“Dejen la agenda estresante en la puerta y pasen con el cuaderno blanco y anoten cuánta sapiencia, cuánto hechizo, guarda esta atmósfera salida del caos, de la intuición y de la sensibilidad por el arte.” [ Recuerda … Singoga del Agua* ]
Leave your stressful agenda at the door and come in with a blank notebook and take note of how much wisdom, how many charms keep this atmosphere free from chaos, of the intuition and sensitivity for art.
On my recent trip to Úbeda, I ended my guided tour in an recently unearthed historical site called the Sinagoga del Agua. This establishment is a labor of love for the Crespo family, who I stayed with on my visit. In 2007 Fernando Crespo Valenzuela purchased several houses on the verge of demolition, with the intent to create apartments. Because of the age of the buildings, many people were involved in the deconstruction, and looked carefully over the stones removed from the area. Relegating some stones to the rubbish heap and others to use later, they unearthed a masterpiece.
Las ansias de las piedras por hablar
(as the English phrase) If only walls could speak ..
There is evidence of Jews in the time of Visigoths in this part of Spain according to documents from the year 612. There is a clear division in their history in the country as Before and After the Christian reconquest. What Crespo discovered is a synagogue, and a corresponding ritual bath or mikveh. Reportedly, this is the only pairing of temple and ritual bath on the continent. In the Jewish faith the natural element of water is very important, and in this space there are seven pozos or wells that reach down to a large quantity of free flowing water.
El futuro de Úbeda es el pasado. / The future of Úbeda is it’s past.
[ Nani Gomez de Toro, archeologist ]
Throughout the two year excavation process, the group worked with a team of masons, archeologists, historians, architects and others to ensure the accuracy of the renovation. They came across many pieces that were preserved over hundreds of years and are displayed today in the surrounding rooms: a chair made of cattail reeds, a wooden table, a painting. Alongside artfully chosen antiques from Crespo’s personal collection, this museum of sorts is a sight to behold.
There are several rooms: the Hall of Witnesses, the Hall of Three Cultures, a bodega or cantina, a kitchen, the Gallery of Women and below the space lies the ritual bath. The building was reformed in 1876, and plans from the time period confirm a structure with two floors and one floor below street level. Most notable to these eyes is the Puerta de Alma or the Door of the Soul, where a rabbi would enter into the synagogue (others entering through a side door from the street level). The doorway was restored by a local stonemason and student of the time period. The result is a wonder of heavy stone and wood with intricate designs signifying a place of transit from the material world to the spiritual one.
In the event that you make it to the town of Úbeda, you must absolutely take a guided tour through this historical place. The tours are informative and often Fernando himself will be there to answer your questions and show you some pictures from the renovation. It is clear that Crespo holds this location in high regard, and is working hard to spread the word about this discovery to fellow Spaniards and beyond. His enthusiasm is contagious, and it is plain to see that his dedication will serve future generations of his native Úbeda for many years to come.
Sinagoga del Agua
Address: c/ Roque Rojas 2
Price: Guided tour for 3 euros; large groups can negotiate for 2 euros per person
It should be noted that all fees collected here and a percentage of fees at nearby Patromonio souvenir shop are used for the maintenance of the synagogue.
Note: There are AM and PM visiting hours
* the information listed here comes from my own discussions with Fernando as well as the book “Recuerda: Sinagoga del Agua” available for purchase on site.