Jewish people owned land, vineyards and houses (Feliu 2010: 8; Millàs 1927 : 61-67 ; Riera Udina 1978 : 21-36 ; F. Bofarull 1913 : 820-830). They owned one-third of Barcelona. During the reign of James I, Jews had power and were influential. In the 13th and the 14th centuries, the lack of money forced the kings to partner with them. The Jewish Quarter of Barcelona, the Call, was the most important cultural center of medieval Catalonia. In the 11th century, three of the most distinguished cultural figures of the entire Peninsula lived here: the poet Isaac ben Roven, the scientist Abraham bar Hiya and the Kabbalist Jafudà ben Barzilay.

Every literary genre and scientific treaties were written in the Jewish Quarter in Barcelona: Poetry, Kabbalah, philosophy and theology. It was also an important jurisprudence and legal hub thanks to Salomon ben Adret (1235-1310), a leading figure of Catalan Judaism, Talmudist and distinguished jurist. Salomon wrote thousands of verdicts on issues to be addressed for Jewish people all over Europe. Jews lived in the Call until 1391 when the riots destroyed the Jewish community.

In medieval Barcelona, there were two different Jewish quarters: the Call Major and the Call Menor. The Call Major was the first one to be founded and it was located at the northwest of the old Barcino. There were several synagogues: the Major, the Minor or Poca, the Francesos and some other synagogues built privately with royal approval. Call Major had two entry gates: one was located at the confluence of Carrer Sant Domenech with Carrer del Call;  and the other one was at the street intersection between Carrer del Call and Carrer de Sant Honorat.

During the 13th century there was a considerable demographic growth of the city. King James I erected the new medieval wall by the Rambla and he ordered and approved the creation of the Call Menor in 1257 by Royal Decree; it was the moment to expand the city. The new neighborhood was built outside the perimeter of the old Roman wall on a land leased in emphyteusis and protected by the new royal wall.

The Call Menor had a single street with gates at each end; one in Carrer Avinyó, under the castle, Castell Nou, and the other one in Carrer Rauric. The boundaries were at the streets named today Boqueria, Rauric, Lleona and Avinyó. The new Call had its own synagogue from 1263. It was located where we find today the parish of St. Jaume.