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.

Calle Misericordia

The end of Misericordia street. © León City Council

Alongside St. Martín´s Square, the confluence between Mulhacín and Misericordia streets right in the heart of the Barrio Húmedo serves as the point of departure to tour a Jewish district which has remained at this site from the start of the 13th century until the expulsion decreed in 1492 and which still conserves a great deal of its medieval atmosphere and layout. Throughout the 13th century the Jews of León lived in relative freedom at their new location, sharing the main streets of the Jewish quarter with Christian residents and owning, in turn, houses in other areas of León.

This time when the Jews recovered part of the lost glory at their previous site of Castro de los Judíos featured some of the most relevant figures of the Jewish quarter in León such as the wise Kabbalist Moses de León. As from the early 15th century the freedom of movement enjoyed by the Jews until then began to be limited, particularly with the ruling stated in 1480 by the Courts of Toledo which required Jewish families to group around certain streets and strictly regulated their relations with the Christians.

Casa de las Carnicerías

Casa de las Carnicerías (House of the Butchers). © León City Council

At St. Martín´s Square is the Casa de las Carnicerías (House of the Butchers), a building which was put up so as to supply the city with meat. Its architect was Juan de Ribero Rada and the works commenced in 1577.

A classical Renaissance work, it had multiple purposes: corn exchange, fishmonger´s, women´s jail and, later, tenement house. It was finally acquired by a bank entity and submitted to serious restoration work with a view to recovering its façade and giving it back its original design.


Cathedral façade. © León City Council

Known all around the world for its splendid stained glass, the cathedral of León was built between the 13th and 15th centuries on two previous temples, with the latter in turn, erected on the former royal palace and the Roman spa baths of Legio VII. The episcopate of Fruminio II saw the construction of what was regarded as the first Spanish catedral in the 10th century, erected on the royal palace granted by Ordoño II to the church after his victory in the battle of San Esteban de Gormaz. King Fernando I of Castile, with whom the remains of San Isidoro came to León, promoted the construction of a second catedral on the foundations of the previous one which in the second half of the 11th century was a in a very poor state of repair; the new cathedral was consecrated on November 10th 1073 and remained standing until the end of the subsequent century. The construction of a third cathedral, promoted in this case by the last King of León, Alfonso IX, began in around 1205, having been completed nearly at the end of the 15th century.

The basis for this story, the Pulchra Leonina, regarded in the 15th century as one of the four major Spanish cathedrals (along with Sancta Ovetensis, Dives Toledana and Fortis Salmantina), today represents a prime example of French-influenced Gothic with an imposing main façade, overlooking the square, whose five 13th century archest stand out, the large central rose window and the profusion of pinnacles between the beautiful Gothic towers, 64 and 68 metres high, respectively. Inside, with a layout which proportionally repeats that of the Reims cathedral, we are overawed by the magic illumination of its 1,800 square metres of stained glass. Here you can admire the main retable with a silver chest containing the remains of St. Froilan, the patron saint of the diocese; the magnificent walnut chancel or the doors opening out into the cloister.

Church of St. Martín

Church of St. Martín. Exterior. © León City Council

Alongside the Old Town Hall is Plegaria Street leading to Church of St. Martín whose current image is the upshot of different remodelling work in the 12th, 14th and, in particular, 18th centuries, on the original Romanesque temple from the 11th century. Worthy of note in its structure are the Gothic apse and the odd chapel of the Ánimas, backing onto the temple. Following the rout via Platerías, Cardiles and La Paloma, the medieval layout of narrow streets in the old town opens up onto the spacious Ancha street, one of the prime, oldest thoroughfares in the city which leads between guards and all kinds of businesses to the cathedral square.

Former synagogue

The faithful at the synagogue. The Haggadah of Barcelona

The synagogue of León had been situated in Santa Cruz street and some have said it was located in Fernández Cadórniga street. Justiniano Rodríguez Fernández in his work The Jewish quarter in the city of León rebuffed these opinions and demonstrated that in 1344 (and perhaps seventy year before) the Jewish Synagogue adjoined houses which looked out onto the street which went from Cal de Moros (the present Misericordia street) to Misteo.The Chapter Acts of the cathedral of León prove that in January 1423 the Chapterhouse was managing the exchange of its houses with other which the scribe Alonso Fernández owned in Cal de Moros where the Jews had the synagogue.

