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Content and Format Update 5763 [October 2002ce].

Learn the History of Cazorla

Read about Southern Spain from ancient times till the Jews left Cazorla

Read about Cazorla in e-mail messages from first-hand sources

...in the early 1990s, was a relatively remote town —averaging less than one telephone per household— population around 10,000 (1994 census). It is in the province of Jaén, in southern Spain, in the region called Andalucía, or Andalusia, called al-Andalus by the Moors. Cazorla is situated in the Sierra de Cazorla at an elevation of 884 meters, in a fertile valley near a region famous as a major producer of olives in Spain today. It is at the entrance to a nature preserve called the Parque Natural de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas. The 2000+ square-kilometer park is the largest area of protected woodland in Andalusia—perhaps in all of Spain.
Cazorla is relatively famous in environmentalist circles as the subject of internationally published scientific papers on its flora and fauna. It is said that there are varieties of butterfly here unique in the world, and flowers (the Cazorla violet) and shrubs, too.
To see enlargements of the pictures below, click on any one.
Long View of Cazorla in its valley
Long view of Cazorla in its valley
The rare and beautiful Cazorla Violet
The rare and beautiful Cazorla Violet
The Old Fort in Cazorla
The Old Fort in Cazorla
...a wild, mountainous region with magnificent views, densely wooded slopes, crystal clear streams, lakes and waterfalls. Flowers grow in profusion, the air is heavily scented with thyme and lavender, butterflies of every color bask in the sun while bees are hard at work all round them. Eagles and osprey share their environment with many other kinds of more familiar birds while buck, wild boar and ibex are thick on the ground...

Descriptive text from the travel guidebook Off the beaten track. Spain  

  Cazorla in History  
  • The town of Cazorla was founded in Roman times, called Carcacena. At that time, it was quite wealthy, for the Romans mined silver and lead in the surrounding mountains. That wealth must have continued for quite some time, since it has two major fortified Arab castles guarding it (Castillo de La Yedra, and La Iruela) as well as a Moorish-style palace, currently in use as its Ayuntamiento (city hall). The area around Cazorla contains the headwaters of the mighty Guadalquivir, one of Spain's major rivers.
  • Indirect evidence of the early existence of Jews in Cazorla, is a local holiday. On May 14, the locals pay homage to their patron saint—a former resident—San Isicio, one of seven apostles, (called in Spanish los Varones Apostólicos), disciples of Paul, who preached Christianity in Spain before the arrival of the Moors. In those days, this type of person was usually a Jew who was in contact with the Jesus cult, sent to a Jewish community to preach, first to Jews then to the Gentiles. By tradition, Isicio was ordained a bishop (episcopos) by Paul (Saul of Tarsus/Tarshish), and established his apostolic seat in the Roman city of Carcacena (later called Cazorla).
    [Interestingly, another city called Tarshish is thought to be the Roman port of Tartessus in southern Spain. It was the destination of Jonah on his ill-fated trip.]
    The Festividad ends with a peculiar event called la caracolada. The facades of the homes are illuminated with oil lamps made of—or made to resemble—snail shells.
  • Cazorla is about 50 miles in a straight line, but probably more than 100 miles by road over rough terrain from Granada. In the last major battle of the Christian conquest (which they call the Reconquista-or reconquest), at the siege of Granada, troops from Cazorla arrived in time to assure the final victory of the Christians and the establishment of the Kingdom of Spain under Their Most Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabela. As a reward, the commander of the Cazorla contingent was granted a landed title, a coat of arms, and the noble motto Defender of Granada, by "Los Reyes Católicos."
  • At this point we can only speculate as to how many Jews were in the Cazorla area, or what their life there was like. One thing is sure, the place had an unusual hold on the refugees, for they clung to its language over the centuries, and even kept its name alive as a surname for their own families.
  • Similarly, we don't know how long it took the refugees from Cazorla to reach Monastir, but we have no evidence that they settled permanently anyplace else. (Although some of the expelled Jews of Spain are known to have made their way to the Canary Islands, and there are quite a few Cazorlas in the Canaries—likely Christians, by their given names.) They may have been attracted by the large community from Aragón--probably Barcelona (Badalona)—maybe as a result of the much earlier Christianization of northern Iberia. Or they may have been attracted by the similarities between Monastir and Cazorla; a mountain town, in a semi-remote area, but with access to Roman roads, near to centers of Spanish-speaking Jewish settlement, governed by a highly tolerant Muslim government which was glad to welcome refugees from the anti-Semitism of a religiously fanatical regime.

