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Azores Virtual Jewish History Tour

Between Europe and America, nine islands rise up from the Atlantic Ocean, quite surprising in their unspoiled natural beauty. Important Jewish families settled here in the 15th century, around the time of their discovery, and again at the beginning of the 19th century.

Anusim from Portugal presumably settled in the Azores in the 16th and 17th centuries, but there is no consistent record of them. The first known settlement of Jews in the islands began in 1818 with the arrival of five merchants from Morocco. By 1848, the Jews in the Azores numbered 250; several small communities had been established, the most important being in Ponta Delgada (founded in 1836), where there were 150 Jews. Among the founders were several members of the Bensaude family, whose descendants became influential in international commerce, banking, and philanthropy. The number of Jews in the islands has dwindled steadily in recent years.

Sio Miguel
Other Places of Interest

Sio Miguel

The gates of Ponta Delgada, the island's capital, presage the city's several highlights of secular and religious architecture, such as the churches of Sao Sebastio and Sao Pedro and the palaces of Conceicao Santa Catarina and Fonte Bela. Of the Jewish presence in the city, there remains the synagogue built at No. 16 Rua de Brum and the Jewish cemetery at Santa Clara. The Carlos Machado Museum contains collections of natural history, art, and ethnography. But, above all, the island is famous for its spectacular landscape: Caldeira das Sete Cidades, Lagoa do Fogo, and Vale das Furnas are the best examples of this.


It is not by chance that Angra do Heroismo, the island's capital, has been classified by UNESCO as World Heritage: the historical center close to the waterfront, with its geometrical streets, is a fine example of Renaissance town planning and the architecture of the period of Discoveries. The Cathedral, with its carved silver altar, the many 17th-century Baroque churches (particularly the church of Nossa Senhora da Guia, which is now part of the Convento de Sao Francisco, to which the important Angra Museum is annexed), and the city's fortresses and palaces are expressions of a surprisingly rich monumental heritage. In the last century, the city became the residence of a number of Jewish families, engaged in traditional trading activities that, ever since the time of the island's discovery, had served to turn Angra into a major port between Europe and America. The Jewish cemetery still remains today as a testimony to their presence.


Horta is the main city on this island and an obligatory port of call for sailors and yachtsmen from all around the world, who, once they have arrived at the port, are inevitably to be found recovering from the hardship of their Atlantic crossing in the famous Peter Bar. There was also a sizeable Jewish community that settled here in the 19th century. Today, the Jewish cemetery, next to the Christian cemetery, remains as a testimony to this presence.

Other places of interest

All the other islands of the Azores are also well worth a visit: Santa Maria, where Colombus landed and attended mass on his return from discovering America in 1494; Sao Jorge, with its beautiful manor houses; Flores, more beautiful even than its name (Flowers) suggests; Pico, with its imposing volcanic crater 2351 meters above sea level; Graciosa and its typical windmills; and Corvo, a haven of peace with a population of only a few hundred people.


Amzalak, in: Revista de Estudios Hebraícos, 1 (1928), 239–40. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. Da R. Pereira, in: Arquipélago 1 (1979), 181–201; 2 (1980), 143–87; 3 (1981), 167–85; A.M. Mendes, in: Boletim (Instituto Histórico da Ilha Terceira), 40 (1982), 673–92

Sources: Journey to Jewish Portugal courtesy of the Portuguese National Tourist Office
Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Map: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.