Christians and Jews can Enjoy Vacationing in Spain

The massive, bustling, vibrant city of Madrid, the capital of Spain, is located in the center of the country. Its grand wide boulevards and highways disperse in all directions and is the residence of five million inhabitants. Restaurants and shops are located throughout the country. On my recent visit, I didn't notice shopping malls or multi-theater complexes that I have become accustomed to in the United States. Instead the city has many shopping areas with residents strolling in urban areas with unique specialty stores and eating at indoor and outdoor restaurants.

Street scene in Madrid
Street scene in Madrid | Larger

The country is predominately Catholic, but all religious faiths are encouraged to practice their beliefs. The government of Spain has for several years been preserving and restoring Jewish synagogues and other places of importance to Jews as national monuments. Spain is now welcoming Jews and offering Jewish heritage tours. Some members of our group, wanted to visit a synagogue in Madrid. So, off we went to Beth Yaakov Synagogue, the main Jewish house of worship in the city. Built in 1968, Beth Yaakov, is an orthodox synagogue with modern d├ęcor and a beautifully iron carved ark which houses the temple's sacred Torahs, (scrolls of Jewish law).

Beth Yaakov Synagogue Ark
Beth Yaakov Synagogue Ark | Larger

The rabbi informed us that 800 congregants belong to the synagogue and about five or six weddings a month are performed. There is also a Jewish day school which serves about 200 children. We were taken to the basement of the synagogue where we viewed a modern mikvah (ritual bath for Jewish women).

Ritual Bath
Ritual Bath | Larger

We learned that there are three additional small synagogues in Madrid and 15 active synagogues in Spain. Most are concentrated in the larger cities of Madrid and Barcelona. Many small cities throughout Spain had large Jewish populations before the Spanish Inquisition. Today, most formerly Jewish quarters and edifices have been destroyed or are now occupied as churches or as living quarters for businesses for Spaniards. The rabbi in Madrid estimated the Jewish population of the city to be approximately 3,000.

The Spaniards are a happy, friendly people. Spain is a breathtaking place to vacation. There are festive flamenco dancers and bull fights, fine dining and unique shopping opportunities at family-owned stores. You can also enjoy the beauty of the large cities and the charm of the smaller cities and villages.

Flamenco Dancer
Flamenco Dancer

I visited nine cities on my recent visit and enjoyed the many diverse communities and learned what life was like in this charming European country.

The city of Avila was one of my favorite Spanish cities. It is a picturesque community, approximately 70 miles from Madrid. UNESCO declared Avila a World Heritage Site in 1985. It is also known as the city of saints recognizing two patron saints; St. Teresa de Jesus and St. Joan of the Cross. I visited the Convent of Santa Teresa built on the site of the Cepeda mansion, the house where St. Teresa, the reformer of the Carmelite Order, was born. It houses statues by Gregorio Fernandez, St. Teresa's lavishly decorated chapel and a garden where St. Teresa played as a child.

Saint Teresa de Jesula in Avila
Saint Teresa de Jesula in
| Larger

Avila is known for its magnificent medieval walls that surround the old quarter of the city. Construction of the wall took place sometime between the 11 th and 12th centuries. You can stroll along the ancient walls and take a step back in time in Avila.

Our group also visited Cordova, a city of 300,000 inhabitants. Cordova is south of Madrid. Driving by automobile could take about eight hours from Madrid. We opted for the bullet train. The journey took only 90 minutes from Madrid. The train ride also included a delicious lunch and snacks and a view of the immense countryside of the nation.

Maimonides | Larger

Cordova was discovered by the Romans. However, during the period of Islamic domain, Cordova reached its peak. It became the most cultivated and magnificent city in tenth century Europe. The city has about a thousand mosques, and was the home of poets, doctors and philosophers, such as the famous Jewish philosopher, Maimonides. A statue marks the house where Maimonides lived on the Plaza de Maimonides.

While in Cordova, we visited the Mosque-Cathedral. This impressive sixteenth century cathedral is an outstanding example of Baroque architecture and has two richly ornamented pulpits and massive marble columns supporting two levels of arches.

Toledo | Larger

Toledo, located about 45 miles from Madrid, was also an appealing city on our visit to Spain. It was designated a World Heritage City in 1987. The city has many mosques and museums.

We had the opportunity to visit the El Greco House Museum in Toledo which contains the works of the renowned painter, El Greco, as well as other artists.

Museum of Ham
Museum of Ham | Larger

The cuisine in Spain was excellent with freshly baked breads of many varieties at every meal. The Spanish people enjoy their food and often have lengthy lunches with wine that take two or more hours to consume. The tradition of taking siestas in the afternoon continues.

An interesting restaurant to try on your next visit to Spain is the Museum of Ham. Here, hundreds of hams are displayed on the walls of the eatery and there is a diverse menu of ham options available as well as vegetarian selections. It was definitely worth a photo opt for tourists, but don't try to purchase a ham to take home to the United States as customs officials won't allow the item into the country.

For more information about Spain, go to