Special thanks to guest blogger, Jack Cohen who experienced this wonderful trip first hand and was kind enough to share his experience.
This is the first part of three installments. stay tuned for the next installment.
And watch for photos to come (I hope)
|Our first day on the trip to Portugal was exhausting. We flew overnight with a stop-over in Brussels, since there is no direct flight from Israel to Lisbon. In the early morning we took a coach tour of Brussels and we saw some of the many grandiose buildings that King Leopold II had built. He had a huge personal fortune because he personally owned the Belgian Congo in Africa, and exploited the natives to produce rubber (for details see “King Leopold’s Ghost” by Adam Hochschild). Then we hopped back aboard a plane and flew 2.5 hrs to Lisbon.
Our intrepid guide Michael Tuchfeld met us at the airport and we went off in our shiny coach. We had a tour of Lisbon with our Portuguese guide and it is very beautiful, quite hilly and varied. Although Lisbon had been settled by the Romans, who called it Lusitania, most of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 1775, so very little remains that is earlier. We saw the medieval monument called the Belem Tower (Belem is derived from Bethlehem) and the relatively modern monument to the Portuguese discoveries of the world (from Brazil to Japan). We went to the district of Alfama that used to include a Jewish quarter and we saw the street still called the Juderia. There had been three Jewish quarters in Lisbon but nothing remains.
After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, about one third of those who left went to Portugal. After King Manual I ascended to the throne he decided to keep the Jews but get rid of their Jewish identity, so he forbade the practise of Judaism and had the Jews forcibly converted, but he gave them a grace period of 20 years during which they would not be investigated. In 1496 he wished his son to marry the daughter of the Catholic King of Spain, but they made a requirement that all Jews be expelled from Portugal. Even though he issued an edict of expulsion, instead he forcibly converted those who remained practising Jews. However, in 1506 there was a massacre of Jews in Russio Square in Lisbon, about 2,500 were murdered in the square outside one of the main Churches. According to the history books, King Manuel did not intend this to happen so he arrested the perpetrators. We went to see the memorial stone with a Magen David carved into it that commemorates the massacre and nearby an inscribed apology from the Church.
While we were there, Michael told us that we were not ordinary tourists, like Japanese or Italians, but as Jews we had a particular connection to that spot and that history. While we were gathered around this memorial some passers-by stopped to hear what was being said. One man afterwards spoke to us and told us that his father had been Jewish but his mother was Catholic and although he was brought up Christian he thought of himself as partly Jewish and he said he liked Israel and said “shalom” to us when he left. This was a very nice gesture.
On several occasions we were told that there is no anti-Semitism in Portugal. There are no anti-Semitic parties like in Hungary or Greece and there are no groups of fascist thugs as there are in Britain and Germany. Indeed estimates of the proportion of Portuguese with Jewish antecedents vary from 20% to 50%. We then climbed back aboard the bus and went to the venue where the Jewish community had arranged kosher meals for us during our stay in Lisbon and then finally after eating to the hotel Altis and a much needed sleep.
Day 2 and we drove to Evora about an hour’s drive from Lisbon. On the way there we saw cork trees growing, for which Portugal is famous. Evora is a beautiful old town that had an important role in Jewish history in Portugal. In the 15th century it had the largest Jewish population in Portugal (ca. 4,000) and had a large Juderia. Since the King liked to vacation in the town he was glad to have his many Jewish assistants live there. That was until he decided to force the Jews to give up Judaism and convert to Christianity.
The King’s brother became the Head of the Inquisition in Evora and was especially cruel in mistreating the conversos, Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. Passing the Roman remains we went to the main town square, Giraldo Square, where the headquarters of the Inquisition had been and where they burned the Jews at the auto-da-fe, where Jews were given the last chance to recant or be burnt alive. We sat there and ate our lunch, strange feeling, everything around was normal. Both the Jewish victims and the hateful perpetrators would not have believed this outcome.
We then visited the town library that had been a private scholarly library founded several hundred years ago. In their vault they had an original volume of a book published in 1496 by Abraham Zacuto who was an advisor to the King and a famous mathematician. He compiled tables of data that enabled many navigators to successfully expand the Portuguese empire. But, even he had to flee to avoid forced conversion. He escaped to N. Africa and then to Holland. It was a privilege for us to see this original book, usually kept in a safe.
We returned to Lisbon and that night we went out to hear Fado music, the authentic voice of Portuguese culture, in an area known as the Bairro Alto.
Today we drove west from Lisbon to the farthest western point in continental Europe. En route we stopped in the beautiful little city of Sintra, where we toured the former Royal Palace that was a vacation home to many Portuguese Kings. On the very top of the hill, which we didn’t visit was the Moorish Castle from which the Arabs controlled the area for 300 years.
Then we drove to Cabo Roca (Rocky Cape) where many of the adventurous sailors went to pray as they stared across the Atlantic Ocean into the unknown. It is a very remote and wild area with very high cliffs. But driving a little along the coast from there we came to the wonderful little holiday resort of Cascais (pronounced Cashcaish), where we stopped to have lunch and sat in the sun by the beach. By the way the weather has been perfect for touring, except the wind was very strong at Cabo Roca.
Then we continued along the coast to Estoril, past the famous casino, and along the Tegus River back to Lisbon. Tonite is Shabbat, so we are walking to the kosher restaurant to have our Shabbat meal. The synagogue Shaare Tikvah is just around the corner from there. It is quite large but very discrete.
watch this space for part 2 of 3 about the Portugal trip… click here for part two
here is a link to Jack’s blog. http://www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/trip-to-portugal.html
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