Paula Andújar Gallego is a graduate in Art History at the University of Granada. In 2019, she defended her Master thesis on the Jews of Melilla, dealing with the period after the beginning of the community in 1864, with a special focus on Jewish patronage of the architectural and urban development of this Spanish city. She is currently working at the Catedra Melilla-Sefarad.
The project focused on tracking each of the steps taken by the descendants of Northern Moroccan Sephardic Jews established in the city of Melilla. The purpose of this research was to analyse the Jewish contribution to the development of the city of Melilla in the modern period, in terms of urban planning, architectural and artistic features and commercial life. After 1864 Jews contributed to the emergence of the city of Melilla, transforming it with their financial means into an incipient town into a small, unique and remarkable architectural masterpiece, that over time has accommodated different cultures, Christian, Jewish, Muslim/Berber and Hindu. Together with Ceuta, Melilla is an integral part of Spain and, as autonomous cities, and they are considered “small territories under Spanish sovereignty.” They are better known because of their strategic location and their status of duty free ports. However, recent literature overlooks the fact that they were among the earliest Spanish territories where Jews openly established and legally created their own communities, rather than in places such as Seville, Madrid or Barcelona (see, for example, J. Israel and U. Macias’ La Comunidad Judía de Madrid, or M. Valentín’s Voces caídas del cielo sobre el exilio judío en Barcelona).
On one hand, this project has aimed to raise awareness about the Jewish contribution to the artistic landscape of the city, and the important cultural role that the community has played in Melilla, a city originated from a military post. During my three-month research stay at the Centre of Human and Social Sciences of the CSIC, I was been able to locate a large number of documents that had been transferred to Madrid’s Military Archives, where I found information concerning Jewish urban mobility after their 1864 arrival to Melilla. The visualization of city maps and the reading of archival documentary files allowed me to locate specific houses, synagogues, and commercial establishments, as well as to better understand the Jewish street map of the city and the changes it has endured after its progressive expansions.
On the other hand, this project aimed at better understanding the deep-rooted traditions of Melilla Jewish community, taking into account that the multi-secular cohabitation of Hispano-Sephardic Jews with Berber Muslims, has given rise to some peculiarities, influencing rituals and habits. And thus, the city welcomed and opened its borders to cultures that had never set foot on peninsular territory, becoming a strategic port for the Sephardic community in their modern “return” to Sepharad. As a result, we find artistic shapes and architectural works of art that can clearly be attributed to the Jews, since the buildings erected by Jews exhibit details that only Jews or those versed in Jewish culture can decipher. This project aims at identifying the singularity of all the buildings erected by Jews by relaying on previous fieldwork, publications related to this topic and preserved maps of the city of Melilla.
The project attempts to exhibit the urban architecture through the eyes of those who commissioned said artistic works in order to give credit to those who decided to invest. Melilla embodies the coexistence of different cultures, visible in daily life and artistic representations, which is difficult to find in present. The multiple years of cultural exchange between Jews and Muslims are clearly reflected in the buildings that we can still see today, where different shapes and tastes are combined.