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The Alentejo’s Rich Jewish Past

Many civilizations and cultures have lived and thrived in the Alentejo, and today, the roots of the region’s Jewish past can still be explored and experienced. The first Jews may have settled in the time of the Romans, but many more came during the 500 years that the Alentejo was ruled by North African people and stayed into the founding of the Kingdom of Portugal. Every major Alentejo town had a Judiaria (Jewish quarter) with its own businesses, courts and places of worship. But, with the banning of Judaism in 1496, most of these communities ended, as Portuguese Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave Portugal. While many went into hiding, their ties to the past became obscured, but their communities remained, and today are part of the tapestry of the region’s past. The memory of once-thriving Judiarias is remembered in place names, historic markers, and clear signs such as Mezuzot door slots, inscriptions and local tales. 

And the achievement of Portuguese Exploration and Renaissance would not be possible without the contributions to science, commerce and culture that the Jewish community made, including Abraham Zacuto, Garcia de Orta and Pedro Nunes. There are still strong traces of the Alentejo’s Jewish past in places such as Alcácer do Sal, and Évora where you discover the proud Jewish heritage of the Alentejo. Castelo de Vide is home to an exceptional medieval synagogue, set in the historic center of a lovely town.


This monumental capital of the Alentejo prospered in the late Middle Ages. It had been a major Roman city, and a Moorish center until its fall to the Portuguese in the mid-12th century. It was here that one of the largest Jewish communities existed up to the 15th century. Évora’s Judiaria had two synagogues, a hospital, courts, a Midrash, baths, and thriving commerce. The Judiaria was not far from the Praça Giraldo, between the Portas de Alconchel and the Portas do Raimundo - including the streets named Tinhoso, Mercadores and Moeda. A plaque here commemorates the Jewish community, and the Jewish-born of the 16th century humanist, Diogo Pires. The former Palace of the Inquisition stands near the city museum, with the coat of arms of the Inquisition still clearly visible over the main door.

Castelo de Vide

Beautiful and inviting, this town welcomes the visitor with white houses under a castle on a hill. By the 14th century a large Jewish community thrived here. The Judiaria ran from the castle gate, down to the village fountain (Fonte da Vila) and on to the Rua Nova (a common name for post-1496 Jewish neighborhoods). A well-preserved medieval synagogue and museum stands at the corner of the Rua da Judiaria and Rua da Fonte. Restored to its original appearance, the museum today features the original 14th-century stone ark for the Torah, and baths. Many nearby times have markings or Mezuzot slots on the doors as evidence to their former Jewish owners.  


An impressive fortress town, served as an entry point to the thousands of Jews who fled Spain in the 15th and 14th centuries. Alpalhão, a village, has a remarkable Judiaria where the Mezuzots on the doors are next to later crosses, added to demonstrate that the family who lived there had converted to Christianity. Well-fortified Elvas has a Jewish Quarter that predates Portugal, set in the heart of the old city off of the Rua João de Olivença, Sapateiros and Aires Varela. Much of this part of Elvas has changed little, and offers a glimpse into the heart of a once sizable community. To the South, Monsaraz, a walled town on a hill, was also once a center of Jewish life. The town has a new Jewish Heritage Center to document the life and struggles of the scenic town’s lost Jewish community.

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