Sephardic Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943. A web companion
to a new history.
first Sephardim were part of the large wave of Jewish
exiles from Spain and Portugal who arrived in the Ottoman
Empire, and specifically in Salonika, at the end of the
Jewish expulsion from Spain was ordered on March 31, 1492,
by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The emigration began
in July, and about 175,000 Jews left Spain that year.
these, perhaps 120,000 sought refuge in neighboring Portugal,
where they faced forced conversion in 1497 and persecution
as New Christians in 1506. Thousands left Portugal for
the Ottoman Empire through 1521, when the Portuguese forcibly
stopped the exodus.
a result of the Spanish expulsion and the attacks in Portugal,
about 60,000 Sephardim arrived in the Ottoman Empire during
the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
in Ottoman lands
was one of the closest Ottoman sea ports for those arriving
from the west, and in 1519 an Ottoman census found that
it was home to a large Sephardic community of 17,000.
Jewish population declined slightly over the next century
as some left the city for towns in the Macedonian interior.
Jews expelled from Sicily and Naples in 1492 and 1511
also settled in Macedonia after arriving at Albanian seaports.
was a rising Macedonian town in the late 15th century,
and it attracted some Sephardim. Rabbi Joseph Ben Lev
was born there in 1502, and he later became a famous scholar
in Salonika. By 1544, there were about 300 Jews in Monastir.
allure of Monastir
antiquity, Monastir's key assets had been its central
location and rich countryside. Set halfway between the
ports of Thessaloniki on the Aegean and Albanian Durres
on the Adriatic, the city's importance to overland travel
long pre-dated the Ottoman period.
city also enjoyed abundant supplies of water and good
soil, and the city and its plain are thoroughly encircled
by mountain peaks that protected the city from attack.
these advantages helped Monastir become a successful Ottoman
city. The mid-1500s was the period of the great Ottoman
ruler Sultan Suleyman "the Magnificent," and
it was an active time in Monastir. In 1558-59 the Jeni
mosque and its 131-foot minaret rose over the city and
proclaimed the victory of Islam in Christian Europe.
Just two years later, in 1561, the Empire´s greatest
architect, Mimar Sinan, built the Ajdar Kadi mosque in
Monastir. Islamic culture flourished and the city was
home to a noted poet, Sulayman Ayani, who died in 1603.