The Jewish Quarter is the best-known part of Cordoba's historic centre, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984 and is one of the largest in Europe. To the northwest of the Mosque-Cathedral along the city wall, its medieval streets have a distinctly Moorish flair to them, reminiscent of the Jews' prosperity under the Caliphate of Cordoba. The neighbourhood consists of a fascinating network of narrow lanes, more atmospheric and less commercialised than in Seville. We just loved wandering around. Of special interest are the Synagogue and Souk. It is something not to be missed and adds an extra dimension to the story of the cathedral mosque.
Jews formed a part of Cordoba's cultural mix from as early as the 2nd Century until their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Under the Moslems, both Jews and Christians were given some religious freedom and self-governing communities. This arrangement was profitable to their rulers, who improved their tax revenue with special household taxes for non-Moslems.
During the 11th and 12th centuries the Jewish population in Spain reached its point of greatest prosperity, intellectual energy and well-being, coinciding with Cordoba's greatest moment in history. Hasday ben Shaprut, the governor of the Jewish community, became an influential minister to the first Caliph, Abd al-Rahman III, increasing his people's well-being and turning Cordoba into the most significant center of Jewish learning and culture in the world, taking the place of the Babylonian School.
In 1315 Simon Majeb built the Synagogue which still stands today. It is one of the three significant synagogues remaining in Spain and is largely unaltered (its Mudejar reliefs were covered and it was used as a church then a rabies hospital, the seat of the shoe-makers' guild and finally a 19th-century primary school). We visited one morning and were fascinated by what we found. The interior includes a gallery for women and plaster work with inscriptions from Hebrew psalms and others with plant motifs on the upper part. Its main beautifully restored wall, has a semi-circular arch where a chest with the Holy Scrolls of Law used to be kept. The buildings around it were probably used as public baths and a Talmudic school. Outside is a Statue of Moorish Philosopher Maimónides.
The rest of the neighborhood has a distinctly Islamic air. Nearby is the Zoco (Souk), a medieval version of the famed Arabic souks which used to dot the urban landscape of the Caliphate. Below the oldest houses are Roman remains, and while some of the houses are increasingly modern, they respect the ancient urban layout.