As in the case of the Romaniotes, the term Sephardi denotes the place of origin of this community: In Hebrew, Sefarad refers to the Iberian peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal). Jews who settled there and their descendants are called Sephardim.
The history, customs and language of Sephardi Jews are distinct from the Ashkenasim, the other major Jewish tradition based historically in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as from the Romaniotes. Sephardi Jews experienced a period of cultural flourishing in medieval Spain when it was ruled by the Muslim Umayyads. In the late 15th century, in the wake of the so-called Christian Reconquista of Spain and the ensuing Spanish Inquisition, the Sephardim were expelled or fled from forced conversion and persecution to North Africa and in even larger numbers to the Ottoman Empire. Due to their large numbers and level of sophistication, they established major centers of Sephardi culture in the Ottoman Empire. For example, Salonica, the “Jerusalem of the Balkans”, which became almost synonymous of Jewish life in the Ottoman Empire and later Greece.
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