Tour departs from Lisbon
The presence of Jewish people was very strong in Portugal and the Jewish population kept growing throughout the Middle Age. We will visit places with vestiges of the Jewish urban, architectural, environmental, historical and cultural heritage in Sefarad.
Lisbon, Central Portugal & Porto
Day 1. LISBON
Arrival to Lisbon.
The characteristic Alfama district which incorporated one of the three existing Jewish Quarters still maintains the same route of the old winding streets On the top of the quarter is the Saint George’s Castle with a magnificent view over the city. In the square of St. Domingos church in the Baixa quarter, there’s a memorial that records the attack occurred in 1506 that many fanatics promoted against the New Christians victimizing thousands. The current synagogue, Shaare Tikva, was opened in 1904 and can be visited at Alexandre Herculano street, though without direct frontage to the street since that visibility was still reserved for Catholic churches. It’s managed by the Israeli Community of Lisbon.
A walk through Lisbon can start by the Middle Ages, allowing the observation of the places of the discoveries in which many astronomers and Jewish businessmen participated, cross the time of the Inquisition and visit the downtown areas where 2nd World War refugees lived in the security that missed in Europe. The history of Jewish Lisbon represents a lot of Jewish mythical civilization.
Day 2. LISBON
Lisbon has been for the last 900 years, the peninsular Sephardic city that probably most concentrated Jewish history over the centuries. Creative and dynamic city, Lisbon is identified as the cradle of many of the most influential and iconic families that endure today in the international Hebrew symbology: Guedaliah Yahya; Gracia Nassi (Benveniste); Isaac e Judah Abravanel (Abarbanel); Jacob Lumbrozo (1st Jewish doctor in the United States); Samuel Usque, among others. Both in time of Jews and New Christians, Lisbon has always been present in Jewish history.
The Belem quarter with the Monument of Discoveries, the Chiado district that until 14C there was a small Jewish quarter, the Bairro picturesque quarter with an area owned by a number of Jewish families and a visit to the Ajuda National Royal Palace.
Day 3. LEIRIA-TOMAR
Leiria was founded in 1135 by D. Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal. From the 13th century, the Jewish population of Leiria kept growing and strengthening itself economically. In the year of 1337, is already referred the “Rua da Judiaria” (or Jewry Street) and the consolidation of delimited district equally grows encompassing more and more commercial, artisanal and housing functions.
In the 15th century, Leiria reached the pinnacle of Hebrew influence; the district was centered on the Jewry Street (Misericórdia) and extended from the present “Afonso Henriques Street” to the “S. Martinho Square” and the “Cathedral Square”. In the latter, was printed in 1496 the Almannach Perpetuum, from the famous Abrão Zacuto, a navigation compendium edited in an exponential period of discovery.
The imposing castle can be seen from any point in town. In the 14th century it served as a summer royal palace for King Dinis and his queen, and included a Gothic church now in ruins. Built between 1430 and 1460 by order of Infante D. Henrique, the synagogue from Tomar shows the importance that the Jewish community had in the city since the 14th century, firstly in service of the Order of the Temple, and then for the Order of Christ. Its existence as a temple would be ephemeral, effect of the forced conversion of Jews to Christianism order by D. Manuel I.
The functions that the building had over the years were different, coming to jail, chapel and warehouse. Classified as National Monument from 1921, it was purchased by Samuel Schwarz in 1923. This Polish Jew, researcher and passionate about Jewish Culture, rehabilitated the ancient temple, promoting cleansing works and excavation, donating it to the Portuguese State in 1939 to be there installed the Luso-Hebraic Museum of Abraham Zacuto. The roof is supported by 4 columns representing the mothers of Israel: Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah. The columns are linked by 12 arches, symbolising the 12 tribes of Israel.
From the synagogue's collection, gathered by Samuel Schwarz, stands out a funerary stele from the city of Faro, alluding to the death in 1315 of Rab Ioseph, a Jewish from Tomar, and the headstone from 1308, which marks the founding of the second synagogue of Lisbon.
Adjoining to the main building, after excavations, was found a room intended for the Mikvah (the bath for women purification). The synagogue of Tomar contains a strong symbolism. It is indeed the most impressive fifteenth-century synagogue, built from scratch that has significant Sephardic characteristics.
In 1983, UNESCO awarded the classification of world heritage to the Templar Castle and the Convent of the Knights of Christ in Tomar, a unique monument in the history of the western world.
Day 4. BELMONTE-GUARDA
Belmonte village is located near the Serra da Estrela has now a mystical meaning in international Sephardic history. It was the only in the Iberian Peninsula where, for centuries, has remained a community-based organizational identity, without an overall assimilation by Christianity.
