March 31, 1492

Signed copy of the Alhambra Decree, or Edict of Expulsion

Signed copy of the Alhambra Decree, or Edict of Expulsion

It’s nearly 10 pm, but I can’t let March 31st pass without writing a note on this immensely important moment in history.

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And Fernando and Isabel issued the decree that sealed the death of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry and changed the course of history for Sephardic Jews, Spain, the Mediterranean, and the world.

So let’s see if I can give a rundown on this decisive day in less than a thousand words and less than twenty minutes.

Jews lived on the Iberian Peninsula since Roman times. Spanish and Portuguese Jews, or Sephardim, enjoyed great opportunities and relative freedom from persecution under Muslim rule; this medieval period is known as the “Golden Age of Spanish Jewry.”

For almost a thousand years Christians and Muslims fought for the control of Iberia in the Reconquista (reconquest). Generation after generation, the Christian kings drove farther and farther south until Moorish control was confined to the southern region of Andalusía, and finally to their last stronghold: Granada.

With the combined might of their newly allied kingdoms, Fernando and Isabel made the war on Granada their special project. After months of siege, the fight was over. The Moors surrendered Granada on January 2, 1492.

Three short months later, Fernando and Isabel turned their attention to another thorn in the side of their united Catholic kingdoms: the Sephardic Jews.

The persecution of Jews in Castile and León was not new; over a decade earlier the king and queen had obtained a Papal Bull to establish the Spanish Inquisition. It was not the first inquisition in Europe, but it was unlike anything that had preceded it, because instead of functioning as an arm of the Catholic Church, the Spanish Inquisition was under direct supervision of the monarchs, and it was the first national institution of united Castile and León.

But what happened on March 31, 1492 surpassed any previous persecution and rocked the Sephardic world. Fernando and Isabel issued the Alhambra Decree, or the Expulsion Edict, that called for the expulsion of all Jews from the realms of Castile and León. Spain’s flourishing Sephardic population was left with three choices: leave the land where they had lived for more than a millennia, convert to Catholicism, or face death.

Pope Alexander XI would later award Fernando and Isabel the title of “los reyes católicos,” or the Catholic monarchs, for their defending of the Catholic faith within their realms. But was it only religious piety or also politics and practicality that motivated the Expulsion Edict? After decades of warring with the Moors, the Castilian crown’s funds were all but depleted (tradition holds that Isabel pawned her own jewels to fund Columbus’ historic voyage). When the king and queen needed money to finish their campaign against Granada, they turned to wealthy Jewish merchant and financier families who had money to lend. Some historians argue that for the king and queen, it was easier to expel their creditors than to pay them all that was owed. Whatever the motivations, the edict forced an estimated 200,000 Sephardim to leave Spain and tens of thousands to convert to Catholicism on pain of death. Spain and the Sephardim would never be the same.

Alhambra-Inspired Stenciled Bathroom Floor

Our house is a little red brick post-war home built in the 1950s, but in 1980 it got an addition and a very 70s/80s makeover, complete with a trash compactor, an intercom system throughout the house (very necessary for a 1385 square foot home, right?), and shaggy dark brown carpet in every room. Including the master bathroom.

As soon as we got the key to our new house, the first thing to go was that dark brown carpet. We were left with a paint-splattered particle board floor in half of our bathroom. There were mold spots in parts of it, and it was pitted with nail holes from where the tack strip had been. But anything was better than that nasty brown carpet.


We didn’t have money to re-tile, so for a long time I entertained the notion of coating the whole floor with Kilz primer and then painting it with a pretty faux-tile design. I love, love love paint and the way it makes everything shiny and new. But would it the floor be waterproof and hold up okay if we just painted it? Was that just an amateur solution? I wasn’t sure.

Meanwhile I tried to talk myself into liking some inexpensive Home Depot peel and stick tiles (below) but I just wasn’t feeling the love.


And then I read this post and was surprised to read how well their painted and stenciled floor was holding up. I decided that if professional house bloggers could paint and stencil their subfloor, then so could I.

I didn’t want to step out of the shower onto ugly board even one more day, so one morning while Mark was at work I started the project. (I hope to surprise him with a finished floor that evening—ha! Never underestimate the power of any given house project to take three to five times as long as you think it should. You’d think I would have learned that by now.)


