Jewish Heritage

Learn about the jewish heritage in Portugal, let's start with this word: Sefarad


This might be a name heard by many around the globe or even a name known by some other more. Despite being a name mentioned in the bible, in the Book of Obadiah, its location is still uncertain. This was later, the name given to the Iberian Peninsula by the Portuguese and Spanish Jews. Later on, this deviated into Sephardic Jews for the descendents of those who established in this corner of the world. Portugal is located on the Southwest edge of the Iberian Peninsula which long time ago, the descendents of the Levi & Judah tribes are likely to have arrived to. They were, after the various destructions of the Temple in Jerusalem, looking for a better, peaceful and prosperous life and somehow they knew that this squared rich piece of land had good arguments for them to settle, such as gold and silver.

So the Jewish presence in our territory is believed to go back to the Phoenician times, before the Common Era (BCE). However, the oldest archeological find comes from an old Roman city located in Ammaia (Marvão) and was dated from the 2nd/3rd cent after the Common Era (ACE). It’s a blue stone with a Menorah decoration which was part of a ring. That is to be seen in one of our museums in Belém (Bethlehem) – Lisbon.


For the off the beaten track lovers, we also have an old 15th cent Hebrew Bible, handwritten and illustrated, order by a Jewish Portuguese Statesman, Philosopher and Financier – Isaac ben Judah Abravanel (Lisbon 1437- Venice 1508). It is one of the oldest and most valuable books from the extraordinary collection of the library at the Coimbra University (1290).

However, history has sometimes a few very dark moments. In Portugal the tipping point was called Edit of Expulsion (1496) & Inquisition (1536-1821). This huge Jewish Heritage, Culture & Religion eraser is the reason why today we can no longer enter and see great temples as the Great Synagogue of Lisbon, transformed in a church first and destroyed by an earthquake later in time.

Among us live still a lot who remember the World War II (WW II) times. Portugal lived in a dictatorship governed by Salazar, was a neutral country, a temporary residence for some members of several royal European families and a nest of spies. Yes, a nest of spies from both sides.

Ian Fleming, working for the MI6, was inspired while living in Estoril in WW II by a fascinating Serbian spy serving several sides – Dusko Popov, to create the well known character James Bond. His first book was Casino Royal. A strong influence from the Casino Estoril and the royal family members just around the corner…

Thousands of common & famous people have used Portugal as a gateway to go to America, mainly to the USA, but also to Canada and South America. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Peggy Guggenheim, Eduard VIII and Wallis Simpson, Salvador Dalí and Marc Chagall, just to mention a few, lived either in Lisbon or on Cascais & Estoril, on the Atlantic Coast.

Surprised? Fascinated? Eager  to learn more? So plan your time, pack and get ready to discover much more in this small precious gem of the Iberia. You are most welcome in Portugal.


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