For most people, 1492 is the year Christopher Columbus “discovered” the American continent. However, for the Jewish community established in Spain at the time, it was the year of the Alhambra decree, or Edict of Expulsion, issued on March 31st, 1492 by Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon and ordering the expulsion of Jews.

IstanbulSynagogueJews had been living in Spain since Roman times, and had thrived during the Muslim rule of the Iberian Peninsula starting in the 8th century, because they were considered People of the Book. How things have changed 🙁

However, after the Christian reconquest of Iberia, they started being persecuted. Oppression was marked by forced conversions to Catholicism, but as “crypto-Jews” continued to secretly practice Judaism, antisemitism increased. The terms of the Edict were very strict: all Jews had to convert or leave the country by July 31st.

Alhambra

Most left, and scattered throughout Northern Africa and Europe. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire even sent its Navy to bring many of them safely to the Ottoman Empire. 

As they settled in small communities in their host countries, they kept their language, today known as Judaeo-Spanish or Ladino. Five centuries later, this derivation of Old Spanish is still spoken by some, particularly by the 30,000 or so Jews leaving in Istanbul. Of course it has evolved, with the addition of local words, but it’s still distinctly Spanish in essence.


The Alhambra Edict was formally revoked in 1968. In 2014, more than 500 years later, the government of Spain finally passed a law allowing dual citizenship to Jewish descendants who apply, in order to “compensate for shameful events in the country’s past.” Sephardic Jews who are descendants of those Jews expelled from Spain due to the Alhambra Decree can now “become Spaniards without leaving home or giving up their present nationality.”

The first time I heard about this community is from its member Fani Kastoryano Mashhadian (and not Fanny Castoriano), our Accounting Manager, who can now apply for Spanish citizenship, in addition to her Turkish, American and Israeli ones!

Fani