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Photo by Mónica Navarro
Carrer Marlet, looking towards the possible site of Barcelona’s former main synagogue
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Photo by Lorenzo Vecchia
Section of the Torah found at Barcelona's historic synagogue
On hearing that Barcelona boasts the oldest synagogue in Europe, a visitor could be forgiven for expecting a grander temple and a more remarkable entrance to the historic Jewish site. However, a great deal of the charm of the Sinogoga Major lays in its petite nature and rabbit-hole like entrance from the Carrer de Marlet.
Dating from the 11th century, the Sinagoga today sits below street level as a result of two earthquakes that have occurred since its original construction, which caused the street level of Barcelona to rise. You enter down some steps from the pavement into a room, a large part of which has a glass floor, enabling you to see the rubble-like layer below, the original floor of the synagogue and ruins of a Roman building beneath that.
The second room serves as the synagogue and small museum, and whilst it is not a regularly functioning place of worship, it has a Kosher Torah, meaning special religious ceremonies can and do take place here.
There is an impressive additional Torah on display, along with a number of ceremonial items and a giant Menorah. A relatively short but extremely interesting talk with a member of staff is organised on an ad-hoc basis for visitors, either in English or Castilian which covers some of the main aspects of the history of the building. This is a great opportunity to ask any questions you have, or ask for more information on any of the items you might be particularly curious about.
· The short talk is organised as soon as there are enough visitors, or about five minutes after your arrival if no-one else arrives, which means there is no waiting around for fixed tour guide times.
· The relatively sparse decoration allows visitors to appreciate the ancient nature of the building and its role in Barcelona's past.
· Visitors hoping for a working synagogue, or something larger than the one remaining room, may be disappointed.
· The collection of artifacts acquired by the museum is interesting, however, they tend to be a little random, coming from across Europe and dating from the last few centuries. Sadly, there is no history given about the Jewish population of Barcelona, or more of a history of the Synagogue, although this may be because there simply isn't the room.
More info: Address—Carrer Marlet 5 (Ciutat Vella); visits cost €2