The mountains of the Centro de Portugal are rich in Jewish heritage and the walled town of Trancoso is no exception. The Jewish presence in Trancoso dates back to the 14th century. In 2012, the new Isaac Cardoso Interpretation Centre opened, located in the Jewish quarter of Trancoso, near the “Poço do Mestre” - literally meaning “the master’s well"-which supposedly belonged to the rabbi of the village.
The Interpretation Centre is near “Casa do Gato Preto – Black Cat’s House – famous for its Jewish symbols sculpted in the façade: a Judah lion; the doors of Jerusalem; a Jewish person bowing and entering the Synagogue and four faces. Inside this house there is a sculpture reminiscent of a black cat, thus the name of the house, dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Isaac Cardoso Interpretation Centre was designed by Portuguese architects Gonçalo Byrne and José Laranjeira. Named after the doctor Isaac Cardoso, who lived in the 17th century in Trancoso, this Centre pays tribute to his work of preservation of the Jewish past.
This Interpretation Centre includes: a small garden called Mayim Hayim (living waters); two rooms for temporary exhibitions; the synagogue Beit Mayim Hayim; a main room with a view over the well “Poço do Mestre” and the small garden in the ruins of the former building with sculpted cruciform marks and other signs. The building rises towards the light as a metaphor of the strong religious faith of the Jewish community.
Visitors of Isaac Cardoso Interpretation Centre can access the archives of the 700 Jews who were born and lived in Trancoso, persecuted by the Inquisition. They access information on the 300 cruciform marks that can be found in the historical centre of Trancoso's Jewish quarter.
More than 500 years after the destruction of the Jewish community of Trancoso by the Inquisition, a mezuzah was placed on the door of the Synagogue Beit Mayim Hayim in June 2012. The mezuzah is one of the symbols of the Jewish religion. It is a small box containing a 22-line parchment with versicles excerpted from the Torah.
In the words of Peter Geffen, “this is a tribute to all those who have suffered, who have been persecuted, tortured and killed by the Inquisition, the ones from Trancoso, from Portugal and from all over the world. This is also an expression of faith and hope, as well as the evidence that the memory of the Jewish Community of Trancoso and specifically the memory of the Portuguese Jews and their cultural, social and religious heritage has not perished despite persecutions.”
Who was Isaac Cardoso?
Fernando Isaac Cardoso was a 16th century physician and philosopher, who worked in the court of D. Filipe IV and played a crucial role in the preservation of the Jewish past.
He was born in Trancoso in a family of "New Christians" and spent his youth in Valladolid, Spain. Isaac Cardoso graduated in Medicine and Philosophy in the University of Salamanca. He lived in Venice for a short period of time and settled in Verona, where he was acclaimed for his work and vision.
His most outstanding work was a 10-chapter treaty called Las Excelencias y Calunias de los Hebreos (1679, Amsterdam), where he analyses the value of the Jewish people and refutes charges brought against them by the state.