The history of the Jewish people in Portugal is over 2,000 years old and has a lot to offer for family trips in terms of scenic locations and mysterious places. Would you like to travel to one of the most beautiful places in the world and connect with one of the strongest Jewish roots in Europe? Well, Visiting Portugal may just be what you are looking for.
With a Jewish community existing from long before this piece of land called Portugal, and the earliest known presence of Jewish people in the territory was in 482 CE, no wonder Portugal is great for family historical visits surrounding Judisam.
The Jewish people have been through many phases of Portuguese history. From living under Moorish rule in a Golden Age to the reconquering of the area by the Christian kingdoms, the Jewish population has played an interesting role in all of these, often used as spies or diplomats during conflict due to language skills in Arabic and large mercantile networks.
The most famous period for Jews in Portugal is also one of the most tragic. After years of establishing the Jewish Community, freedom of worship, and even positions in high-ranking positions, the Inquisition of Spain in 1478 changed the trajectory of the Jewish community in Portugal forever. Many Jews actually fled from Spain to Portugal after the first expulsion, until Portugal changed its policies and forced Jews to either convert or leave.
After World War II, Jewish refugees came to Portugal and again the Jewish community grew. Today, while it remains a small community, there is a present Jewish community and plenty of Jewish history to explore.
Portugal is an ideal location for a custom Jewish heritage family tour. If your own family is from Portugal, a custom route exploring the places they lived in is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with your own history. If you love history, a trip focused on museums and important locations could be the right kind of itinerary. But where could you go on a custom trip to Portugal? We’ve compiled some of our favorite places that we love to send people to on Jewish visit to Portugal.
What is the number one tourist attraction in Portugal?
There are so many amazing places to see in Portugal, but Saint George’s Castle in the Alfama neighborhood of Lisbon is the number one attraction in Portugal. It receives over two million visitors every year. After that, the Algarve region is very popular, including beaches, beautiful hotels, and great food.
Which part of Portugal is the most beautiful?
Portugal is full of beautiful places, but some of the most beautiful regions are Algarve, Lisbon, Alentejo, and Porto. They’re all known for their charming villages and spectacular views.
How many days in Portugal is enough?
To really know Portugal, an itinerary of seven to ten days is recommended. This way, you can really immerse yourself in the country and get to know more about it.
Without further ado let’s get into the most recommended places to see in Portugal if you are following the footsteps of Jewish history in this amazing country.
It is said that almost 20 percent of the Portuguese population has Jewish ancestry. Jews had a huge presence in Portugal, and Lisbon was one of the cities where most of the Jews lived and worked, with most of the community lived in the Alfama quarter.
On a Jewish heritage tour, walk through the narrow streets and imagine what it would have been like to live there. In addition to the Alfama quarter, there’s another quarter called central Praco do Comercio, near Rossio Square, where the court of the inquisition was located.
You can find Jewish heritage and history in the most unlikely of places in this city, including the National Museum of Ancient Art, which includes paintings with Jewish themes and Portuguese masterpieces that include Jews wearing stars of David on their clothing.
Visit Shaare Tikva, the Gates of Hope, the main synagogue in Lisbon. It was built in 1904 and was the first synagogue built in Portugal since the late 15th century. It’s home to a collection of documents from the 17th through the 20th centuries.
The Jewish Cemetery of Lisbon is from 1868 unfortunately only loved ones of the buried can visit, but the Cemetery of Estrela has Jews buried there since 1865 and is open to the public.
Alongside history in Lisbon there are more things you might consider exploring. The Praca do Rossio is where the Jewish Lisbon Memorial is located, dedicated to the victims of a 1506 massacre called the “Lisbon Pogrom”, but the location is also home to plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops.
If you have extra time, take a day trip to Sintra to seek out the Beco de Judiaria.
Evora is a stop for sore eyes. At one point it was one of the biggest, most important, and richest Jewish quarters in all of Portugal. It was the second-largest Portuguese city during the Middle Ages, and obviously, an important location that drew people toward it.
The Jewish Quarter in Evora is near Giraldo Square between Portas do Alconchel and Portas do Raimundo. Explore the gothic pointed arch portals of the houses that the Jewish residents used to live in and explore the white houses with yellow and blue decorations around the doors. Much of the community was dedicated to mercantilism, but some explored art, and others were intellectuals.
At one point in the 15th century, there were two synagogues in Evora, as well as a hospital, a school, and a ritual bath.
Not all Jewish history in Evora is happy. It was the headquarters of the Holy Inquisition court.
Evora library is a great place to find books by Portuguese Jews that contributed to scientific progress as well as the age of exploration.
Evora is also famous for a morbid Chapel of Bones which is highly recommended to visit, where the walls are covered in real human bones, a Roman temple, and a very intact aqueduct.
