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El Call: Jewish Barcelona

Life in Barcelona's ghetto

El Call

In the Middle Ages, the entrance to Barcelona’s ghetto (El Call, from the Hebrew qahqal or ‘meeting place’) was on the western edge of Plaça Sant Jaume, by the Generalitat on C/ del Call.

There have been Jews in Barcelona since Roman times, although the Visigoths bear the ignominy of passing Spain’s first anti-Semitic law, in 694, which made all Jews slaves. By the 11th century, the Call was a well-organized community that was also the intellectual centre of Catalonia, home to its finest schools, hospitals, baths, translators, poets, astronomers and philosophers.

The Universitat Judía was its only institution of higher learning for centuries. It was here, in the ancient synagogue that the mystic Moshe ben Nahman debated the divinity of Christ with Dominican monks at the famous ‘Disputation of Barcelona’ in 1263, so impressing Jaume I the Conqueror that he gave the rabbi a handsome reward.

In 1243, however, the same count-king had ordered that the Call be walled off and so set apart from the rest of the city, and that Christians not be allowed to enter except when goods were displayed for sale in the streets; Jews were also compelled to wear long, hooded cloaks with red or yellow bands.

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Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Image by fnogues