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Virtual Jewish World: Seville, Spain

Seville is the capital city of the Province of the same name. It lies along the left bank of the Guadalquivir River in Southwest Andalusia in the land region known as the Guadalquivir Basin. The Basin is a dry but extremely fertile region in the hottest part of the country. Its average yearly temperature is 18 degrees centigrade. Population of Seville is approximately 700,000 people with a minimal Jewish presence.

The mythical origins of Seville date back to the Phoenicians, who, it is said, established an ancient city with the aide of Hercules. Recorded history begins with the Carthaginians in 256 BCE who occupied the city, but encountered strong resistance from the natives. In the last decade of the 3rd century the Carthaginians burned the city to the ground. When the Romans (206 B.C.E.) marched into the Guadalquivir valley, they rebuilt the city as a rest and recuperation site for their legions. As in other parts of Spain, the Visigoths (400-710) brought Christianity to Seville and the series of Church Councils played an increasingly important role in the region's culture. During the Arab occupation (711), Seville emerged as the second most important city, after Cordoba, in the Ummayad Caliphate. When Cordoba fell to the Berbers in 1031, Seville's stature increased. Under the rule of Al Mutamid, the city maintained a wealthy, picturesque and vibrant society.Al Mutamid, however, made the tragic mistake of inviting the African Almoravides into Andalusia to assist in defending Seville against the Christians from the north. The fanatic Muslim sect eventually expelled the king and took power. During the Reconquest, Seville fell to the Castilian navy (1248) and many Muslims fled, leaving the city to be repopulated by Castilians. Seville became the first site for an Inquisition Tribunal in 1481, and it is where Columbus landed upon his return from the new world.

An ancient tradition places Jews in Seville at the time of the destruction of the first Temple (586 BCE). In fact, several influential Jewish families of Seville (Abrabanel included) claim to be descendants of King David. Amazingly, there is even some speculation that Jews settled in this region as far back as the 11th century B.C.E. The source of this belief rests on the identification of Seville with the distant port of Tarshish which is mentioned in the Bible. "For the king had a Tarshish fleet on the sea, along with Hiram's fleet. Once every three years, the Tarshish fleet came in, bearing gold and silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks."(I Kings 10:22) The presence of Jews in Seville at the time of the Visigoths is more easily verified. Anti-Jewish polemics by Isidore, the archbishop of Seville, are part of the historical record. Another historical source describes a Jewish guard, assembled by the Moors in 712, and charged with defending the city.

During the Ummayad Caliphate, Seville prospered and the Jews who lived there were engaged in commerce, medicine and the dyeing industry. The Juderia was in the western part of the city, in what is now the parishes of Santa Magdalena and San Lorenzo. Later, after the Berber invasion (1013), Seville served as a refuge for Jews who were fleeing persecution. Under the Almoravides, the Jewish community in Seville prospered, but as in other parts of Andalusia, the Almohade conquest brought death and destruction. When Seville was reconquered by the Christians (1248), the Jews welcomed them with open arms. They presented Ferdinand III with a key to the city, which has been preserved in the cathedral treasury. For a period of time, the Jewish community was revived. Though they were taxed heavily, they received real estate, and good land for farming. Those who participated in annual fairs and were granted freedom to trade and exemption from taxes. At one point, tax registers indicate that the Jewish community of Seville paid 115, 333 maravedis and 5 solidos; a staggering sum for a community of about 200 families. Gradually, as the reconquest succeeded, and the Christians no longer needed money, or help from the Jews, live became increasingly more difficult. An important turning point came with the anti-Jewish activities of archdeacon Martinez, who was the confessor to the child king's mother. Though he was repeatedly ordered to stop his diatribes, Martinez succeeded in arousing passionate hatred among the masses. In 1391, disaster struck in Seville. The entire Jewish community was nearly destroyed and the synagogues were converted to churches. The once vibrant community never recovered and along with the other Jews of Andalusia, they were exiled in 1483.

Sources: This material was originally published in Sparks! - an e-zine for Jewish families.