The first order of business was to sand the entire floor with a rough-grit sandpaper to smooth it out as much as possible. But there were still nail holes and random pits, and the huge unsightly crack where the particle boards met. So I spent an hour or two filling in everything with wood putty (in hindsight, I would have just spent $2 more for a bigger tube of wood putty–it’s only $2 and squeezing the putty out of the tiny tube got kind of torturous by the end). Once the putty had dried I sanded the entire floor again, this time with a finer-grit sandpaper. I did my best to set aside my perfectionist tendencies, knowing that this rough particle-board floor could never be completely smooth, but knowing that the paint and stencil would hide a lot of little imperfections.


After a thorough wipe-down, I gave the floor a coat of Kilz 2 Primer, Sealer, & Stainblocker. I love this stuff; we’ve used buckets and buckets of it in every room of our house.

Oh, and that picture below? That’s what our bathroom looked like (strewn with tools and paint supplies) during the week that I tackled this project.


The floor looked so much better after just one coat of primer!

But for good measure (I wanted our bathroom floor to be waterproof and very durable, after all) I rolled on a second coat of Kilz 2. And then I coated the whole floor with two coats of Behr hi-gloss white.


And then the fun part began! For the stenciling I chose a pretty silvery gray called Silver Screen from Home Depot’s Behr line of paint. I chose a hi-gloss sheen for the gray because I wanted the whole thing to harden to a nice durable washable enamel.


Isn’t it beautiful?! Mark and I both lived in Spain for a summer during college, and I am hopelessly in love with all things Spanish Arabic. I wanted a floor pattern that reminded me of the Alhambra, and I found this stencil at Hobby Lobby for $16.99! With my 40% off coupon, it was less than $11!

Alhambra floor tile inspiration. (Images from Wikimedia Commons. Digging up the Alhambra photos I took while I was in Granada would take at least thirty minutes of digging through old flash drives and I was busy painting a floor...ain't nobody got time for that!)

Alhambra floor tile inspiration. (Images from Wikimedia Commons. Digging up the Alhambra photos I took while I was in Granada would take at least thirty minutes of digging through old flash drives and I was busy painting a floor…ain’t nobody got time for that!)

The trick to getting the pattern even, I found, was to use a foam roller and a really, really thin layer of paint. I barely touched my roller to the paint and rolled it on my paint tray several times before rolling it onto the floor, and that gave the most even application. (I bought a quart of the Silver Screen paint, and the whole project used only about a third of that.)

Most wall and floor stencils, including this one, have little cut-out triangles that you can mark with pencil to know where to line up the stencil for the next section.


It got a little tricky around the edges, like around the heater and behind the door (see above). I was left with some blank spaces and weird corners (see below) where the stencil just couldn’t reach.


So I busted out my craft paintbrushes and painstakingly hand-painted the design into all the edges and corners where the stencil couldn’t reach. This was the most time-consuming part of the entire project; it took two subsequent afternoons.


You can see above how the stencil didn’t go all the way to the edge of the tile. I considered hand-painting the design in, but a) that would have taken another entire afternoon and b) I actually really liked the pretty scalloped design it made. So I left it the way it was.

Even though I had used Kilz 2 and hi-gloss paint (which hardens to a super-durable enamel), I still decided to coat the whole thing with a sealer. The hand-painting was really painstaking, after all, and I was determined that this floor would last a really long time, by darn.

I was just going to use some of the oil-based polyurethane we had left over from refinishing our hardwood floors, but thank goodness I did some internet research first and learned that oil-based poly dries to a yellowish amber color—not exactly the look I was going for on my white and silvery gray floor. So I bought a quart of water-based polyurethane, which dries completely clear, and sealed the whole painted floor with four coats. Crisis averted! Thank you, internet.

And so our bathroom floor was transformed from this…


To this!


It feels so much cleaner and nicer now; I’m not scared to walk on it with bare feet; and you can hardly see where the crack between the boards used to be. Most of all, the gorgeous Granada-inspired design makes me so happy every time I see it!

And, in case you were wondering, I completed this project five weeks ago (as I mentioned before, I’m doing catch-up posts) and it’s been holding up splendidly ever since then!