Another place called Cazorla
Searching the world, we can find only one other place called Cazorla. It is a remote town—160 miles inland—in the back country of Venezuela, in the state/province of Guarico (reached by a trail from the end of a gravel road); on the border of the Aguaro-Guariquito National Park, on the Orituco River, a tributary of the Orinoco—third largest river in Latin America. I have no information on how it got named, or by whom it was settled, although Venezuela—discovered in 1498 by Columbus—seems to have had ties to southern Spain, having been the first part of South America colonized by Europeans, under the name of Nueva Cádiz, then being called Nueva Granada in the 1700s.
Southern Spain before the Jews left Cazorla

The Mediterranean coast of the Iberian peninsula (including southern Andalusia) was known to and settled by the ancient Phoenicians and Greeks--the maritime traders and civilization-spreaders of the Mediterranean in earliest times. Jewish traders undoubtedly lived along the coast among the other western Mediterranean merchants.

  • The southern coast of Spain was probably known in the time of the Prophet Jonah (ninth century BCE) who tried to flee as far away as he could get, and booked passage to "Tarshish," which is commonly thought to be Tartessus, the land of the Tartessians who then inhabited the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.
  • According to some traditions, Jews arrived around Seville (Sevilla) in the Exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. The Book of the Prophet Obadiah, in his vision of the in-gathering of those dispersed to the far parts of the known world, refers to far away Exiles "even unto t'Zarfat (France)" and to the "captivity of Jerusalem that is in Sefarad (Spain)."
  • The Romans arrived in force in Iberia as a consequence of a war with Carthage. They prospered there (the caesar Trajan was born of a Spanish mother in southern Iberia, which was then known as the Roman province of Baetica), and stayed until that part of the Empire began to disintegrate from repeated Goth attacks.
  • In the 7th century CE, the Visigoth rulers ordered all non-Christians to be baptized or leave.
  • Southern Spain came under Moorish hegemony as a consequence of instability from warfare among the Goth tribes, and they were able to subdue most of the peninsula by around 711ce. The Province of Jaén was called Geen by the Moors to indicate that it was on the caravan route.
  • From 711ce the Iberian Peninsula was governed by a succession of Moorish (Moslem) regimes. This period was a Golden Age for the Jews of the region, who had arrived during the Roman occupation.
  • The Moors established an independent Caliphate in Iberia, with Córdoba (Corduba) as its capital. It soon became one of the greatest cities in Europe, a center of art, science and literature as well as conservatory of ancient knowledge. The Arabs were obsessed with translating the classical works of the Greeks and Egyptians. This translation work was frequently done together with Jewish scholars, and it became the treasure of Europe, in the Renaissance—after the Medieval "Dark Ages" during which all knowledge was kept from the common people of Europe.
  • Granada was called by the Moors Gharnatat al-Yahud (Granada of the Jews) because they believed Jews had founded it. By around 1030ce it had a largely Jewish population.
  • Around 1146ce, when the fanatical Almohads took over the Kingdom of Granada, Jewish life in Andalusia was virtually wiped out.
  • As the Moorish hegemony collapsed both from internal and external pressure, Christian forces pushed them further south. By the end, there were five kingdoms in Iberia, of which only one, the Nasrid kingdom (which included most of Andalusia), remained in Moorish hands. The Moors were driven out of Jaén in the mid 13th century CE.
  • As the Reconquista expanded through the peninsula, they established a number of practices—including Christianizing laws, forced baptism and conversion, expulsion of those who would not be converted—in order to drive out all vestiges of non-Christian influence. These culminated in the establishment of the infamous Inquisition and the Expulsion of the Jews in 1492ce.
  • In the fateful year, as the Reconquista came to a climax, things moved very quickly. Granada fell on January 2nd, the Inquisition was established there in March and the Edict of Expulsion took effect on August 3, 1492ce, the same day that Columbus' fleet set sail to the New World. (The Inquisition was officially ended in 1838ce.)
  • On the midnight of August 2nd 1492, when Cristobal Colón (known as Christopher Columbus in the English-speaking world) embarked on what would become his voyage of discovery, his fleet departed from the relatively unknown seaport of Palos de la Frontera on the Río Odiel, in the neighboring province of Huelva, because the shipping lanes of Cádiz and Sevilla were clogged with Spanish Jews fleeing in the final moments before the Edict of Expulsion took effect. The Jews, forced either to convert to Christianity or to "leave" the country under menace
    they dare not return... not so much as to take a step...nor trepass...in any manner whatsoever
    left their land, their property, their belongings all that was theirs and familiar to them rather than abandon their beliefs, their traditions, their heritage.
Cazorla in e-mail messages from first-hand sources

In an e-mail note, in 1997, Lydia Cassorla had this to say about the town, from personal experience:

I have had an interest in the town of Cazorla as the supposed Iberian origin of the family. I have visited twice since '92 and found it very interesting. The town is growing, due to national tourism in the Sierra de Cazorla. Most Spaniards have heard of Cazorla because there is a Parador in the park of the same name.

