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Alfama district

LISBON

Founded by the Phoenician in the VII B.C, it is thought that the first Jews arrived in Lisbon with the Roman troupes.

When the city is conquered to the Moorish in 1147, by the first king of Portugal, the Jews were already established with great distinction in commerce, science, medicine and the beginning of what would be the banking system. It’s because of their important positions in the city’s system, that the king takes a ruling that would change the lives of the Jewish community throughout the medieval period, which was to protect them and empower them with positions near to the crown of a country, still being forged and affirming its independence.

Throughout the XV century the Jewish community had a great growth and cultural development, which was the backdrop of one of the first topographies in Portugal. The city of Lisbon was home to some of the most prominent men of the Jewish culture, like the philosopher and theologian Isaac Abravanel.

By the end of the XV century, there is an extraordinary growth of the Polish Jewish population, upon arrival of Jews fleeing Spain after the expulsion if 1492. In 1497 a forced conversion is implemented upon all the Jews living in Portugal, and in 1536 the Inquisition establishes headquarters in the city of Lisbon. With these events, Jewish culture and religion are almost wiped clean from the memory of the Portuguese, and it is only in the second half of the XIX century that Lisbon regains its thriving Jewish community, but without the grandeur of  former times.

There are currently two Synagogues in Lisbon, the Shaaré Tikvah build in 1904 and the Ohel Jacob of askanazi progressive-liberal tradition.

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Porto

PORTO

Resembling Lisbon, the Jewish population of Porto, sustained great growth with the forge of the kingdom of Portugal, when all the circumstances and incentives were ideal, for whoever established themselves in the city with the intent to increase population.

With thriving economic and cultural growth, the Jewish community expanded and spread throughout three Jewish quarters, two of which located inside the city walls.

The New Jewish quarter of the Olival is where you can still find trace of the Jewish presence in the city. It is thought that the synagogue was in the place that today holds de Monastery of São Bento da Vitória, where in the vicinities, was recently discovered a Hejal in a building that could have been a secret synagogue.

The existing Jewish community of Porto was created in 1923, with the return to Portugal of some eastern and central European Jewish families. The synagogue Kadoorie – Mekor Haim is the largest synagogue of the Iberian Peninsula and its history and construction is tied to Artur Barros Bastos, one of the most prominent figures of the movement “Rescue of the Marranos” as well as the Crypto-Jew community of the north and interior of the country, who survived the Inquisition, as Belmonte is an example of.

Porto Jewish Museum
Porto Synagogue
Porto
Lello Bookshop
Medieval Village

BELMONTE

Hidden in Serra da Estrela south plain slope, Belmonte is perhaps the best known place of the Jewish presence in Portugal.  This community has kept the Jewish culture and traditions alive since the beginning of the Inquisition until our time. First records show, a Jewish presence in Belmonte at the end of the XIII century, and it is assumed that the first synagogue dates back to 1297. During the three centuries of Inquisition in Portugal, the Jews of Belmonte kept their community closed off, and Jewish ways as well as basic rituals were passed down generation to generation, by the women who bared the role and responsibility of keeping Jewish heritage alive. It was only in 1989 the Sephardic Jews of Belmonte, were free to practice their ways openly, and this marked the begging of the process they called “the return”, officially founding the Jewish Community of Belmonte. The current synagogue, Bet Eliahu, was built in 1996 in the place where the old Jewish quarters once were. The Belmonte Jewish Museum is standing testimony of the perseverance of the Crypto-Jews and allow us to know their history, their rituals, their ways and their resilience for the past 500 years.

Belmonte Jewish Quarter
Belmonte Synagogue
Belmonte Jewish Museum
Belmonte Tower
Castelo de Vide Jewish Quarter

CASTELO DE VIDE

This village was home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in Portugal. Based on historical documents, it is known that somewhere in the XIV century, the Jewish populations started to be segregated to a Jewish quarter located near the castle. To our days, there are still many visible marks of Jewish presence in streets of the old Jewish quarters, being the one called, The Fountain of the Village, perhaps the one baring the deepest significance, for it stands in the square where all the streets of the old Jewish quarter converged. Due to its proximity to the Spanish boarder, this community was greatly increased with the Jews expelled from Castela in 1492.

