Monday, April 15, 2013

Spain: Armchair Travelers Can Roam the Routes of Sefarad Thanks to Google

Jaén, Spain. The chapel of San Andrés is founded on the site of the old synagogue. Photo and information (with associated timeline and map) from the new routes of  Sefarad website (The Jewry of Jaén)

Spain: Armchair Travelers Can Roam the Routes of Sefarad Thanks to Google
 by Samuel D. Gruber 

(ISJM) Routes of Sefarad  has created an online interactive multimedia experience to assist viewers in easily discovering Sephardi heritage.  Jewish quarters and their related sites throughout Spain are mapped and made available with photos, information and details for visitors. This can serve the armchair traveler, but is also designed to help visitors, students and researchers planning a go or already in Spain to plot trips, or to easier find Jewish sites in many places they might visit for other reasons.  The information is available in Spanish and English.

Using technology provided by Google, the website allows the visitor to access maps, timelines and a large amount of historical information.   The project is available at the website of the Network of Spanish Jewish QuartersAccording to organizers, the technology supplied by Google enables the organization  of "523 sites, 910 chronological entries, 1.667 images, 67 informative texts and 138 comments in lexical voices.... spanning from the 3rd century till today."  I've only browsed a few of the entries but have discovered much new (to me anyway) material.  Here, for example, is the section of
JaénObviously, there are bigger sections for the better known and documented centers such as Toledo, Girona and Barcelona.

The website is very rich and rewarding to explore - and a much easier way to find information about historic Jewish sites in Spain then previously available.  But while the material is extensive, it is not complete With new sites identified every year through documentary research or archeology the site can keep expanding. Lorca, for instance, with its excavated synagogue and Jewish quarter and extraordinary display of reconstructed synagogue lamps, is not included.  I expect it will expand over time.  

Similarly, the site does not link to the many research publications (mostly in Spanish) now online that address historical, archaeological and preservation issues about Jewish heritage in Spain.  But this online travel guide is a welcome addition.  I may still use a few of my old guides and references in association with the site - but this will be my first go-to place for Jewish Spain.

Some of this same type of information for other countries has been available for many years at other sites, notably the in-depth information about Jewish sites in Holland provided by the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, which also uses Google maps but remains fairly hidden deep in the museum's website. In other countries (England, the Czech Republic) researchers have compiled comparable information, but this is available in complete from only in published books.  

The Spanish (and Dutch) solution may not work for every country, but it is a model to be tried. In Spain, the remains trace of culture that was suppressed five hundred years ago, and what is shown on the web does not, for the most part concern the new and small, but quite active Jewish community. The routes of Sefarad is mostly an historic exercise geared for informed tourism.  In other countries where the Jewish presence - and suffering - is more recent and security issues more immediate such web-based easy access to Jewish sites is still often resisted. There is, of course, of middle way. Web tourism sites can easily promote historic resources and museums, but there is no need to indicate the precise locations of active synagogues, schools, offices and other community institutions.

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