The town atmosphere is very friendly and the tapas are renown. You still get one with every drink there, the tradition of "tapa", or top. Dark hair and blue eyes (my coloring) are common. The area is intensely cultivated for olives, and has been for millenia. I did a bit of research in the local library, which was only open a couple of days per week. Their historical references include the notation of the edict of expulsion in 1492, and the fact that the name Cazorla was in common usage in the 15th century, as more than one local official carried that name.

I had the privilege of being walked around by an erudite Catholic priest who demonstrated a serious interest in the history of the region in medieval times. He verified that there was an active Jewish community in Cazorla during the "convivencia." Cazorla, I was told, signifies "around the castle." The fortress in Cazorla (which was inside the cover of the Michelin guide to Spain in '92 or '93) was begun by the Romans, and added to by the Moors and the Christians. The "Escudo" or shield which is in common usage as a symbol of the town, interestingly has a tower with a six pointed yellow star over it. I was fascinated by this, but did not press my kind guide too much on this, as he ascribed a Christian origin. Perhaps I will scan it in for the web page at some point, as I have a lovely photograph of a stained glass window which was recently done for the refurbished town hall of Cazorla.

It was common practice early in the years of mounting difficulty for Spanish Jews to change their names. Often they took the name of their locality, perhaps in conjunction with an attempt to convert. Cordoba, Madrid, etc. are common Sepharad names. As the inquisition intensified, conversions were rarely adequate. The pressure to denounce those who demonstrated any residual cultural vestiges mounted. Departure became necessary to survive.
Provided by Lydia Cassorla

In a later note, Jose Cassorla provided this information about the town, from recollections of his father, Rabbi Moise Cassorla.

My father, who went to visit the town in the fifties came back with another explanation on the origin of the name:
The Arabs called the town Casr Allah translated as God's Estate or castle. It may be that the Moors transformed the original Roman Carcacena into a more familiar Arab name.

My father looked to consult any historic archives left in the town but the Town Mayor told him that the city archives were burnt or destroyed by French troops during Napoleon's failed attempt to conquer Spain.
Provided by Jose Cassorla

In August 1999, Sigalit Kasorela (Cassorla) Zweig visited Cazorla, and reported the following.

We returned home last week, after 18 days of travel in Spain and Morocco. We stayed in Cazorla for 2 days.

We visited the town and the Natural Park around.

We couldn't find any signs that Jews lived there. In fact it was impossible to find any book or information about the history of the place before the 16th century. We got a few papers that just mention that the Phoenicians and Romans lived there but only in a few words.

We visited a Roman fountain and oil press.

There is an old Muslim castle there from the 13 Century, which is now a museum that shows some history of Cazorla, but late history. There is an old church as well from the 17th Century. There are lots of old houses in Cazorla that are still in use, from different periods, some look very old.

We visited a village just near that is called La Iruela. There is an older Castle there (11th century) and an old church, that is said to be only 300 years old but according to my husband's brother—who is an archeologist, and looked at the photos—there are elements in the building that were built in Roman style and methods.

We traveled the beautiful natural park as well, which is very green, and full of fountains and water running everywhere. An interesting thing we found out is that one of the main symbols of the area is a unique specie of violet that grows only there, and is called Violeta Cazorla. In Hebrew, Violet is called "Sigalit"!! Photos of the violet are on the cover of most of the tourist merchandise over there.

We met a woman that lives there that told us that the only written information about old Cazorla, is a research made by a doctor from Granada University. I think I will try to contact him by E-mail. I hope it can be found on the university web site.
Provided by Sigalit Kasorela



This section compiled 1996-2002ce from original research by Elie Cassorla, supplemented by contributions by the correspondents named herein.
If you have relevant information which would supplement or correct what's here, and would like to contribute, send e-mail to:
[ Send e-mail ] elie@jump.net
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Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002ce by Elie Cassorla (Eliyahu ben haRav Moshe v'Leah). ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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