Greetings from Baghdad

A Sephardic Jew records his impressions of the city and its Jewish leadership in the 12th century.

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In Baghdad there are twenty-eight Jewish synagogues, situated either in the city itself or in Al-Karkh on the other side of the Tigris; for the river divides the metropolis into two parts. The great synagogue of the Head of the Captivity has columns of marble of various colors overlaid with silver and gold, and on thee columns are sentences of the Psalms in golden letters. And in front of the ark are about ten steps of marble, on the topmost step are the seats of the Head of the Captivity and of the Princes of the House of David.

The city of Baghdad is twenty miles in circumference, situated in a land of palms, gardens and plantations, the likes of which is not to be found in the whole land of Shinar. People come thither with merchandise from all lands. Wise men live there, philosophers who know all manner of wisdom and magicians expert in all manner of witchcraft.

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Benjamin of Tudela

Benjamin of Tudela was a rabbi and world traveler. In 1165/6 he set off on a voyage through the Mediterranean region, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Arabia, Egypt, and other places in Asia Minor and the Near East, before returning to Spain in 1173 and publishing an account of his travels. His Book of Travels has been translated into many languages.