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THE TRAVELS OF RABBI BENJAMIN
THIS book contains the reports of Rabbi Benjamin, the son of Jonah, of blessed memory*, of Tudela, in the kingdom of Navarre. This man travelled through many and distant countries, as related in the following account, and took down in writing in each place what he saw or what was told him by men of integrity, whose names were known in Spain. Rabbi Benjamin also mentions some of the principal men in the places he visited; and when he returned, he brought this report along with him to the country of Castile in the year 933 (A.D. 1173). The above-mentioned Rabbi Benjamin was a man of wisdom and understanding, and of much information; and after strict inquiry his words were found to be true and correct, for he was a true man.
TRAVELS OF RABBI BENJAMIN OF BLESSED MEMORY.
THUS says Rabbi Benjamin, son of Jonah, of blessed memory. I first set out from the city of Saragossa, and proceeded down the river Ebro to Tortosa. Two days' journey brought me to the ancient city of Tarragona, which contains many cyclopean and pelasgic remains†, and similar buildings are found nowhere else in the whole kingdom of Spain. This city stands on the coast. Two days thence is Barcelona, in which place there is
* The expression "of blessed memory" is generally added by Jews when mentioning the "honoured dead," (see Proverbs x. 7,) and recurs frequently in the following narrative.
This city was one of great antiquity; and at this time the remains of its ancient walls appear to have been very remarkable. Destroyed at an earlier period by the Saracens, Tarragona was rebuilt in the twelfth century.
a congregation of wise, learned, and princely men, such as R. Shesheth, R. Shealthiel, and R. Solomon, son of R. Abraham, son of Chisdai of blessed memory. The city is handsome, though small, and is situated on the sea-shore. Its trade attracts merchants from all parts of the world: from Greece, from Pisa, Genoa, and Sicily, from Alexandria in Egypt, from Palestine and the adjacent countries.
A day's journey and a half brings you to Gerona, which city contains a small congregation of Jews. From thence it is three days to Narbonne, eminent for its university, from which the study of the law spreads over all countries. The city contains many wise and noble men, especially R. Calonymos, son of the great and noble R. Theodoros of blessed memory, a descendant of the house of David, as proved by his pedigree. This man holds landed property from the sovereigns of the country, and nobody can deprive him of it by force. There is also R. Abraham, the president of the university, R. Makhir, R. Juda, and others of much merit and learning. Altogether the number of Jews amounts to about three hundred. It is four parasangs thence to the city of Beziers, which contains a congregation of learned men, the principals of which are R. Solomon Chalaphtha and R. Joseph, son of R. Nathaniel of blessed memory.
From thence it is two days to Har Gáash, or Montpellier, a city conveniently situated for trade, being within two parasangs from the coast. You here meet with Christian and Mohammedan merchants from all parts: from Algarve (Portugal), Lombardy, the Roman empire, Egypt, Palestine, Greece, France, Spain, and England. People of all tongues meet here, chiefly in consequence of the traffic of the Genoese and Pisans. The Jews of this city are among the wisest and most esteemed of the present generation. R. Reuben, son of Theodoros, R. Nathan, son of Zacharias, R. Samuel, their rabbi, R. Shelemiah, and R. Mordecai of blessed memory, are the principal among them. Others are very rich, and benevolent towards all who apply to them for assistance. is four parasangs hence to Lunel, a city containing also a holy congregation of Jews, who employ all their time upon the study of the law. This town is the place of residence of the celebrated rabbi R. Meshullam and his five sons (R. Joseph, R. Isaac, R. Jacob, R. Aaron, and R. Asher), all of whom are eminent scholars and rich men. The latter is an ascetic,
who does not attend to any worldly business, but studies day and night, keeps fasts, and never eats meat. He possesses an extraordinary degree of knowledge of every thing relating to Talmudic learning. R. Moses, his brother-in-law, R. Samuel, the minister, R. Solomon Cohen, and the physician R. Juda, son of Thibbon, of Spanish origin, are also inhabitants of Lunel. All foreign students who resort hither to study the law, are supplied with food and raiment at the public expense during the whole time of their stay in the university. The Jews of this city, amounting to about three hundred, are wise, holy, and benevolent men, who support their poor brethren near and far. The town stands within two parasangs of the coast. It is two parasangs hence to Beaucaire, a large town, containing about four hundred Jews, and a great university under the presidency of the great rabbi, R. Abraham, son of David of blessed memory, a scholar of the first eminence in scriptural and talmudic learning. He attracts students from distant countries, who are lodged in his own house and are taught by him; he, moreover, provides them with all necessaries of life from his own means and private property, which is very considerable. R. Joseph, son of R. Menachem, R. Benbenast, R. Benjamin, R. Abraham, and R. Isaac, son of R. Moses of blessed memory of this city, are also very great scholars and wise men. It is three parasangs further to Nogres or Bourg de St. Gilles. The chief of the Jewish inhabitants, of which there are about one hundred, are R. Isaac, son of R. Jacob, R. Abraham, son of R. Juda, R. Eliasar, R. Isaac, R. Moses, and R. Jacob, son of the late rabbi R. Levi of blessed memory. This town is a place of pilgrimage*, visited by the inhabitants of distant countries and islands. It is situated within three parasangs of the sea, on the very banks of the large river Rhone, which traverses the whole of Provence. It is the place of residence of R. Abba Mari, son of R. Isaac of blessed memory, who holds the office of steward to count Raymond.
