The Algarve is the southernmost region of mainland Portugal. Maritime discoveries in this region in the 15th century attracted many Jewish merchants. Today, visitors from all over the world are drawn to the Algarve by the reputation of its white sandy beaches and golden cliffs.
This city was one of the main points of departure for the fleets of Portuguese ships setting sail for the African coast. Lagos, therefore, attracted so many Jewish merchants that they could not all fit into the quarter originally set aside for them and asked Prince Henry the Navigator for permission to settle in Christian areas, a privilege which was granted to them and later ratified in the reign of Afonso V (1438-1481). However, the conflicts that arose between the Jewish and Christian populations led to boundaries being set for a
new Jewish quarter in 1481, during the reign of Dom Joao II.
Although the earthquake of 1755 destroyed part of the city and removed all traces of the Jewish presence there, the historical center and the waterfront of the fishing port are areas that still evoke memories of the Jewish community in Lagos during the period of the Discoveries. Here, between Praca da Republica Rua do Castelo dos Governadores and Rua H. Correia e Silva, are several churches whose interesting architectural styles make them well worth a visit. Also worthy of the visitor’s attention are the remains of the city’s Manueline and Mannerist walls 16th century The fortress of Pau da Bandeira also offers a most beautiful view over the harbor. Roughly 30 km to the west of Lagos is the promontory of Sagres, an emblematic place of great historical importance, which finally comes to an end further to the west at the Cape of St. Vincent. The headland “enters” the waters of the Atlantic in such a way that the Ancients used to call it the end of the world, and the Romans gave it the name of “Promontorium Sacrum.”
The capital of the Algarve, medieval Faro had a Jewish quarter that was noted for being the site of the first real experience with printing in Portugal, with the publication of the Pentateuch in Hebrew by Samuel Gacon in 1487. After the order was given for the expulsion of the Jews in 1496, the decline in the Jewish quarter and the consequent dispersal of its inhabitants were not reversed until the 19th century, when a prosperous community of Jews from Gibraltar and Morocco settled in Rua de Santo Antonio making a great contribution to the growth of local trade.
Around 1830, this community took the initiative of building two synagogues and a cemetery, which later, with the almost complete disappearance of the Jewish population, was to fall into ruins. Through the combined efforts of several Portuguese and foreign organizations this cemetery, situated between Rua Leao Beneto and Estrada da Penah, was restored in 1993 and is worth a visit. Closer to the historical center was the Synagogue of Rua Castillo.
Some signs of the prosperity of the Jewish community of the 19th century are still visible, for example, Abrado Amram’s residence at the palace in Rua Filipe Alisto, which is now the Comigo Algarve Praca Dom Francisco by the waterfront is a good starting point for a walking tour of the historical center, still surrounded by parts of its medieval wall, after first passing by the Igreja da Misericordia with its Manueline porch and the Arco da Vila, which leads to the Largo da Se. Here the visitor can appreciate the impressive architecture of the cathedral, which is RomanesqueGothic in origin with later additions in the Mannerist and Baroque styles in Praca Afonso III, the Archaeological Museum contains collections that date from prehistoric times until the 13th century, as well as azulejos ceramics, furniture and painting from the 17th to 20th centuries For those interested in the traditions of everyday life, the Regional Ethnographic Museum and the Ramalho Ortigdo Maritime Museum, are interesting places to visit.
It is known that in the penultimate decade of the 15th century, in addition to Lagos and Faro, there were Jewish quarters in Alcoutim, Alvor, Loule Portimao Silves Castro Marim, and Tavira (there is a particularly important community in this latter town). Albufeira, Almansil (with its most beautiful Igreja de Sao Lourenco, a Baroque masterpiece), and the spa of Monchique are also interesting places to visit.
Source: Journey to Jewish Portugal courtesy of the Portuguese National Tourist Office.