The “Sephardic Jerusalem” is known around the world for the beauty of its synagogues and its Jewish quarter. The memory of the community has remained vivid in Toledo; historians have from the thirteenth and fourteenth century onward been able to supply fairly precise information about the location and history of the city’s Jewish community. Toledo is a city of great historical and artistic importance and is listed here as a World Heritage Site.
At the time of its greatest splendor, just before 1391, Toledo had ten synagogues and five to seven yeshivot. In 1492 there were five grand synagogues, two of which survive: the Tránsito, now the Sephardic Museum, and Santa María la Blanca.
The quarter can be reached through a gate. One of the many entrances is the gate Puerta de Assulca, which has in its vicinity in flea market where oil, butter, chickpeas, lentils and everything necessary for daily life are sold.
Then it enters the streets, adarves (dead-end streets) and squares of the quarter. The main street is called Calle del Mármol and connects the Jewish quarter with the rest of the city.
There is a market, places to pray, public baths, bread ovens, palaces and a wall. Near the Tagus river is the neighborhood Barrio del Degolladero, so named because here was the designated place for the ritual slaughter (shechitah) of beef-cattle.
In the neighborhood Barrio de Hamazelt the richest Jewish families lived and in the street known today as San Juan de Dios, lived the best known Jew of Toledo: Samuel ha-Levi. He was the treasurer of the king Peter of Castile and ordered the building of a big synagogue, that later was known as the “Synagogue of el Tránsito”. And as in all the Jewish houses, features a mezuzah containing passages from Deuteronomy affixed to its door-post.
Two Jewish places of worship are preserved today (both as museums), Santa María la Blanca (formerly the Synagogue of Ibn Shushan) and El Tránsito. In a bygone age, every Friday before sunset, a rabbi sounded the shofar (a goat’s horn) three times announcing the arrival of the Sabbath.