Located to the south of the old walled city, the Jewish quarter of León is currently identified with part of the famous Barrio Húmedo (Wet District),
known for its narrow streets with medieval overtones and its wines and gastronomic
delights, making any tour around them a unique opportunity to get to know one of the
most charming areas in the city. Formed in the late 12th century, the aljama of León is the heir of the previous settlement of Puente Castro, destroyed during
the war against Castile and Aragón and, at present, after having already formed part
of the urban fabric of the city, under archaeological recovery. Two very different
enclaves for one sole genealogical tree, rooted in this territory since at least the
10th century and of which, for the time being, only that part corresponding to León
old town can be visited.
If the city of León originates at the camp set up by the legions VI victrix and VII gemina on the banks of the rivers Bernesga and Torío, the Castrum Iudeorum of Puente Castro, on the south side of the Mota hill, had already been settled before
the Romans arrived, constituting a solid citadel reused over the centuries by its
different settlers. Recent excavations have identified the remains of a castle from
the Early Middle Ages here under whose protection an important Jewish nucleus must
have set up, possibly in the 10th century, which developed its culture and way of
life in line with Hebrew tradition in the two subsequent centuries. Commercially very
well connected with the neighbouring city of León, the Jews of Puente Castro drove
forward a prosperous aljama with merchants and craftsmen, famous for their Works in lather and silver and who,
under the Charter of 1090, were also recognised as being entitled to own fruit/vegetable
gardens and vineyards. León Museum, the Cathedral of León and the Sephardi Museum of Toledo share some of the valuable headstones found in the excavations at
the Jewish settlement.
The Council of León of 1020, held under the authority of Alfonso V, recognised equality
between Jews and Christians, the right to buy houses and land, in particular after
the transfer of the court to the city by Ordoño II. The Charter of León (1017-1020)
stipulated that if a free man owned a house built on plot of another and wished to
sell it, the price would have to be set by four valuers, two Christians and two Jews.
At this time the Jews were numerous in Puente Castro as can be surmised from the sums
they paid in certain taxes.
The age of splendour of Puente Castro was cut short in the late 12th century with
the outbreak of war between León and the neighbouring Christian kingdoms when the
followers of Pedro II of Aragón and Alfonso VIII of Castile laid siege to the settlement and attacked it. The battle started on July 23rd 1196 and the Jews fought bravely until the 25th
when the Castilian and Aragon troops broke through the fortification, entered the
Jewish quarter and destroyed it. On July 27th those Jews who had not fled or died were enslaved. Those survivors
who managed to take flight along the riverside settled in León in the district inside the walls of Santa Ana. And in the city of León the Jews prospered in the fields of commerce, craftsmanship
and even agriculture until the late 13th century, but their population never became
as large or important again. The destruction of Puente Castro was so complete that
it was virtually uninhabited until the 15th century.
After the destruction of the Jewish quarter of Puente Castro, may Jews settled in the city centre, alongside Santa Ana market.
The largest concentration of the Jewish population was to be found in the Parish of
San Martín and the thoroughfare starting at Puerta de Arco de Rege, Cal de Moros,
continuing along por Cal Silvana as far as Santa Ana where Mercado Mayor was located.
The current Santa Ana street, previously called Silvana street, owed its name to the
important Jewish family Silván which owned houses and fruit/vegetable gardens. On
Rodezneros Street the Jews also owned houses and land.
Until the start of 1293 during the reign of Sancho IV the Jews of León enjoyed tranquillity, with the exception of sporadic outbreaks of violence, the result of someone angry or fostered by people who would benefit from a break
in the cohabitation so they could stop paying a loan or make a gain. In 1293 the King
forbade the Jews of León from owning farmland: this was to be the start of difficult times because
two decades later there were forced to wear a yellow sign to show they were Jews. In 1365 the Jews were obliged to pay the same sales and other
taxes as the Moslems.
In the early 15th century the Crown of Castile issued an ordinance addressed to the
city of León and all those towns and places within its bishopry, to close the Jews
in an area segregated from the Christians. This order was not followed in the city
nor was a ghetto or closed district formed. The only attack suffered by the aljama in León occurred on May 25th 1449 spurred on by the families of the Quiñones and
the Lorenzana. Later, instability and insecurity took hold of the Jewish quarter with the segregation of the Jews of León in 1481 ordered by the Catholic Monarchs
and their final expulsion eleven years later.
