The careful monitoring of the tracks of the Jews in Jaén, having settled this place for almost twelve centuries, allows today´s traveller the time to get into the very secret heart of the city where legends are born which are far more revealing of their deep spirit. Outside the strict limits of the traditional Jewish quarter, the Gothic frieze of the cathedral, the Arab baths of Villardompardo or the former Dominican convent where the Inquisition had its headquarters allow the panorama to be completed of a Jewish Jaén which lasted virtually until the 18th century, well after the expulsion of the Jews from Al-Andalus in 1483.

circa 800
Arab baths of Villardompardo palace

Villardompardo Palace

Also known as plaza del Pato (Duck square) because of the swan adorning the fountain situated here, here is the splendid Villardompardo palace whose inners conserve one of the greatest treasures of Jaén: its wonderful Arab baths from the 11th century.

The palace, which belonged to Fernando Torres de Portugal, the viceroy of Peru, and count of Villardompardo, is a huge Renaissance building which symbolises Jaén´s position as regards the conquest of America and, at present, it is a spacious cultural complex includes not only the baths and outbuildings of the palace itself but also the Museum of Popular Arts and Customs and the Naïf International Art Museum.

The recovery of the Arab baths, which won the award Europa Nostra for restoration in 1984, allowed the discovery of the outbuildings of the old baths of Alí which, along with the aforementioned Naranjo and Ibn Ishaq, formed part of a group of four mentioned in the chronicles of Al-Himyari, all dependent on the flow from the Magdalena fountain. The Alí baths, bearing the name of the Moslem King who had them built in the 11th century, served this purpose until 1246 when Fernando III the Saint conquered the city for the Christians. From this point on, its rooms were used to tan and dyehides until the late 16th century when the viceroy don Fernando had them filled with earth and debris to erect his palace on them.

The baths were rediscovered partly by Enrique Romero de Torres who in 1913 was committed to drawing up the monumental catalogue of Jaén.

Whilst visiting the baths you can pass through its various constituent spaces: the hallway, formed by a large 14 metre wide room covered by a vault with 18 lucernas in star shape, the square-shaped warm room and the hot room which is almost 16 metres long situated alongside the boilers and also covered by stars, allowing the sunlight to form an environment rife with magic inside the baths which were used both by Moslems as well as by Jews and Christians, by men and by women in alternate timetables. All going to make up a display of wisdom and good living.

circa 900
Hammam ibn Isaac, Isaac Baths

View of the archaeological excavation where it is believed the baths of Isaac were located

The Arab bath or Moslem hammam was public and had a series of «shifts» for men and women, but also for the different religious beliefs living in the Hispano-Moslem cities. The Jewish population used them on Fridays, the day of worship for Islam and prior to the Hebrew Shabbat.

There are records of another Arab bath in Jaén from the same era as that of Villardompardo whose owner was Jewish. This Bath was called Hammam ibn Isaac, in other words, Bath of the Son of Isaac. It has not been ruled out that his may have been owned by the family of the famous courtier Hasday ibn Shaprut, the son of Isaac ibn Shaprut, a powerful local Jew. The latest research would suggest that this hammam was located inside the Jewish quarter on the plot excavated to the south of Martínez Molina street and near the present-day St. Andrew´s Church.

circa 910 - 975
Hasday ibn Shaprut

Hasday ibn Shaprut was one of the most unique figures in the court of Abderramán III, a doctor and right-hand man of the Caliph, born in Jaén in 910 and appointed by him the nasir or chief of Jewish communities of Al-Ándalus, a post he held with others such as the minister or head of protocol. A diplomat, writer, a wealthy man and true patron of poets, philosophers, grammaticians and scientists, Ibn Shaprut acted as a true minister of foreign affairs of the Caliphate and was one of the major driving forces in the golden age of Al-Ándalus Jewish culture. He died in Córdoba in around 975.

circa 1246 - 1492
The Jewish quarter

The Jewish quarter of Jaén. Caños street

After passing through Audiencia square, Maestra street becomes Martínez Molina Street whose final stretch, as from St. John´s church, becomes one of the limits of the traditional Jewish quarter. The widening of the main street gives rise, from this point onwards, to a tangle of narrow alleys which mainly retain the layout of the medieval Jewish district. Caños street, which appears on the right, commences the route round the Jewish quarter, descending gently as far as Caños square where the Naranjo baths were located in days gone by which some researchers have related with Hammam ibn Ishaq, in other words, the baths of the son of Isaac. The elegant 16th century fountain conserved in this square bears testimony to the abundance of springs there had always been in this area. Opposite the fountain is the old Butcher´s building which was a national school in the not too distant past.

