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JEWISH LEGACY - SEFARAD IN PORTUGAL

During the foundation of Portugal, the Iberian Peninsula Jews helped populate the territory conquered from the Moors. For this reason they benefited from royal protection, and had great influence on the Portuguese Discoveries.

We invite you to visit the remains of the old neighbourhoods in which they lived, filled with architectural features that give clues to the style of Jewish houses.

Jewish Legacy in Beira Interior

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Nowadays, the presence of the Jewish people is still felt in Portugal; not only in the many architectural remains, cultural, gastronomic, but the in the existence of the only crypto-Jewish community that have preserved religion and ways of life, in Belmonte.

A visit to Trancoso, Guarda, Belmonte, Sabugal e Covilhã shows us how diverse the country was now considered homogeneous, and how the religious and cultural identity of a people remained protected in family intimacy, influencing the entire region.

Even though the Jewish Legacy is spread throughout Portugal, it is distinctly concentrated in the Serra da Estrela destination. In the list below, we highlight mane locations where the Jewish heritage is most present.

Covilha

The Jewish community of Covilhã was from the 12th century until the beginning of the 20th century, the largest and most important in the Serra da Estrela region and one of the strongest in Portugal. The community of this region was mainly engaged in trade and handicrafts, but also in agricultural activities, and was mainly the driving force behind the wool industry.

In the city there were, at the end of the 15th century, at least two Hebrew centre. One (the oldest) inside the ramparts, next to "Portas do Sol"; the second, on the outside, adjoining them close to the village gates, surrounding the area that encompasses "Rua do Ginásio" and "Rua das Flores".

The latter is characterized by the existence of narrow roads, without order and with small public spaces. The buildings are narrow on the façades and high, according to personal tastes and with appendicular additions.

Generally presenting façades with Jewish architectural features, such as a large door and a small door, non-square windows, beveled doors or jambs.

In this last nucleus, traditionally attributed to the Jewish community, three houses with Manueline windows stand out, decorated with nautical motifs, two on Rua das Flores and one on Rua do Ginásio Clube.

In addition to the housing areas, the factories stand out, founded by new Christian entrepreneurs, standing out among them: Real Fabrica dos Panos, Fabrica Campos Melo and Fabrica Velha.

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Guarda

The old Jewish quarter near the ancient fortress wall in Guarda still exists. It was already known in the 12th century, and crosses can be seen on the thresholds of houses in many streets.

Always located inside the walled city, there is still the old Jewish quarter. It is very close to the Porta d’El-Rei.
The Jewish commune of Guarda was for long periods one of the most important in the country and is considered one of the oldest. It is proven that it dates back to the thirteenth century with the addition, by D. Dinis, of houses in the parish of S. Vicente to Jewish families, one of which installed the synagogue.

This was the new Jewry, an extension of an older one, the old one, mentioned in the charter of 1199. At the end of the 14th century, about 200 people lived there and, about 50 years later, the number of inhabitants of Jewish creed would have been around the 600 and the 850.

The families had names like Ergas, Castro, Falilho, Baruc, Mocatel, Marcos, Querido, Alva, Cáceres, Castelão, etc. The hearings before the Inquisition Court were held in the churches of S. Vicente and S. Pedro. The dynamic Jewish community of Guarda offered a whole range of services to the population: tailors, shoemakers, tanners, blacksmiths, weavers, gibbitiros, shearers, physicists, surgeons, goldsmiths, carpenters and enamels, as indicated by the architecture of the houses, with two floors - the ground floor for commerce and the 1st floor for housing, and the existence of two doors, one wide for business, the other narrow for the family.

Jewry began at the Porta d'El-Rei and extended to the churchyard of S. Vicente, limited by the wall and Rua Direita that gave access to that Porta. In 1465 this access was closed due to protests by Christians.

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Belmonte

Belmonte was the main centre for the country’s community of marrano (New-Christian) Jews. By secretly preserving their religious worship, their faith and their customs, they survived from the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews in 1496 to the present day.

Belmonte, the historic town in the centre region of Portugal, where the Jewish community that survived the forced conversion of 1497, the Inquisition and endured half a millennium of persecution and intolerance now lives. An epigraph proves the existence of a synagogue as early as 1297, however the Jewish presence in the region goes back much further.

Belmonte has become a symbol of resistance, and willingness to maintain and return to religious roots and identities. Today the Jewish community of Belmonte has a new Synagogue, inaugurated in 1996, and its own cemetery. The Synagogue faces towards Jerusalem and is known by Beit Eliahu.

The community of Belmonte has become a symbol of the return to Jewish roots through its resistance, and the village visited by many Jews and descendants of Jews who seek to know their origins, their identity.

The Belmonte Jewish Museum has an exhibition focused on the experience and on the identity of the Jewish community of the village, specially focused on day-to-day and religious practices.

The visitor has access to various kosher services in Belmonte, especially a hotel prepared for Shabbat, which also serves meals according to the Jewish religious criteria.

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Trancoso

Trancoso still preserves the walls and doors of the mediaeval castle. Many Jews coming from Aragon and Castile established themselves here from the 14th century, and particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries. 

The Jewish community of Trancoso is later than the 14th century, when King Dom Pedro I (1320-1367) authorised the organization of the Jewish quarter, because it was already very large. In the 15th century, the number of members of the community were already greater than the city of Guarda, which led to requesting authorisation from king D. João II (1455-1495) to increase the synagogue's size.

In addition to the thematic equipment dedicated to the Jewish heritage, the town has a heritage that brings us to an important Sephardic cultural centre.

It is worth highlighting the House of Gato Preto, a medieval building that has various high reliefs in its façade interpreted as Jewish, especially the Lion of Judah. Near this building, traditionally identified as the home of a Rabbi, is the Master well, a well that could provide running water for the ritual baths, the mikveh.

The Isaac Cardoso Interpretation Centre for Jewish Culture is a modern building, which includes a synagogue. The exhibition on Sephardic heritage of Trancoso is well worth a visit.

The House of Bandarra, near the Isaac Cardoso Interpretation Centre for Jewish Culture, dedicates its exhibition to the shoemaker, poet-prophet Bandarra, a unique figure of Portuguese messianic, clearly influenced by Jewish culture.

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Sabugal

Sabugal has one of Portugal’s oldest Jewish quarters. On some doors near the castle, there are countless marks of crosses and other symbols, and in two houses, two Jewish altars were found.

Sabugal has always had a very important role in the defence of the border with the neighbouring Kingdom of Castile, nowadays, Spain. In 1296, it was awarded a Charter, a document given by the monarch, which organised the city in terms of administration.

In parallel to this separation of kingdoms dimension, Sabugal also lived the connection that this dividing line allows. Trade, escapes, marriages and family alliances cross the borders creating dynamics that the authorities could not manage.

The Jewish community practised this constructive relationship with the neighbouring Kingdom since immemorial times in the city, developing trade, making the border an area of opportunity and not a line of separation. The Sabugal Jewish Memorial House focuses on this regional identity.

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