One of the destinations of Benjamin of Tudela is Rome, the head of Christendom and one of the most powerful cities in medieval Europe. The narration of this passage focuses mainly on the description of the cultural elements of the city, including religion, architecture and History. The author also includes in this description, although to a lesser extent, some geographic aspects of the territory. However, the characteristics of the inhabitants and their traditions are left out.
Therefore, the author starts the description by underlying the fact that Rome is the seat of Pope Alejandro. He is interested in the presence of Jewish people as well, as he mentions them and specifies the quantity of Jewish people living in the city. Furthermore, the author claims that there were Jewish people among the great scholars of Rome, and, consequently, they are exempt from paying some taxes. In addition, the author mentions major figures of the Abrahamic religions, such as Jesus of Nazareth, Pepin, and Salomon.
Moreover, Benjamin of Tudela also pays attention to the architecture of the city. Again in relation to religion, some of the architectural complexes he outlines are St. Peter’s of Rome, the Pope’s palace, the Palace of Julius Caesar, the Colosseum and the “many wonderful structures in the city, different from any others in the world” (9), among others. In regard to the historical facts that the author brought into the description of Rome, the siege of Jerusalem is mentioned. Besides this, he mentions the number of deaths of some past wars, the king Charlemagne, the Consul and the Roman Senate.
Lastly, Benjamin of Tudela does not explain much about the geographical elements of the city. He briefly notes the extension of the territory and that it is separated in two parts due to the river Tiber. Likewise, he does not provide much information about the physical aspects of the trip; he only shares that it took him six days to travel from Lucca to Rome and four days to go from Rome to Capua, his next destination, which is portrayed as a good city with a sick population.
Although the author gives an exhaustive description of the cultural aspects of Rome, rather than a description of the city itself, this narration shows more clearly his own personality. Firstly, we can appreciate that he is very interested in the presence of Jewish people in the area and in the positions they hold. Therefore, we can deduce that he is proud of his community, of how highly-skilled and trained the Jewish people are, and that they are able to hold principal positions. He seems to be more interested in the economical and cultural identity of Jewish people, rather than in the religion. He does not mention or judge any of the religious differences he may have seen—not even about the people who practice different religions. Also, when he discusses the Jewish population he provides numeric data and facts with a logical and exacting perspective. His style is concise and direct, and he does not offer vague descriptions. Consequently, we can assume he values scientific rigor and objectivity.
This logical aspect of his personality is enhanced by his education. This narration proves that he is versed in History and architecture. We can imagine he may have been trained in these subjects in the Spanish kingdom of Navarra, his homeland, which may also be a sign of the cultural well-being of the Christian kingdoms. Similarly, since the intellectual elites of the Iberian Muslim kingdom were well-educated in mathematics and science, his logical mind could also be a consequence of being educated in Al-Andalus due to the close relation between this territory and the Christian Kingdoms.
Thus, both the Jewish culture and the culture of the Iberian Peninsula converge in the author’s profile; as a Jewish person, he demonstrates his interest in the condition of his people in different cities. As a man from the medieval kingdoms of Spain, his education most likely shaped his mindset, since he also seems to be used to the cohabitation of practitioners of the Abrahamic religions—an extraordinary and intriguing phenomenon that happened in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages despite the wars of religion that characterize this convoluted time period.
Of Tudela, Benjamin. The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. Translated by Marcus Nathan Adler, 1st ed., New York, Philipp Feldheim, Inc., 1907. The Project Gutenberg EBook, www.gutenberg.org/files/14981/14981-h/14981-h.htm, pp. 8-11.