Today we drove further north, stopping at two pleasant towns on the way to Coimbra. Coimbra is not the third largest city in Portugal, but it is one of the most important culturally. It was the original capital when the Portuguese state was founded in 1180. When the capital passed to Lisbon, Coimbra eventually retained the university, which is one of the oldest in Europe. It was based on the Palace of the King in Coimbra, but greatly enlarged upon.
We were driven around the city with a guide and then visited the famous university. We went to the university archive where the deputy director showed us the only mss (manuscripts) they retain from the Inquisition. It was surprising that they only had 6 mss from that period, but he explained that all the Inquisition trial transcripts from around the country are collected in Lisbon.
From there we visited the magnificent baroque library dating from the mid 17th century. It was very highly decorated in gold leaf and has 30,000 books on view all dating before 1750. We were very lucky that Michael managed to arrange for the Director of the library to actually bring their most valuable book over for us to see, the so called “Abrabanel Bible.” This has the complete Torah written on parchment by hand and dates from the 15th century. He said it was by far their most valuable book.
We were impressed by Coimbra and the university and the cooperation of the archivist, who said that he might be of Jewish origin. We stayed overnight in the huge magnificent old Curia Palace hotel.
We left the Curia Palace hotel near Coimbra and drove for about an hour to Tomar, a small city of ca. 20,000 inhabitants. There the main attraction for us was the synagogue, the oldest one surviving in Portugal. It was built before the edict of expulsion in Portugal in 1496 and survived, none were built after that until modern times.
It was rediscovered in the 1920s by the Polish Jewish engineer Shmuel Schwartz who pioneered studies of the Marranos (Bnei Anusim) in Portugal. He cleared up the place after it had been used as a store room and bought it. Then he restored it and donated it to the Portuguese State on condition that it be kept open as a museum or working synagogue. They estimate that there were perhaps 150 Jews in the town when it was built, but now there are only a few Jewish families left in Tomar. The Synagogue, which originally had a secret door, now has a front door and is open to the public. It has four high stone columns and a vaulted ceiling. We were given an explanation by a member of the tourism office in Tomar and the lady who looks after the synagogue, who wore a large gold Magen David and has Jewish ancestry.
We then had our lunch in a nearby park and drove to Obeidos, a beautiful medieval town surrounded by a castle that has nothing Jewish about it, but was lovely to visit and had many shops for tourists.
Then we drove back a few hours to Lisbon. We had our last supper in the Jewish community hall and there were speeches and mock awards, some jokes and some singing. We all had a great time, and it was very informative and educational. Michael and Miriam did an excellent job in organizing and running the tour and the driver was also excellent. We are returning home to Israel with a lot to remember and think about.
Watch this space more information about other AACI Kosher and Fun trips…
here is a link to Jack’s blog. http://www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/coimbra-and-back-to-lisbon.html
The AACI is your place for Kosher and Friendly travel. Always staffed by AACI personnel to insure your worry-free trip. Click here for upcoming trips.