Intercultural Appropriation and the Synagogues of Medieval Spain
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Toledo is a city located along the Iberian Peninsula of Spain. It was declared by UNESCO in 1986 to be a World Heritage Site because of a phenomenon that occurred there between the eighth and fifteenth centuries that is referred to as la convivencia. The term was advanced in the 1940’s by Américo Castro, a Spanish linguist and historiographer. Spanish for “the coexistence”, this period saw Christians, Jews and Muslims living together in Spain in relative accord. But la convivencia was not a scene of utopian harmony with three divergent cultures happily living side by side. This was instead what Thomas F. Glick refers to as an “uneasy communion”—a marriage of convenience in which people of different faiths lived, worked, and interacted together, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. As a result of these interdependencies many elements of culture were appropriated and adopted among the three groups, forming a unique shared heritage that is reflected in the arts and architecture of the period. A key point of convergence was the religious architecture of Toledo, particularly in the Jewish synagogues. Their conception and construction speaks of multilayered motives, ideologies, and a complex legacy that has sparked multiple interpretations.