The historic centre of Salamanca is a labyrinth of narrow passageways, a pedestrian paradise,, with limited vehicular traffic, primarily for deliveries in the morning. Salamancans are clearly the benficiaries of their medieval origins. Along one of these lanes, I spotted the most amazing narrow building.
It is being held up by girder supports. It is now a copy shop and obviously sells soccer jerseys. (I am not writing this special post because there is a Leo Messi, No.10, jersey for sale.) But look at the first level, horseshoe arches with the decorations that only make use of vegetal and geometric designs, with an absence of animals or humans, so characteristic of Islamic art.
And within the one of the right, a metal grill with the Star of David. Was this part of the original design? The second level also amazes.
The metal frame of a window, in the style that is still so prevalent throughout Spain (remember my post on the balconies of Barcelona) with a row of six Stars of David. Notice the glass work on the bottom side of the window frame.
I asked at the tourist office, even showed them my photos and they knew nothing about it. I know that there was a very vibrant Jewish community in Spain from as early as the second century. I also know that during the centuries of Moorish rule, the three different People of the Book, the Muslims, the Jews and the Christians, lived together in harmony, mutual tolerance and artistic and intellectual stimulation. The period is known in Spanish as la convivencia.
Is this the house of a Jewish family? A bit of research tells me that this street is within the area of the Judaria, the Jewish neighbourhood in medieval times. The Jews were expelled finally in 1492. Quick test? What else of significance happened in Spain in that year? Top marks if you said the final victory over the Moors by Isabel and Ferdinand in their capture of the kingdom of Granada. Yes, I know that there was something else.
If it was the home of a Jewish family, did this family have it built with the horseshoe arches, an essential element in Moorish architecture. Think of the Great Mosque of Cordoba. There is a medieval synagogue in the city of Toledo which is clearly inspired and imitative of Moorish architecture, the decision to build like this made by the Jewish community. I am heading back to Toledo at the end of the month to take another look at a Christian church which reflects clearly the same Moorish influence. And I am left with the growing sense that the Christians and the Jews thrived within and under the influence of the civilization that the Moors developed in Andalucia, their name for Spain, and that their admiration and appreciation of the centuries of convivencia was reflected in their own architecture, to the degree that they chose to build using the styles of the group who dominated politically and militarily but stimulated artistically and intellectually. At times, the Christians chose to build in the Moorish styles rather than in the dominant Chrisitan (that is, the rest of Europe) styles. Interesting, provocative! Another reason why Spain is such an intriguing place to visit. I visited a monastery yesterday in Burgos; a small chapel has an amazing wooden ceiling – Islamic and chosen to be decorated in that style by a Christian king. I have finally found a photo of it on the Web. Forgive the grey border from the site where I located it. The jaw drops in the presence of such beauty!
Food for thought as I nibble on my plates of tapas! Something to pursue when I return to Toronto and the Robarts Library with its magnificent collection of texts on Spanish art and architecture.