Taking Arroyo de San Pedro street, you reach Santa Clara street, a narrow, L-shaped alley and at its bend there lies the entrance to St. Clare´s convent, a 13th century monastery, the oldest in Jaén, located at one end of the Jewish quarter. The verticality of the cypress and the pillar supporting the patron saint of the convent lend a spiritual tone in a peaceful spot which holds another famous Christ of Jaén, the Misericordias (mercies) or Bamboo Christ which, in Easter Week, is one of the most common festivity. Some authors have related the convent with an old synagogue. Zigzagging round the streets, the route follows a stretch of Huérfanos street, one of the main streets in the Jewish quarter, the descending Real street as far as Huertas street whose route marks the eastern limit of the Jewish district.

circa 1246 - 1391
Old synagogue of Santa Cruz

Rear façade of the Royal Monastery of Santa Clara. In the foreground if the wall of the old synagogue of Santa Cruz

At the St. Clare´s Royal Monastery of Jaén, the rear façade giving out onto Santa Cruz street has small segment of wall jutting out and bearing a very irregular cut. This wall has been identified as the only present trace of the old Parish Church of Santa Cruz and the old synagogue in medieval times.

The existence of this synagogue has been demonstrated thanks to a document from 1413 issued by the Cardinal of Montearagón referring to a dispute by the nuns of St. Clare´s with the new Santa Cruz church which is referred to as the old synagogue and which is said to have been located on the other side of the convent refectory.

After the attack of 1391, which in Andalusia was of a particularly violent nature, there is evidence of the transformation of this synagogue into the new parish church of Santa Cruz at which there was only worship every three months, an indication of the distancing of the new converts from the general pace of Christian society.

Ferdinand IV's wake is held in the Arco de San Lorenzo chapel

it was here that vigil was kept over the corpse of King Fernando IV the Summoned in 1312.

St. Dominic´s Convent

St. Dominic´s Convent

Calle de Santo Domingo (St. Dominic´s street) takes up the main route started at Maestra Street and followed via Martínez Molina street. On its right-hand side there lies the old St. Dominic´s Convent, a building steeped in history whose first precursor was an old Moslem palace which the Castilian King Juan I granted to the Dominicans in 1382. It served as the headquarters of Santa Catalina University, a hospice and outbuildings of the court of the Holy Inquisition of Jaén, the third to be formed in Spain after those of Córdoba and Seville. Worthy of special note in the building are the magnificent proportions of the cloister which also has Andrés de Vandelvira home.

A document illustrates the location of the synagogue of Santa Cruz

The existence of this synagogue has been demonstrated thanks to a document from 1413 issued by the Cardinal of Montearagón referring to a dispute by the nuns of St. Clare´s with the new Santa Cruz church which is referred to as the old synagogue and which is said to have been located on the other side of the convent refectory.

The Jews settle in the vicinity of Baeza Gate

Huérfanos square. In the foreground there are traces of the Baeza Gate

The persecutions the Jews were subject to as from the 14th century led to bring their houses closer to the wall, alongside the Baeza Gate as can be gleaned from the confiscations of converts´ houses by the Inquisition in 1485.

The gate known as the Baeza Gate provided direct access to the Jewish quarter district and during the Middle Ages was its main entrance. This can be surmised from the archaeological intervention which brought it to light as its orientation is direct to Los Huérfanos street and it must undoubtedly have been the main gate to the Jewish quarter.

In the internal area of the walls it was managed to locate the old street which the inhabitants of the Jewish quarter passed by on or which is known as the «camino de ronda», which was around 4 metres wide and was paved. The evacuation of water was carried out via an opening in the walls alongside the gate, being directed outside the wall to the place known by written sources as the ravine of the Jews or muladar of the Jews, a ravine where the bridge of the Jews was located, an expression which is quoted in various documents and which menti0n a cemetery.

At present, a wooden bridge invites you to cross the old Baeza Gate whose archaeological remains are located underneath, just as the Jews from Jaén did to enter or leave the city.

Construction of the cathedral commences

Main façade of the cathedral

For centuries Santa María square has been the centre of public life in Jaén, as well as a place characterised by the extraordinary presence of the Renaissance catedral in the city, one of the most outstanding examples of this architectonic style in Spain, born out of the creative genius of the architect Andrés de Vandelvira. Here, where the Episcopal Palace was erected too and where there were many autos de fe staged by the Holy Office - featuring inquisitors like Diego de Deza and Alonso Suárez – the tour starts on the Jewish route through Jaén, running at the foot of the hill where the castle of Santa Catalina is located, one of the historic landmarks of the city.

In addition to the spectacular main façade, with its twin towers, worthy of note inside are the width of the naves, the slim cupola of the trancept and the central balcony where the relics of Santa Faz appear (to whom the whole temple is dedicated), the choir, the chapel of St. Peter of Osma or the high galleries which allow the whole cathedral to be toured via the second floor, as well as the treasures kept in the museum.