The Jewish synagogue was situated at Cal de Moros and it remained there on October 27th 1375 according to a document with this date which mentions the Jewish house of prayer which is near the Puerta de Cal de Moros (Moor Street Gate).

After the expulsion, the synagogue was donated by way of a document dated September 14th 1495 by the Catholic Monarchs to the monastery of Sant Esidro and its abbey and must have been converted into the Santo Cristo hermitage.

The synagogue

The synagogue (place of congregation, in Greek) is a Jewish temple. It faces Jerusalem, the Holy City, and it is a place for religious ceremonies, communal prayer, studying and meeting.

The Torahis read at the ceremonies. This task is conducted by the Rabbis aided by the cohen or singing child. The synagogue is not only a house of prayer but also an instruction centre as it is there where the Talmudic schools are usually run.

Men and women sit in separate sections.

The synagogue interior contains:

  1. The Hejal closet located in the east wall, facing Jerusalem, stored inside the Sefer Torah, the scrolls of the Torah, the Jewish sacred law.
  2. The Ner Tamid, the everlasting flame always lit before the Ark.
  3. The menorah, a seven-armed candelabrum, a habitual symbol in worship.
  4. The Bimah, place from where the Torah is read.

Herreros Street

Calle de los Herreros (Blacksmiths´ Street). © León City Council

At Herreros Street the flaking of the façade of one of the houses which overlooks the church allows us to see what the structure of a large part of the houses of this medieval district looked like, made of brick and wooden cross latticework.

Interpretation Centre for Jewish León

Interior of the Interpretation Centre for Jewish León. © León City Council

The Interpretation Centre for Jewish León and the Pilgrim Reception Centre in the Leonese capital is located at the former church of St. Peter´s in Puente Castro.

The proximity of said church to the significant archaeological site of Castro de los Judíos on the Mota Hill in the Puente Castro district as well as its relation both with the Roman presence owing to an equally notable closeness to the Ad Legionem VII Geminan site discovered in the district itself, and with the medieval Christian world represented by St. James´ Way in its passage by the same gate of San Pedro Apóstol, have defined an approach based on three blocks of well-defined contents. The Roman, Jewish and Christian world at different times of History seek to provide the visitor with an extensive overview adapted to the space and need to make his use versatile of the historic wealth of León and the uniqueness of some of its personalities.

At the Centro visitors are told what the old Castro de los Judíos de Puente Castro was like and what objects and materials have been found in the archaeological excavations currently in progress in a space where, in medieval times, over a thousand people resided.

Jabalquinto Palace

Courtyard of Jabalquinto Palace. © León City Council

Following Albergue de las Carbajalas Street, you will reach Juan de Arfe Street and at number 2 of the latter you will find the Jabalquinto palace, a sober manor house from the 17th century which currently accommodates a restaurant and other outbuildings. The palace, which retains its beautiful courtyard and a well, allows some of the houses of the most powerful members of the aljama to be situated in this segment of the Jewish quarter on the outskirts of St. Martín´s Square.

The Marquesses of Castro Janillos were its first residents, with property being transferred in the 19th century to the Marquesses of Jabalquinto when the family lineage of the former ended. Some scholars relate this family to the Jabalquinto of La Bañeza who, accused of judaizing by the Inquisition, had to feel to Portugal, thereafter concealing their Jewish past when returning to León; in the 19th century the marquesses, don Francisco Quiñones de Lanzas y Mayorga and his wife doña Elena Cavero Montalvo stood out for their firm support of the Carlists.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

The cemetery was located outside the walls at a certain distance from the Jewish district. The chosen site:

  • 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 constructions.

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.

Jewish cemetery. Prado de los Judíos

The medieval city walls in Prado de los Judíos. © León City Council

The splendid sign adorning a house endowed with contemporary construction with the name Prado de los Judíos at the crossing with Puerta Moneda street, is part of a recent initiative to restore the memory of the Jewish cemetery which extended throughout this area, outside the walls of the Jewish quarter and the medieval city and which was subsequently invaded with the expansion of the city.

