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Jewish Heritage in Portugal: the secrets of a living heritage

Jewish heritage in Portugal can be really astounding. From the traces of Jewish presence in the country’s biggest cities, to the small towns where Jewish tradition remains alive, this is a fascinating journey full of secrets and discoveries.

The traces and places of Jewish Heritage in Portugal

Jewish presence in Portugal dates back to a time when the country did not even exist as such, as some documents point out the 6th century as the probable date that marks the arrival of the first Jews to what is now Portugal. The whole territory is filled with places, stories and traditions that keep the Jewish heritage in Portugal alive. It is fascinating to discover this unique legacy through a series of Jewish heritage sites in Portugal, from the streets of historic Jewish quarters to some of the oldest Synagogues in the Iberian peninsula, to the present day, in outstanding architectural monuments such as the Porto Synagogue, one of the most striking Jewish worship places in the world. In this journey, the great contribution of Portuguese Jews to the arts, philosophy, commerce and sciences in Portugal is revealed.

Rediscovering Sepharad: unveiling Jewish Heritage in Portugal

This is the best time to explore the Jewish Heritage in Portugal due to the Project “Route of Sepharad – Enhancement of the Portuguese Jewish Identity in Intercultural Dialogue”, which has been carrying on the rehabilitation (interventions programme and museological adaptation) of the Portuguese Sephardic heritage in 13 municipalities. Taking the Route of Sepharad, the multiple aspects of Jewish Heritage in Portugal are disclosed, through a beautiful and thorough understanding of the incredible contribution given by Jews to the Portuguese history and culture. At Belmonte, the only peninsular community that is a legitimate heir of the ancient historical presence of the Sephardic Jews, Jewish traditions and practices were kept alive, in one of the liveliest and most authentic examples of Jewish Heritage in Portugal.

Jewish Heritage in Lisbon: from medieval Alfama to a modern-day Synagogue

The Alfama quarter, built on a huge hill that descends from the castle down to the river, was once home to a large Jewish Community, which flourished around the lively Rua da Judiaria. In Lisbon, it is one of the first stops to learn about the invaluable Jewish Heritage in Portugal. In the 13th century the growing Jewish community formed new quarters, known as the Judiaria Pequena and the Judiaria Grande, and settled close to the river in what is today the Praça do Comércio. Not far from here is the Rossio square, the site of the feared court of the Inquisition. In the early 20th century, when the descendants of the Sephardi Jewish diaspora returned, Lisbon’s main Synagogue, Shaare Tikva, was built.

Marvão and Castelo de Vide: two Jewish Heritage gems to discover in Portugal

Jewish heritage and culture is so rich and widespread in Portugal that it literally spans the entire country. In this sense, Rede das Judiarias (Network of Portuguese Jewish Quarters) is an extremely valuable project which, bringing together the most relevant Jewish interest sites in Portugal, revalidates the Portuguese Jewish Heritage as an invaluable legacy. In Alentejo, the beautiful city of Évora was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the country, which existed up to the 15th century. The signs of this unique Jewish heritage remain in several houses that still bear traces of the old Mezuzot. In Marvão, a small village built inside a fortress on a high peak, is another Portuguese Jewish heritage highlight, with Jewish culture alive in the traces of the Jews who fled Spain and entered Portugal through this border. Going North, the charming village of Castelo de Vide hides many Jewish treasures inside its walls, like the amazing medieval Synagogue, which was beautifully restored and is now a museum featuring a rare 14th century stone ark for the Torah.

Tomar, a must-see to discover the richness of Jewish Heritage in Portugal

Tomar is one of the oldest and most ravishing towns in Portugal, founded in the 12th century by he Order of the Knights Templar. A crucial site to discover Jewish heritage in Portugal, its Jewish tradition is as rich as its medieval Christian roots. The 15th Century Synagogue, with its gothic vaults upheld by four central columns, representing the mothers of Israel is stunning. The synagogue is now a museum (Abrãao Zacuto), a must-see site for anyone interested in Jewish heritage in Portugal and a precious reminder of the presence of a large Sephardic Jewish community in the town. Classified as a national monument, it is located on the ancient Rua da Judiaria.