*The church of St. Egidius, or Giles, in this town, was a celebrated place of pilgrimage in the middle ages. It was the birthplace and first appanage of the celebrated Raymond, count of St. Gilles and Toulouse, duke of Narbonne, and marquis of Provence, whose family were so active in the crusades. The count Raymond here mentioned, in whose household R. Abba Mari held office, was Raymond V., son of Alphonso, who had the title of count of St. Gilles during his father's life.
To Arles, three parasangs. The chief of its two hundred Israelites are R. Moses, R. Tobi, R. Isaiah, R. Solomon the rabbi, R. Nathan, and R. Abba Mari of blessed memory. It is three days hence to Marseilles, a city containing many eminent and wise men. Its three hundred Jews form two congregations, one of which resides in the lower town on the shore of the Mediterranean, and the other in the upper part, near the fortress. The latter supports a great university and boasts of many learned scholars. R. Simeon, son of R. Antoli, his brother, R. Jacob, and R. Levaro, are the chief of the upper synagogue, R. Jacob Perpiano, a rich man, R. Abraham, and his son-in-law, R. Meir, R. Isaac, and another Meir, preside over the lower congregation. An extensive trade is carried on in this city, which stands immediately on the coast. And here people take ship for Genoa, which also stands on the coast, and is reached in about four days. Two Jews from Ceuta, R. Samuel, son of Khilam, and his brother, reside there. The city is surrounded by a wall; no king governs over it, but senators chosen by the citizens out of their own body. Every house is provided with a tower, and in times of civil commotion war is carried on from the tops of these towers. The Genoese are masters of the sea, and build vessels called galleys, by means of which they carry on war in many places and bring home much plunder and booty. They are now at war with the Pisans.
From their city it is a distance of two days' journey to Pisa, which is a place of very great extent, containing about ten thousand fortified houses, from which war is carried on in times of civil commotion. All the inhabitants are brave; no king or prince governs over them, the supreme authority being vested in senators chosen by the people. The principal of the twenty Jews resident at Pisa are R. Moses, R. Chaim, and R. Joseph. The city has no walls, and stands about four miles from the sea, the navigation being carried on by means of vessels which ply upon the Arno, a river that runs through the city. Hence it is four parasangs to Lucca, a large city, which contains about forty Jews, the principal of whom are R. David, R. Samuel, and R. Jacob.
A journey of six days from thence brings you to the large city of Rome, the metropolis of all Christendom. Two hundred Jews live there, who are very much respected, and pay tribute to no one. Some of them are officers in the service of
pope Alexander*, who is the chief ecclesiastic and head of the Christian church. The principal of the many eminent Jews resident here are R. Daniel and R. Jechiel. The latter is one of the pope's officers, a handsome, prudent, and wise man, who frequents the pope's palace, being the steward of his household and minister of his private property. R. Jechiel is a descendant of R. Nathan, the author of the book Aruch and its comments. There are likewise at Rome, R. Joab, son of the rabbi R. Solomon, R. Menachem, the president of the university, R. Jechiel, who resides in Trastevere, and R. Benjamin, son of R. Shabthai of blessed memory.
The city of Rome is divided into two parts by the river Tiber, which runs through it. In the first of these divisions you see the large place of worship called St. Peter of Rome, on the site of the extensive palace of Julius Cæsar. The city contains numerous buildings and structures entirely different from all other buildings upon the face of the earth. The extent of ground covered by the ruined and inhabited parts of Rome amounts to four-and-twenty miles. You there find eighty halls of the eighty eminent kings who were all called Imperator, from king Tarquin to king Pepin, the father of Charles (Charlemagne), who first conquered Spain and wrested it from the Mohammedans. In the outskirts of Rome is the palace of Titus, who was rejected by three hundred senators in consequence of his having wasted three years in the conquest of Jerusalem, which, according to their will, he ought to have accomplished in two years. There is likewise the hall of the palace of king Vespasianus, a very large and strong building; also the hall of king Galba, containing 360 windows, equal in number to the days of the year. The circumference of this palace is nearly three miles. A battle was fought here in times of yore, and in the palace fell more than a hundred thousand, whose bones are hung up there even to the present day. The king caused a representation of the battle to be drawn, army against army, the men, the horses, and all their
* Alexander III., who held the papacy from 1159 to 1181. The employment of Jews in the service of the pope is a circumstance worthy of remark. + The book Aruch was a celebrated dictionary, completed by rabbi Nathan at Rome, in A.D. 1101.
These singular legends relating to the ancient buildings in Rome are chiefly taken from the writings of Josephus Ben Gorion. Some of them may be compared with similar tales which are found in Christian writers, and of which several examples are inserted in William of Malmesbury's History.