In the final quarter of the 15th century the urban Jewish nucleus was grouped between Cal de Rodezneros and Pequeñina streets. We know this thanks
to a record from July 29th 1481 gathered by the cathedral´s chapterhouse: As regards the move by the Jews which was presented at the request of the Catholic Monarchs owing to Ruy López de
Ayala, Royal inquirer and book-keeper of León. This document reveals the desire to:
Apartar los judíos desta Ciudad e encerrarlos según lo mandan los dichos Reyes nuestros
señores en la comisión que sobre ello le dieron e se contiene; e porque el parecer
de algunos es el que los dichos judíos estén e moren en las calles de Cal de Moros
e la Revilla donde agora moran o están de atrás, e que los pasen a la calle de Rodezneros
a la Cal Pequennina dejen las dichas calles de Cal do Moros e la Revilla.
However, these measures were not well received by the Jewish community. As can be
deduced from a letter dated April 11th 1488 in which the Catholic Monarchs inform
the Chief Magistrate in the city of León. Alonso de Valderrábano:
Que el aljama e omnes buenos judíos de la dicha cibdad nos enbiaron faser relación disiendo que,
al tiempo quel apartamiento de la judería desa cibdad se fiso, ellos fueron apartados
e que es tan estrecho el dicho apartamiento de manera que en las casas ay dos o tres
vecinos, e que muchos se vernían a biuir a esa cibdad sy ouiese lugar donde podiesen
estar [...] mandándoles alargar el dicho sytio.
It seems to be the case that the Jews managed to expand the area of the Jewish quarter according to the stipulation by the Catholic Monarchs three years later in 1491.
In the meantime, the Jewish population had grown by around 20 per cent. According to fiscal divisions in 1488, 1489 and 1491, the amounts which the Jews
had to pay were 37,262 maravedis, 39,760 maravedis and 44,870 maravedis, respectively.
But there was no time to grow any further. One year later the Jews of León, just like
all the Jews in the kingdoms of Castile, León and Aragón, are asked to convert to
Christianity. Although some Jews returned after the expulsion (the so-called tornadizos), from 1499 onwards only those who had been christened (the converts) were allowed to stay. With the expulsion decree a period of cohabitation of least
five centuries had reached its conclusion in León.
Jewish cemetery of Puente Castro
Miniature of the Haggadah of Sarajevo
In June 1983 an urgent excavation was carried out at the Jewish cemetery of Puente Castro after the destruction of part of the cemetery brought about by the works on the road
between León and Valladolid which was built in the area. The necropolis, which had
already been partially excavated in 1956, had been Split in two by the road, leaving
part of the cemetery alongside the houses of Puente Castro and the other part on the
opposite side of the road.
These excavations revealed various burials which occupied part of the slope going down from Mota to the old Puente del Castro
distillery. The excavation revealed two burial levels:
- Child burials at 1.50 metres deep carried out in a simple grave dug in the clay (sedimentation
by dragging) and a single case in which a tomb had been undertaken with sandstone,
unpolished stone, medium-sized, and including a circular hand mill, flaming and covering
the interment. The stet of the bone remains was terrible owing to the lack of protection
and their fragility as they were people of very tender age.
- Adult burials at 2.10 metres in graves conditioned and hardened with «lime-like» and dug in clay
levels. The shape of the graves tends towards trapezium and the «bathtub» type, slightly
wider at the headboard which faces east. The most common position observed is supine
position with the forearms crossed on the pelvis.
The burials lacked any kind of trousseau and inside the grave only moulds and the remains of wood, nails and rings appeared,
belonging to the coffin, in some burials. In the filling-in of some graves necklace
beads, copper and stone objects and bone were found.
The child burial level, more advanced timewise as they were at a higher level, can
undoubtedly be put down to a time of great child mortality. The burials at those level
are careless and seem to have been rushed and unplanned and so they probably correspond
to the last moments of the site occupation.
There are several funeral headstones from this cemetery today distributed amongst
León Museum, the Diocesan Cathedral Museum of León and the Tránsito Synagogue (Toledo).
The cemetery was located outside the walls at a certain distance from the Jewish district. The
- Must be on virgin soil
- Must be on a slope
- Be oriented towards Jerusalem
The Jewish quarter had to have a direct access to the cemetery to prevent the burials from having to pass through the interior of the city.
After 1492 the monarchs authorised (in Barcelona in 1391) the reuse of stones from Jewish cemeteriesas construction material. It is thus not unusual to find fragments of Hebrew inscriptions in several subsequent
Despite the pillaging they suffered from the late 14th century, the memory of these
cemeteries has remained in the name in certain places, for instance, Montjuïc in Barcelona or Girona. We are aware of the existence of more than twenty medieval Jewish cemeteries. Others are only known of thanks to the documentation or the headstones conserved.
The one in Barcelona at Montjuïc was excavated in 1945 and 2000, the one in Seville
in 2004, the one in Toledo in 2009 and the one in Ávila in 2012.