The cemetery

The cemetery was located outside the walls at a certain distance from the Jewish district. The chosen site:

  • 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 constructions.

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.

Jews at the cathedral ambulatory

Fresco portraying Jews in the cathedral ambulatory. © León City Council

The head of the cathedral of León is endowed with a polygonal ambulatory onto which five chapels open out where we can find the splendid mural paintings of master Nicolás Francés which portray a group of Jews, wearing 15th century attire. These paintings are undoubtedly one of the cathedral´s curiosities, but they also constitute a perfect illustration of the last stretch of the Jewish presence in León. Having seen their rights seriously limited as from the 14th century, the sacking of the Jewish quarter by the Quiñones and the Lorenzana in 1449 meant the beginning of the end for a history which, nevertheless, would earn a sequel, with the numerous proceedings involving New Christians from León accused of Judaizing in secret after 1492.

Main square

Market in the Main square. © León City Council

The narrow Matasiete streets leads from St. Martín´s Square to Plaza Mayor (main square). Presided over by the Balcón del Pueblo (People´s balcony) or Consistorio Viejo (Old Town Hall), a narrow municipal palace erected between 1672 and 1677 as a balcony for the authorities, the main square in León was built in the 17th century in two stages, with the first (until 1672) being the work of Father Antonio Ambrosio and the second (until 1677) the work of Francisco del Piñal. The square occupies part of the set of houses devastated by a fire and which in the Middle Ages were also part of the Jewish quarter. It is here that the weekly was held which, with different variants over time, has not been interrupted for ten centuries. A bullring, the setting for feasts, demonstrations and various shows or the site of executions, its was originally called Pan square and currently shares the designation «Mayor» (main square) with the homage to the Spanish Constitution.

Mar Selomó stele

Funeral stele of Mar Selomó. © Museo de León

Found in 1982, during the works to widen the León-Valladolid highway, the Mar Selomó stele is a rectangular piece with a trapezoidal structure and the inscription side is smooth, comprising 16 lines of text. Its dimensions are 380 mm high, 297/304 mm wide and 40/65 mm thick.

The first letter is 14 mm high. Its writing is square with some characters written in italics, slope of horizontal lines.

However, its elegant, uniform layout has some stuttering in its design. One of its peculiar aspects is the preservation of abundant remains of red coloration in the interior of the letters of four lower lines of the text.

The text mentions Selomó bar David ben Parnaj, who died at the age of forty on Wednesday ab 3rd 4857, corresponding to July 15th 1097.

Esta es la sepultura de mar Selomó bar
mar David ben Parnaj fallecido
a la edad de cuarenta años el miércoles
día 3 del mes de ab, año
cuatro mil ochocientos
cincuenta y siete de la Creación
del mundo según el cómputo de la ciudad de León el Santo
lbendito sea
le levante y le despierte a la vida del mundo
venidero y le otorgue su parte con los justos
y cumpla en él el pasaje bíblico donde está escrito
Revivirán tus muertos, mis cadáveres se levantarán
despertad y exultad, los que yacen en el polvo, pues
rocío de luz es tu rocío y la tierra
muertos parirá, mas tú ve
al fin y descansa y te levantarás para tu suerte
al fin de los días

This stele is regarded as the best epigraphic piece from León discovered to date of the twelve catalogued in León.

Medieval city wall

The medieval wall. © León City Council

At Riaño square, which connects with that of Caño de Santa Ana offering the perspective, Santa Cruz street meets Misericordia and Cuesta Castañones, two of the roads most connected with the Jewish settlers, before extending into Las Cercas street, which goes around, making a smooth curve to the right, the old wall or medieval wall.

Some of the doors and windows which open out onto the narrow wall-walked parapet which the lionesses defences form at this point, were undoubtedly also settled by the Jews in a district which, in recent years, has been subject to recovery.

After the 10th century, after suffering the effect of the devastating Ghazzis of Almanzor, León constructed a second walled enclosure and expanded the urban limits with the so-called new town. Notwithstanding, the oldest nucleus retained the layout of the wall and the main streets of the Roman encampment almost intact just as the legionnaires of the VI victrix and the VII gemina had designed it.