During the demolition of “São Francisco’s” Church, located in “Largo António José de Almeida”, in 1910, was found a stone from the first synagogue of Belmonte, from the year 1297. By this tombstone, we know that Belmonte already had a Jewish community, certainly important and numerous, thus only justified the presence of a worship place.
The old Jewish quarter was located around the current “Rua Direita” e “Rua Fonte da Rosa” (the primitive Jewry Street). At the top of “Rua Direita”, north, there’s a square, one of the oldest in Belmonte, which preserves a lot of its primitive architecture. There we can see small stone houses, with small openings and crosses in the doorjambs. Belmonte has today the Bet Eliahu Synagogue and the Jewish Museum.
Since always located in the inner wall, there still exists the old Jewish quarter in Guarda, very close to “Porta d’El Rei” (kings door). The Jewish Community in this city has long been one of the most important and one of the oldest in our country. It’s proven that it dates back to the 13th century with D. Dinis charter, being given some houses from “S. Vicente’s” parish to Jewish families, and installed in one of them the synagogue.
This was the new Jewish quarter, a continuation of an older, mentioned in the charter from the year of 1199. At the end of the 14th century lived there around 200 people and, 50 years after, the number of Jewish inhabitants was around 600 and 850. Families had names like Ergas, Castro, Falilho, Baruc, Mocatel, Marcos, Querido, Alva, Cáceres, Castelão, and others. The hearings from the tribunal of Inquisition took place in “S. Vicente” and “S. Pedro” churches.
The Jewish quarter extended from the “king’s door” to the “S. Vicente’s” churchyard, limited by the wall and “Rua Direita” which gave access to that door. In 1465 this access was closed because of the protests from Christians.
Day 5. LAMEGO
Since the 14th century the Jews from the important town of Lamego occupied the area between the Castle and the “Santa Maria de Almacave” church. In the next century there were already two Jewish quarters; the oldest was located next to the “Sun door” and the new one near the churchyard.
In this quarter was located the synagogue in the old “Rua da Esnoga”. In 1436, the number of inhabitants in those two areas exceeded the 400. As of D. Duarte’s reign, the two quarters were closed at night by doors placed for that purpose. These were respectively located in the street that opened to the Trade Square and in one that opened to the “Almacave’s” churchyard. The current “Rua Nova” corresponded to the first case (plus “Rua da Fonte Velha”, “Rua da Seara” and “Rua da Cruz”) and even came to occupy “Rua do Almacave”.
In “Rua Nova” (old Jewry new) we can see a characteristic granitic ogival portal (now with a Christian inscription). It may have been here where the old synagogue was located. The importance of Lamego is already attested in 1139 because of the famous “Cortes” (met in Almacave’s church) where the king Afonso Henriques was hailed king of Portugal.
“José de Lamego”, Jewish cobbler, received from “Pêro da Covilhã”, in Cairo, the information that allowed D. João II to know all the data about the East African, Arabic and Indic coasts that permitted the launch of Vasco da Gama’s trip.
Day 6. PORTO
The city of Porto, that since the beginning of the nation had several Jewish quarters, watched D. João I, in 1386, order the concentration of Jews in the Olival quarter, inside the medieval walls. The new Jewish quarter abutted with two of the doors of that wall, still today referenceable: the one from Olival and the one located in the Escadas da Esnoga (Esnoga Stairs).
The synagogue was located where today can be found the S. Bento da Vitória convent. During medieval times, Porto was the headquarters of one of seven Jewish autonomous justice administration structures in the country; the one from Entre Douro e Minho. Already at the time of the new Christians, these, mainly associated with mercantile bourgeoisie and maritime business, are forced to settle in S. Miguel Street, main axis of the quarter.
The genuine city is visible at the quarter of Ribeira ("River-bank"), right by the river. Narrow and winding streets, dark arcades, typical houses with colourful façades set in a place which preserves the charm of sites marked by history, full of contrasts and curious characteristics. This is the most picturesque spot in the city.
Day 7. PORTO
The Synagogue Kadoorie Mekor Haim in Porto is the largest Synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in Europe. Built with donations from Jews from all over the world, it was inaugurated in 1938, at a time when Synagogues were being burned in Germany.
The Rua Sant'ana, in the heart of the old Jewish quarter and where the first Synagogue was located. The Rua dos Mercadores where Jews began to live and trade beyond the limits of the old Jewish Quarter. The Praça da Riberia, the business center for more affluent Jews. The Rua do Comercio do Porto where the second Synagogue was located and Largo de S. Domingos Square, where Jewish commerce shops and stalls existed in this area.
Porto is at the same time the name of a city and a fortified wine, one of the most famous in the world, aged at the wine cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, next to the Douro River. Its historical center has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and preserves many beautiful monuments.
Day 8. PORTO