Two hours west of Lisbon, high above the plains of the Alentejo region, Marvao is famous for its 13th-century castle and breathtaking views. It’s 2,900 feet high, and to get there, you have to drive up a pretty steep road.
The terracotta roofs, flower gardens, and whitewashed walls take you to a different time, but at a different time, this was a center for Jewish life.
In terms of Jewish life, the town museum speaks to the past of this special village. There are medieval tombstones, brightly-coloured tiles, and an entire room dedicated to the Jewish history of the region.
Many Jews fled to Marvao during the inquisition, and the nearby village, Castelo de Video, is only four miles away and worth it for the Jewish history. There’s a Medieval Synagogue there and a really well-preserved Jewish quarter. The village fountain has a huge tulip, which was the symbol Sephardic Portuguese Jews brought to Holland, where it became a national symbol.
The Jewish community of Belmonte goes all the way back to the 12th century. It was a hub for Conversoes, those who survived practicing their Judaism in secret. The community was only discovered in 1917 by a Polish Jewish mining engineer named Samuel Schwartz. He even wrote a book about it, titled “The New Christians in Portugal in the 20th Century”. In 1994, an Israeli Rabbi went to the town to convert the hidden Jews.
There’s a synagogue in Belmonte, opened in the 1990s, called Bet Eliahu. A Jewish museum of Belmonte opened in 2005.
There are also other sights in Belmonte, like a cheese museum, an olive oil museum, and a beautiful castle.
Trancoso, located in northern Portugal, is a medieval town with a strong Jewish past. In the 15th century, the community was at 500 Jewish people, and their hints are shown in all of the corners of the city. Hebrew inscriptions and stars of David can be found on doors, as well as candlesticks carved in stone.
The most famous Jewish house in the city is the Casa de Gato Preto (the house of the black cat). Here, you can observe the lion of Judah, as well as the walls of Jerusalem, carved around the door.
At the Jewish Cultural Center Isaac Cardoso, visit the Beit Rayim Synagogue, two exhibition halls, a garden, and a courtyard with a well and Hebrew inscriptions. There are even archives on the history of the Jews of Trancoso during the inquisition.
The synagogue in Tomar was built in 1430 and completed in 1460. Soon after in 1496, the Jews were expelled and the synagogue became a prison, then a hay barn. But in 1920 the synagogue was rediscovered by archaeologists as a synagogue. Now, there is a Portuguest-Jewish museum in the building.
There are parts of a Mikveh in the excavated synagogue and the only way to see it is a synagogue from the outside is a star of David. Otherwise, it fits in well with the other whitewashed buildings in the neighborhood.
Other tourist activities in Tomar include an Aqueduct, a few castles, a national forest, and a lovely park.
Obidos, which is close by, is what you think of when you think of medieval Portugal–white houses decorated with yellow and blue. There’s a Jewish quarter in the town, as well as a synagogue.
Porto is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in Portugal. Since the earthquake of 1755 did not destroy the city, the Jewish quarter is still intact. Explore the balconied houses, narrow streets, and interesting street names like “Rue Monte Judeus”. Visit the plaque where the main synagogue used to stand.
There’s even an ancient Jewish cemetery at Passeio das Virtudes. The Kadoorsie Synagogue and a Yeshiva make this a fascinating and full location for Jewish heritage.
Today, the community has 300 members and is growing. The Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue is the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula. It’s decorated with Moroccan and Art Deco Decor and there’s a museum on the first floor about Jewish history and culture. It’s possible to eat Kosher food in Porto, and it’s an easy place to travel for heritage tours.
After visiting Porto, consider visiting Nazare, a famous fishing village where surfers battle giant waves.
In the 10th century, there were Jews in Coimbra. Coimbra has its own Jewish Quarter called the Rue Corpo de Deus. Visit the Largo da Portagem, explore the defensive walls of the city, see a mikveh, and visit the Inquisition Square, as well as a Jewish history museum. There’s also a Jewish Fountain in the city.
After the heritage sites, Coimbra is also home to spectacular gardens, the Jardins de Quinta das Lágrimas, as well as a national museum, and a miniature museum.
To sum things up
This list is only the beginning of all the wonderful ways to travel through Portugal. Jewish heritage in Portugal goes deep with many Israelis and Jews from all over the world getting a Portuguese passport in recent years, and there’s no better way to learn about it than on a custom-designed tour with a knowledgeable tour guide.
Walk through medieval Jewish quarters, meet Portuguese Jews and other locals, and see remnants of communities past in synagogues, cemeteries, and other spaces. What are you waiting for?
Interested in designing your custom tour to Portugal? Contact our Jewish Travel Agency.