The continuity of the Visigoths and the short Moslem stage allowed, after the conquest by Ordoño I in 856, León to become a Royal city and subsequently, a strong point in the defensive line of the Christian kingdoms. In the 13th century, when the Jews were integrated into the life of the city, its growth allowed them to settle in one of the areas of the new town.

Moneda Gate

The Moneda Gate, entrance from the Way of St. James to medieval León. © León City Council

Puerta Moneda street recalls the arch which closed the wall at the point of confluence with Las Cercas Street and which allowed connection with the roads heading southwards.

As well as Jews, pilgrims from the Way of St. James entered the city via this gate throughout the Middle Ages and there was a constant flow which enabled León to hold a privileged position as a connection between Castile and the kingdoms of the North of Spain. In the 12th century when León was described in Codex Calixtinus as a royal and palatial city, offering every facility, the pilgrims of the Way of St. James could find up to seventeen hospitals in the area. A prosperous city which further increased its power a century later with the incorporation of the Jewish collective.

The name of Moneda (coin/currency) Gate can be put down to the fact that the money changers were based in the immediate vicinity, charged with changing coins. The growth in this guild can be put down to the major flow of pilgrims which arrived at the city via the Way of St. James.

Monolith in memory of the Jews

Monolith in memory of the Jews. © León City Council

In June 1997 a monolith was inaugurated in a gardened site which received the name of Aljama in memory of the Jews who had inhabited Puente Castro until 1196, the year in which the Jewish quarter was devastated by the armies of the Castilian king Alfonso VIII and the Araginese monarch Pedro II. The then mayor of León and the Israeli writer of Leonese Jewish ascendancy Margalit Matitiahu, presided over the act in memory of those who had to leave the city. On one side the date of the physical destruction of the aljama 1197) and of the construction of the monument (1997) were recorded and the inscription ‘Castro Bridge for the Jewish People´. On the opposite side some verses by Margalit written in mixed languages were provided:

Estonses, muestros nombres
se van a grabar en los caminos del secreto
y van a abrir las puertas de unión.

Mulhacín street

Mulhacín Street. © León City Council

Narrower than Misericordia Street is Mulhacín Street which leads to Santa Cruz Street, almost on the limit of pedestrian area and the walled zone. This, in turn, gently curves until reaching, on its left, Tarifa Street where the heroic deed of the Leonese Guzmán el Bueno is recalled who sacrificed his son to overcome the Moslems when the Cadis square was besieged in 1294 and Christians and Jews still cohabited on this street.

Santa María del Camino Square

Santa María del Camino Square. © León City Council

The route moves away from St. James´ Way via Escurial Street to enter Santa María del Camino square, one of the milestones, already in the interior of the city, on the route to San Isidoro whose relics were a mandatory stopping point for the pilgrims. Also called del Grano (grain), because in its environs the wheat market was held, this is a square steeped in medieval atmosphere with its paved ground, its fountain surrounded by benches, its magnificent pair of trees, its tavern and its colonnades, some of them wooden... A set which is complemented by the presence of the beautiful church of Nuestra Señora del Camino o del Mercado (Our Lady of the Way or of the Market) whose Romanese features can still be identified despite the remodelling. At the other end of the square, the convent of the Madres Benedictinas (Benedectine Mothers) monastery (Santa María de Carbajal), currently houses the St. James´ Way pilgrims hostel, maintaining an age-old tradition of hospitality in this environment.

St. Martín´s Square

St. Martín´s Square. © León City Council

St. Martín´s Square, the nerve centre of the Jewish quarter, is the greatest symbol of the Barrio Húmedo of León. Inside taverns and wineries in winter and the colour of its terraces and street vendors in summer are the sign of a city where there is always something to celebrate and the best way of doing so is around the rich wines of the country of the delicious tapas prepared at its bars. The square and its outskirts also combine to constitute a magnificent recollection of the huste and hustle of the medieval cities, departing from the square and getting lost in any its alleys in the vicinity. As well as the Jewish quarter, the square is related with the power of the medieval guilds some of whose names are directly related with the Jewish craftsmen, are recalled in the outskirts: Zapaterías, Azabachería, Platerías. In actual fact, as well as St. Martín´s Square it is popularly known as Plaza de las Tiendas (Shop square).

