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Hervás, convivencia and the heritagization of Spain's Jewish past

Daniela Flesler and Adrián Pérez Melgosa

Keywords: CONVIVENCIA; CULTURAL HERITAGE; CONVERSOS; JEWISH TOURISM; SPANISH FESTIVALS; HERVAS

Abstract

Since the early 1990s, and coinciding with the celebratory events of the fifth centenary, new cultural initiatives related to the legacies of Spain's Jewish inhabitants have been added to the marketing of the country as a tourist destination. This article analyses how these initiatives foreground convivencia [coexistence] as a uniquely Spanish cultural tradition and shape it into a marketable ideological product, by focusing on the town of Hervás, in the province of Cáceres, Extremadura, as a prime example of the complexities inherent in these tourism initiatives. Over the last twelve years Hervás has organized a celebration of its Jewish identity in 'Los conversos' ['The converts'], a three-day festival in which the town's inhabitants dress up as 'Jews' and stage a collective performance of a theatre play related to its Jewish past. Through careful analysis of the gradual changes that have been incorporated into the festival and the play over the years, the article studies the entanglement of desires and anxieties and the multiple contradictions that arise as this town foregrounds its Jewish past to negotiate unresolved issues of transnational, national, regional and local identity. The article combines an analysis of textual sources, especially the literary works on which Hervás has relied to construct the image of itself promoted in the festival, and materials gathered from fieldwork there (promotional materials, video footage and photographs of the celebrations, interviews with organizers and participants, etc.). It also relies on the research undertaken by local historian Marciano de Hervás, and current theorizations of patrimonialization and heritagization (Urry 1995; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998) and the 'reinvention' of Jewish culture in Europe (Gruber 2002) in the field of tourism studies.

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