The Palácio do Governador Palácio do Governador is reborn as a boutique hotel in the historic Belém district
Easter in Portugal

Jewish Travel to the Mountains of Centro

The Serra da Estrela has seen a growing number of tour operators bring Jewish visitors to the region to see its Sephardic heritage. Portugal and Israel and now discussing  direct air link.  More than 1,000 Israelis visit Portugal each year, and 3,000 Portuguese visit Israel. Yet, about  20 percent of Israelis are of Sephardic origin. Last year in Serra da Estrela’s Belmonte Jewish Museum of the 17,840 visitors in total, around 800 were Israeli Jews. Belmonte is rich in the history and traditions of crypto-Jews, who practiced their religion in secret for centuries. The local Serra da Estrela tourism office has prepared an excellent tour of the region’s Jewish heritage (check details under tourism routes and cultural tourism).

 

It was in towns like Belmonte that Portugal’s Jews practiced their religion in secret after the abolition of Judaism in 1496. The village was already famed for being the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the first Portuguese captain to sight Brazil in 1500. But, in the 20th century a significant community of cryptic Jews, sometimes called Marranos, emerged. Although they had practiced many of the ritual of Judaism for centuries, they were unaware of their true heritage. Jewish communities around the world came to their aid to help them rediscover their roots, and in 1993 the community welcomed it first rabbi in more that four centuries.

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Shortly after that Temple Bet Eliahou was built. Amazingly, may of the Jewish families still live in the town’s charming Judiaria, called the Bairro de Marrocos. Other strong Jewish ties may be found at the near by town of Trancoso, where a Lion of Judea relief is still well preserved on the facade of the Casa do Gato Negro, the Medieval Home of wealthy Jewish merchant, and perhaps the local synagogue. The Jewish quarter is well also preserved in this living museum.

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