Jaén Cathedral, although it administrators included many converts, wad famous in the 16th century as it was at its Chapterhouse that the first draft of the Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre Statutes of the Cleanliness of Blood appeared.

circa 1500
The ‘Mona´ (Monkey)

The Mona in Gothic frieze at the cathedral

At the head of the cathedral, facing Valparaíso Street or Mona alley, there runs throughout its length a flowery Gothic-style frame dated at around the end of the 15th century/early 16th century and attributed to the stonemason Enrique Egas. This Gothic frieze is very famous amongst the people of Jaén as it contains a whole iconographic repertoire intended to portray the Jews as a cursed people, subject to all the torments of Hell, in a sculptural display presided over by the popular Mona which represents a character dressed with an old Jewish habit.

The popular mona of the cathedral would seem to portray the seated Jew, a figure which sets in motion an antisemitic diatribe warning the medieval Christian not to fall into the temptation of judaizing and even inviting the Jews themselves to conversion as a way of rejecting evil and achieving salvation.

In this way the different decorative elements running through the border are interpreted as Jewish symbols (figures of pigs which would seem to allude to the marranos, in other words, the Jewish converts as they were called at that time), Christians (pomegranates symbolising the Church; a gargoyle possibly with the form of a pelican and ears of wheat supposed to portray the Eucharist; shells which would signify christening, conversion etc.) and inquisitorial (human and animal figures tied to wheels in flames which may represent the converts in penance, condemned to the stake by the Inquisition).

The chapel of San Andrés is founded on the site of the old synagogue

Former synagogue. St. Andrew´s Chapel

Everything in the St. Andrew´s Holy Chapel recalls the former synagogue which was here before being converted into a Christian church: from the triumphant Star of David to the very structure of the temple with its magnificent arches which bring to mind the Moslem mosques and its access courtyard, with an entrance via Rostro street. The precious screen which closes the Holy Chapel, the work of the master Bartholomew, is one of the most relevant elements of this Little gem which is situated in the centre of the Jewish district, half way up the slop stretching from the low part to the high part of the city, following the orography of the land.

Notwithstanding, the Jewish affiliation of the chapel is still under discussion. Luis Coronas and Vicente Salvatierra argue against the origin of the chapel being an original synagogue. Their evidence is that St. Andrew´s Church was already there in 1311, a time when the Christian monarchs were still tolerant to the Jews and it is thus unlikely that they would knock down their synagogue to build a new Christian temple, as well as the entry position of the church, outside the limits of the Jewish quarter.

Arguments in favour of the theory of the original synagogue include, inter alia:

  1. The main entrance is much simpler than the other historic churches of the city (synagogues have very simple accesses)
  2. The entry door is not in front of the main altar (synagogues would never have the entry door opposite the temple orientation so that upon leaving it you never turn your back on the Torah)
  3. The temple orientation eastwards; the inner flooring of the temple at a level lower than that of the street (synagogues were usually located below the other Christian temples)
  4. The artistic similarity of the temple layout with the churches of Santa María la Blanca in Toledo and the Corpus Christi Church of Segovia, both original synagogues
  5. The presence of a courtyard which would recall the access courtyards of synagogues.

Discovery of Jaen's Arab baths

The baths were rediscovered partly by Enrique Romero de Torres who in 1913 was committed to drawing up the monumental catalogue of Jaén.

Restoration of Jaen's Arab baths

The recovery of the Arab baths, which won the award Europa Nostra for restoration in 1984, allowed the discovery of the outbuildings of the old baths of Alí which, along with the aforementioned Naranjo and Ibn Ishaq, formed part of a group of four mentioned in the chronicles of Al-Himyari, all dependent on the flow from the Magdalena fountain.

A possible yad is discovered in Jaen's Jewish quarter

The yad or ritual pointer

During the excavation of the plot between Santa Cruz and Rostro streets, the site traditionally regarded as the centre of the Jewish quarter, in 2004 a marble object was documented and located inside the winery of a house which had a façade on Rostro street. A yad or ritual Jewish pointer has been identified but this attribution has not been totally established.

The recovered object is 10 cm long and around 8 mm thick and its upper part is uniquely shaped with decoration and a split on one of its ends which tell us that it must have been secured to another by a cord, thread or chain. This is why at the beginning the piece was inventoried as a bobbin: a turned object which tenses the thread with which lace and braid are weaved. Notwithstanding, some researchers have suggested it could be a reading pointer for the Torah. To date, there have been various interpretations of this object, though no unanimous consensus has been reached in favour or against the purpose it served in the 14th century. The only thing that has been established is its archaeological context and its stratigraphic dating which confirms that it is an object used by a Jew in the 14th century.