Tarazona itself, then and now.....
One should make it clear straight away that there is no evidence whatsoever to hand which could support the idea that this particular town is closer to one's own ancestors than any other town in Aragon...clearly there isn't, since no effort has been made, even if possible, to trace such a connection back to it nor to Huesca, Borja, Caspe, Catalayud, nor to the probably dozens of other towns and villages where a Benardout once lived.

But we did live there and all around. It's just that Tarazona is clearly far more advanced in relating and projecting its own Middle-Ages history than all the others and is thus easier to relate to. And All Honour to them !

One broader point does seem to have been settled, in case you were still uncertain about it, and that has been taken from the histories I have come across which declare - "Aragon was the Abenardut's kingdom of origin ", (Meyerson, - Page 195 n.34), even if members were sometimes to be found further south, in Valencia and Morvedre for example. If I recall aright, the family indeed belonged to the "Aragon " synagogue of Salonika in the post-expulsion days.

But, - another source places the beginnings of the Benardout dynasty of Doctors firmly in Navarre, (then far from being part of Spain proper), and from as long ago as 1179, so even this question remains open, - hopefully encouraging competition in research !!

Originally a Roman city, known as Turiaso on the northern slope of Aragon's highest mountain, Mons Caius, - (now Moncayo - 2,300 meters) - and thought to have been prosperous until the Moorish conquest of the 8th century, Tarazona sits at an important cross-roads on Aragon's borders with both Castile and Navarre and close by the more famous town of Tudela, some 21 km to the north-east. During recent renovations, traces of a Roman temple dedicated to the Emperor Augustus and more were found under the nave of the town's Cathedral, bringing its past more alive and providing even broader historical proportion and balance.

Tarazona was reconquered from the Moors in about 1119. It had always been the main cathedral town of Aragon with a large extensive diocese and a rich Catholic history. At the foot of the cliff on which the walled town stands, there runs a well-cultivated river stream, - quite fast but low in summer, - Rio Queiles - flowing into the Ebro near Tudela thus linking the two. A very pastoral picture altogether.

There is a thread throughout the Jewish community's history linking Tarazona and the more famous Tudela, - the latter tended to serve as a refuge for Jews needing to leave Tarazona for whatever reason. I managed to visit this jewel of Navarre and must admit that it has much attraction for me too and hope, in time, to research any family history there. Maybe Binyamin of Tudela was a vague relative........

One of the issues raised in earlier chapters has been the meaning of our family name. A vague possibility was that if it had been taken from the Hebrew, then the ard in it, (which could be from the word for bronze) might well have indicated a family which worked in the local mines. This is not a strong argument because we have no evidence so far back of the Benardout presence there nor anywhere else for that matter but it is a start, one possibility, no more.

Even so, it can at least be clarified here that Tarazona was a centre of metal mining and trading in Roman times, its river connection with Tudela suggesting a viable and profitable trade throughout the colony and into the Mediterranean.

In 450 AD, in the twilight years of the Roman Empire when the Visigoths were steadily encroaching, the town was known to be "the centre of a prosperous mining valley " and thus the object of military attention. And, apparently, even Pliny the Elder found time to write of it, - that Turiaso "forged iron tools of high quality ".

So any adoption of such a surname could equally well have been during Aragon's Roman, Visigoth or Moorish periods of conquest, - whether (theoretically) by us as slaves brought over by Rome after the Fall of the Second Temple or much later as wealthier Jews who came to own, manage or trade in metals.

On the other hand, when considering such an early family arrival one must remember that most if not all authorities place Aragon's first Jews from only the 3rd century AD, no earlier than that, still Roman but long after the Fall of the Second Temple.

So this is just another subject calling for intensive research - the above idea in parallel of course with all other possible name-sources.

At the time of the Expulsion (1492) Tarazona numbered about 300 houses with some 1,300 residents at the most. The number of Jews towards the end of the 14th century is well documented, - about 15% of the population - 225 souls in 52 houses, - but by the time of the Expulsion, and including the 15th century New Juderia, Jews owned some 70 houses with 300 people, making up some 20% of the town's population. In the published documents and lists I have reviewed overall, about 170 differing Family names have been collated of Jews living in Tarazona over the whole period up to that terminating event.

It can no doubt be argued this way and that as to whether these well-documented figures excluded converts to Christianity since the data usually derives from Jewish taxation - for what reason did a man convert if not also to be exempt from tax ? I would surmise that they did include them but under their names prior to conversion to Christianity. But even if they did not, then to the Jewish Tarazona names of those who clearly were taxed, one could add a number of local converso names such as Bertran/Beltran, de Luna, Pomar and San Johan, Frances, de la Roy, Santa Fe and the infamous Santangel.

Another possible aspect of the family's Tarazona history needs to be gone into, prompted as it is by the fact of the flow and intake of Jews arriving in the town and restoring its numbers during the period following the Black Death and the1391 Troubles, - exiles from Southern France and Navarre at that particular time.

We know that the family was well already well established there prior to those two momentous events, but did other Benardout's arrive and join them from Southern France for example ? We have come across a much older and firm Navarre connection and a looser French one several times, and here is another possibility very worthy of research for those with the inclination and the time.

On the MoncayoTV website, easily found on YouTube, you can see the style of building throughout the Juderia and the whole town itself. The Juderia is now very much restored and fully populated. It is impossible to believe other than that this has not changed at all over nearly seven hundred years. I sometimes felt that if a single stone was removed, the whole might collapse down the side of the cliff but it is clearly livable in as indeed it still is.

