Come meet the Madrileños…

Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain, as well as the capital of the autonomous community of the same name. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million with a metro area population of almost 6.5 million. Madrid is best known for its great cultural and artistic heritage, a good example of which is the El Prado museum. Madrid also boasts some of the liveliest nightlife in the world. Madrid possibly has the largest number of bars per capita of any European city and a very active nightlife; Madrileños are known to stay up until as late as 5AM-7AM. It is quite common to see a crowded Gran Vía on weekend nights!

The culture of Madrid was dominated by its Royal history, centre of the Spanish Empire. The Royal Palace, big places and buildings used by the Spanish Monarchy are plentiful in Madrid, as well as medieval architecture, although nowadays Madrid is just as much a cosmopolitan city as Berlin or London, full of new architecture, lifestyle and culture.

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Jewish Madrid

Madrid is home to approximately 3,500 Jews. The history of Madrid Jewry is much like the history of Jews elsewhere in Spain, consisting of periods of great development layered between periods of severe persecution. Though once a thriving center of Jewish life, most of Madrid’s Jewish population was brutally murdered during the riots of 1391, while many others fled or converted to escape persecution. Jewish life in Madrid came to an end in 1492 with the expulsion of Jews from all of Spain. Only during the mid-nineteenth century did Jews begin to return to Madrid and establish what is today, along with Barcelona, one of the two largest Jewish communities in Spain. Madrid is perhaps most notable in modern Jewish history as the site of the 1991 peace talks held between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinians. Today the Jewish community of Spain has reestablished its presence and maintains several synagogues as well as a Jewish day school. Despite the shortage of historical Jewish sites, Madrid plays host to an assortment of national institutions that hold centuries-old Jewish texts not to be found anywhere else in the world.

Nearby Toledo the former capital of the Castile Region (until 1561) holds a rich Jewish history. The first sources referring to the Jewish quarter of Toledo are from the 12th century. The Jewish population of Toledo increased considerably and with it the size of the Jewish quarter, which expanded as far as San Tomé and later reached San Román. The Jewish quarter in Toledo was situated in the western part of the town, where it remained throughout the existence of the Jewish settlement. The Jewish quarter reached the peak of its development and size in the middle of the 14th century. The Jewish quarter of Toledo was not exclusively inhabited by Jews. Several well-known Christian noblemen had houses in the precincts of the Jewish quarter. The size of the Jewish population of Toledo cannot be estimated from the area of the Jewish quarter, with one estimate suggesting that it consisted of 350 families during the 14th century, including those who lived in villages in the vicinity. In 1368, during the siege of Henry of Trastamara against the town, 8,000 Jews including adults and children died in Toledo, showing the magnitude of their numbers at that time. The community of Toledo was one of the largest in the Iberian peninsula, and at the height of its prosperity the Jews probably formed one third of the city’s population, which was then over 40,000. Toledo is also one of the few towns of Spain where remnants of Jewish edifices have been preserved alongside many remnants of Jewish tombstones, some of which are preserved in the archaeological museum of the town and others in the Sephardi Museum.