The Barrio Húmedo

Barrio Húmedo. St. Martín´s Square. © León City Council

The Barrio Húmedo of León is the gastronomic site of the city par excellence. Here you can try out the vast variety of local wines, hence the name Húmedo (wet), accompanied by an imaginative repertoire of tasty tapas.

It is the heart of the medieval old town of León which extends around St. Martín´s Square, popularly known as Plaza de las Tiendas (shop square). Alleys and little squares, corners, arcades and colonnades go hand-in-hand with the hustle and bustle of the markets, commerce and tapas bars. Its narrow streets recall the name its guild origins: Shoemakers, Silversmiths, Azabacheria

The Jewish quarter of León

The Jewish quarter of León. © León City Council

In 1196 Puente Castro was flattened and its aljama moved to León, delimited by the current Plaza Mayor (Main Square), Santa Ana and Grano. This spot saw the settlement of the majority of the Jewish community during the 13th to the 15th centuries. The densest nucleus was concentrated on the current streets of Juan de Arfe, St. Martín´s Square, Mulhacín, Cuesta Castañón and Santa Cruz. The synagogue was situated in the current Misericordia Street which was the backbone of the district.

The original names of the streets of the Jewish quarter, Cal de Moros, Cal Silvana etc. were replaced centuries ago with Misericordia, Santa Cruz etc. At present, the traces of the Jewish presence in León are being recovered: the remains of medieval constructions in the old aljama, wineries, courtyards and passageways. The Jews of León carried out the most varied professional activities under the protection of the Charter of León (1017-1020) which granted very similar rights to Jews and Christians.

However, as from the 15th century, various ordinances were decreed limiting the rights of the Jewish people. This included the ruling by the Courts of Toledo which in 1480 required the strict separation of the Jewish and Christian communities. This all led to a gradual fall in the Jewish population of León. In 1492 the Catholic Monarchs signed the decree of expulsion of the Jews, bringing to an end centuries of cohabitation. May decided to convert, but for a long time they felt threatened as they were suspected of judaizing.

The Jewish quarter of Puente Castro

The Jewish quarter of Puente Castro seen from the bridge. © León City Council

The Jewish quarter of Puente Castro was the oldest and most important in the city of León. Known by the place name of Castrum Iudeorum, its first Jewish inhabitants must have settled here in the 10th century and the maximum expansion of the Jewish quarter must have been between the late 11th century and the early 12th century. Although León and Puente Castro were separated by a certain distance and by the River Torío, they formed a complementary unit. Self-evidently, the city of León was the capital of the kingdom of the same name whilst Castrum Iudeorum was of all the Jewish quarters of this territory.

The settlement was on the south slope of the Mota hill and it ended in a hill-fort with a fort; a small, defensive fortification. This medieval hill-fort was built in another Roman one which, in turn, must almost certainly have been erected on one of Asturian origin.

The excavations in the La Candamia area in the Jewish enclave of the Hill-fort in the heights of the Mota have allowed the reconstruction of the layout of the two-metre wide clay and adobe wall which surrounded the settlement before 1196. On July 23rd the Jews were attacked by the followers of Alfonso VIII of Castile and Pedro II of Aragón and they put up brave resistance until 25th when the fortress was taken and the Jewish quarter was sacked. On July 27th those Jews who hadn´t taken flight ort died were enslaved.

Once the aljama of Puente Castro had been destroyed, the Jewish population settled in León in the district inside the walls of Santa Ana. And in the city of León the Jews prospered between the 13th and 15th centuries 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 Castro de los Judios was so complete that it was virtually uninhabited until the 15th century.

The archaeological site allows us to find out some aspects of how the Jewish communities lived from the 11th to the 12th centuries. These aspects would be hard to document anywhere else in the Iberian Peninsula. What´s more, it is a settlement which can easily be excavated in its entirety as it is almost wholly free of more modern houses or other obstacles. Castro Iudeorum, in this regard, can be classed as unicum as regards its integrity and study possibilities.