The village of Castelo de Vide, is nowadays, one of the most relevant places in Portugal to understand how life occurred in a medieval Jewish quarter. The building thought to have been the synagogue, is today a museum with a permanent exhibition of the old Sephardic community of Castelo de Vide. This was also the place where in 1986, the President of Portugal formally apologized to all Jews for the persecutions withstood in Portugal.

Castelo de Vide
Inquisition Memorial
Inquisition Memorial
Castelo de Vide

Video from the Inquisition Museum

Moorish Castle

MARVÃO TOLL BRIDGE

This was the place that’s said to have had a toll bridge, to collect taxes for the entrance of the Jewish people expelled from Spain in 1492. According to historical documents, about 15.000 Jews were accounted for crossing this border. The crossing of such bridge, was managed from the XIV century tower and an amount was charged per family that entered Portugal. A tombstone was placed in this tower in memory of all those who crossed the bridge over the Sever River. This bridge, that can still be crossed nowadays, was part of a roman road as the, still standing, arches and foundations prove.

Roman Bridge
Jewish Toll
Knights Templar Castle

TOMAR

Home of the Order of Christ, formerly the Knights Templars, the City of Tomar was also place of address of Prince D. Henrique during the XIV century, one of the most important figures in the History of the Portuguese Maritime Discoveries. Tomar Jewish community dates back to 1315 as organized, but it’s only during the reign of the Prince D. Henrique that the community consistently thrives, the Jewish quarter is fully organized and the synagogue is built. With the growth of the African colonies and arrival of new products to trade, the Jewish community expands and makes up half the population of Tomar.

During the beginning of the Inquisition however, Tomar quickly becomes one of the most chastised cities and endures great human loss due to persecutions and sought control over the New-Christians.

 

Nowadays we can still walk the street of the former Jewish quarter and visit the synagogue of Tomar – Luso-Hebrew Museum of Abrãao Zacuto, the only Portuguese synagogue still intact and untouched since the second half of the XV century. With a square blueprint and a discrete entrance, the front bares twelve arches symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel and the ceilings are founded upon four columns representing the Matriarchs of Israel. During recent architectural work a room intended for mikveh was uncovered.

Tagus River
Tomar Jewish Quarter
Tomar Synagogue
Knights Templar Castle
Trancoso

TRANCOSO

Prior to the XIV century the Jewish community of Trancoso was one of the most populated of Portugal’s interior regions. It held a Jewish quarter and a synagogue that was subject to expansion remodeling to accommodate the size of the growing community.

The city still holds significant presence of Jewish heritage and is now home to a Sephardic cultural center built on a former street of the old Jewish quarter, near the well that fueled the mikveh. The Isaac Cardoso Center for Interpretation of Jewish Culture is a recent venue that houses an exhibition on Jewish Heritage of the region as well as a synagogue and a memorial to the victims of the Inquisition in this city. The Centers purpose, is to preserve and shed knowledge on the Jewish heritage of this region. Trancoso’s synagogue was inspired on the synagogue of Tomar. This wooden structure holds a Sefer Torah brought back to Trancoso 500 years after the expulsion and the forced conversion of the Jews back in 1496.

Trancoso Jewish Quarter
Trancoso Synagogue
Belmonte
Jewish Quarter
Vilar Formoso Museum

VILAR FORMOSO

Is in itself a Memorial to the Refugees as well as to the Consul Aristides Sousa Mendes and an homage to the Second World War refugees.

Unveiled in September 2017, this Museum occupies two old warehouses at the train station of Vilar Formoso. This village on the edge of the Spanish borders, was gateway to the thousands of refugees fleeing the Nazi troupes and the Holocaust. The although poor, but hearty local population, took in and fed, with little possessions they had, all those who found themselves there, without knowing what the future had in store for them.

Given the neutral position of Portugal in the Second World War, thousands of refugees found in our country a safe haven as well a gateway to South and Central America. 

The Peace Frontier Memorial is also tribute to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, consul of Portugal in Bordeaux, responsible for issuing thousands of visas that allowed several families to flee France, to cross Spain and safely arrive in Portugal, where the effects of the Second World War had not been felt. This initiative of the Portuguese consul is regarded as the “greatest rescue mission singlehandedly executed during the Holocaust".

The Memorial was designed to preserve the memory and the actions of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, allowing thousands of Europeans to escape the horrors of the Nazism.

Vilar Formoso Museum
Aristides de Sousa Mendes
Portuguese Border
Aristides de Sousa Mendes Home

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