Despite previous attestations, it was between the V and the XV century that the Jewish community established itself in Portugal, contributing in different ways and within the space of ten centuries to the flourishing of Portuguese culture. Many members of this community, which included philosophers, humanists, scientists and dealers, were protected by the monarchy and participated in an active way in paramount moments of Portuguese history.
In particular, we remember the financial and scientific contributions during the Portuguese Discoveries and the great mathematician and cosmographer of the XVI century, Pedro Nunes, author of the “Treaty about the Sphere”.
In 1496, the Edict of Expulsion of the Jewish issued by the Spanish Catholic Monarchs and enforced by the Portuguese monarchs too, obliged all Jewish people to convert and become Neo-Christians. Many of them left the country, many others stayed professing their faith secretly. The signs and the inscriptions of that time can still be seen carved on the palaces of the ancient Jewish areas, in towns like Belmonte, Guarda, Castelo de Vide or Tomar.
Keep an eye open! Rua Nova, Rua Direita, Rua da Estrela o Espinosa are names that report the existence of a Jewish area. Look at the houses and you’ll find at the ground-floor level one big door entering the shop and another smaller one entering the house. This testifies to the great stimulus that Jewish people gave to commercial activities. In some houses it is still possible to see affixed to the doorframe mezuzah (Hebrew: מְזוּזָה "doorpost").
Moreover one of the first works printed in Portugal, in 1487, was an edition of the Pentateuch by Samuel Gacon in Faro, and in Lisbon, where in 1307 the Great Synagogue was founded, it is possible to see one of the most ancient inscriptions in Hebrew, la Pedra de Monchique, from the Jewish area of Porto in the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo.
Discover the Jewish heritage in the history of Portugal! To orientate yourself more easily, follow the route “Rota das Judiarias”, evidence of the encounter among people and cultures that we are proud to preserve!