Tarazona is today a magnet for local and foreign tourism, with some light industry on its outskirts and with what is clearly a high standard of living for its only 11,000 residents. Its civic pride is immediately noticeable, a modernised, remarkably clean, neat and tidy, polished-up and well-maintained place, all to a high level....from which we in Israel could learn a great deal by the way.

Although the sport is no more, it has two Bull Rings, the older now serving as apartments with its central space serving as a theatre in support of the Town's varied cultural activity throughout the year.

The Moncayo Mountain includes a large Wild-Life Nature Park famous amongst other things for spiritual activity, - including that of witches to whom reference is constantly made throughout the area, - but whose influence, if tending towards evil, is no doubt countered by the hovering spirit of the one-time Cistercian Monastery of Veruela at its peak. The Monastery itself is now owned and run by the Zaragoza Council for purposes of restoration and is enjoyed by the general public for broad cultural activities.

The local middle and late middle-ages architecture, from the Cathedral to the Town Hall, both restored, can only be described as "breath-taking " in its beauty, - and there is a quite remarkable collection of such art for so small an area.

The surrounding country-side offers much to the cyclist and the camper, Borja and Tudela are only short distances away, - Borja famous today for its wines, (and for a murderous Papal family once upon a time), Tudela for its history including, of course, that rabbi and historian, Binyamin, who traveled much of the known world and collated data on its Jewish communities.

Tarazona's tomato-soaked Cipotegato Festival in the Summer is a one-time experience; at about the same time as Tudela's own encierro, bull-running through the latter city's streets, - both very colourful and enervating occasions. Other historical and religious festivals are held all year around of course.

The town seems always to have taken academic prowess very seriously, - it hosted a famous College of Translators in the 13th - 14th centuries, translating from Arabic to Latin, and today carries out its own historical research vigorously, adding to the city's rejuvenation at a perhaps slightly more academic level than elsewhere, actively enjoyed by the general population. It maintains a Fine Arts Theatre, has its own choir, music-conservatory, orchestra and TV station as already mentioned, - and a successful football team. For a Town of this size it is a very impressive list indeed.

As to its commerce, I have not learnt all that much but please note - it hosts at least 7 bank branches, which surely indicates a cash-money activity and an at least solid middle-class wealth ensuring a high level of employment. In Israel, by comparison, 11,000 residents would hardly justify two bank branches. The shops, cafes and very pleasant restaurants always seem to be very busy and exhibitions, conventions and good old-fashioned gatherings of the like-minded abound. There is always something interesting going on.

One small curios is deliberately slipped in here concerning the town as a tourist attraction rather than with anything to do with our Family. But the item is typical. On one of my long walks up the hill and about the curling streets, right at the top, next to a small church, I came across sheet-music painted on the lower wall of a little house and snapped it, - not appreciating what it was exactly as there was no municipal plaque to help the tourist out, - unlike in the Juderia itself where every site is placarded in three languages.

When I looked at it more closely back at home I learnt that it was the hand-painted sheet-music of La Violetera, - "The Violet Seller ". I've asked why there was no plaque of explanation, - although I tend to think that this is a case of "Anyone who needs to know would already know ".

This song was written in 1914 by Jose Padilla Sanchez (1889-1960), born at Almeria on Spain's south-east coast and became eternal when sung by Raquel Meller, (1888-1962), - and my guess is that that was the house where she was born. I learnt only later that there is a permanent exhibition in her honour in the local Fine Arts Theatre, a plaza with her statue in Barcelona, as well as streets named after her in Paris, Madrid and more.

Not bad, - better than any of us has managed. But don't get excited about the possibility of her being Jewish, - her surname was borrowed from a short-term Belgian Lover and by all accounts, however boisterous her Life, she lived, died and was buried a devout Catholic. I hope that one day the song will be arranged for four voices and performed by the choir with which I sing at home, - (we have our own Diva !), - a bridge over time.

It is worth stressing how important the Town's cathedral is to the whole of Aragon and thus how important its secrets are, historically, to the local population. Tarazona has always been and still is at the heart of the Diocese of Aragon and it is in Tarazona that the Bishop resides. As mentioned, the cathedral has now been very much and quite beautifully restored, including the alter-piece which was originally painted (incidentally) by a converso, Yohanan Levi.

The cathedral was founded in the 12th century, built originally in the Gothic style, consecrated in 1232, destroyed in the War of the Two Peters, (1356-1375), and rebuilt in the Mudejar style, the Moorish style, but long after the Moors had ceased to rule in Aragon. The destruction had been at the hands of the Castilians ably assisted by their then Andalucian Moorish allies so all that makes the Moors even more a part of Tarazona's history, - just as they were part of all of Spain's till their final expulsion only in 1610.

Thus it is also important to remember throughout, never to forget, that Jews were not the only people who lived under a special relationship, made a notable contribution and enjoyed "Glory Days " throughout middle-ages Spain.

On this, one should note that the size of the then Moorish population of Spain - and the figure given for those ultimately expelled seems to range between 600,000 and one million, - was clearly many times larger than that of the total Jewish community.

Other authorities refer to the Moriscos as being themselves only 20% of Aragon's population, (whilst presumably higher further south), but I have not yet found an estimate of Tarazona's Moors. But we are clearly required to see the Morisco and the Sefardi as being of similar status in Spanish history in general and in this Town's in particular.


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