Portuguese Jewish heritage dates back more than 2,000 years – how much more do you know?

Explore the history of Lisbon on a Jewish Heritage Tour.


Western European countries such as Portugal have long held a reputation for gorgeous sunshine and cocktails by the sparkling coast. While this is true of its capital Lisbon, or Lisboa, there is certainly a more historic and cultural element to Portugal’s largest city.

For FBI Travel’s clients Suzie Brown and her husband Harvey, Portugal represented another chapter in their travel journey. As the pair enjoy exploring new destinations, visiting the often overlooked Portugal was something that they had to see for themselves. After spending two weeks in London, Suzie and Harvey boarded a cruise ship from Tilbury – setting sail down the west coast of France and Spain before arriving in Lisbon, one of the oldest cities in the world.

Suzie and Harvey even invited their daughter to Portugal, together staying eight nights in Lisbon as well as travelling to other Portuguese destinations such as Cascais and Porto. However, it was Lisbon and the Jewish Heritage Tour that struck the biggest cord for them.

Learning about the Portuguese Inquisition

When people hear the word ‘inquisition’, most think about the events in Spain in 1492. However, as part of a Jewish Heritage Tour of Lisbon, the couple quickly learnt about the Portuguese version – a far more brutal and extensive exercise between 1506 and 1536 or the Hebrew dates 5266- 5766.

On April 19, 1506, between 1,000 and 4,000 Jews were murdered on Lisbon’s streets as a decree from the King. With religious beliefs such a powerful motive in the 16th century, men were forced to convert faith while their wives and children were imprisoned on a ship off the coast.

The Jewish Heritage Tour was led by local Jewish Studies lecturer Professor Paulo Scheffer with Suzie deciding to join based on a recommendation from a dear friend in Melbourne. Over the course of a few hours, the group explored the most important historic and cultural locations of Lisbon, taking time to appreciate the events of more than 500 years ago. This included:

Sao Dominigo’s Square – At this 13th century church, there is a plaque which apologises for the mistreatments to the Jewish people of Portugal. The plaque was inaugurated on April 23, 2008 after a national apology from the national government. The phrase ‘Lisbon City of Tolerance’ is translated into 34 languages and is considered one of the most important Jewish landmarks in Lisbon.

Bairro Alto – This historic suburb, the starting point for the tour is home to many Jewish sages such as The Abarbanel and Yosef Caro. Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was one the most prominent Jewish statesmen in European history – playing a key role in Bible commentary and philosophy.

Carmo Ruins – Located in the civil parish of Santa Maria Maior, this religious building was ruined by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and now has no roof. Professor Scheffer explained that there is a small enclosed section, taking the tour to see the mixture of Jewish tombs and figurines. Professor Scheffer played a role moving some of the tombs found outside – protecting them from the harsh conditions.

Suzie explained that the Jewish Heritage Tour was a true “eye-opener” and said that it has changed the way she thought about religious history.

“I’ve come back here and said to so many people “are you aware of it?” and they’ve said no,” she said.

Lisbon – a wider look at the city

AdobeStock 63069118

After a day of learning about Lisbon’s past, Suzie and her family wanted to experience more of what the city had to offer. So, where else do the pair recommend people visit when exploring the Portuguese capital?

Maritime Museum (Museu da Marinha) – Harvey spend a good four hours exploring Lisbon’s Maritime Museum. The Portuguese actually arrived in Australia before Captain Cook and Harvey wanted to learn more about this interesting maritime history. With more than 17,000 items including ceremonial barges, a 19th century royal cabin and model ships from the Age of Discovery, the museum is a real treat for those seeking a nautical excursion.

Belem Tower – Built in the 16th century, the original lioz limestone fortified tower sits at the mouth of the Tagus River – designed to protect the city. Belem Tower is of Manueline style offering many stonework motifs and historic sculptures. Suzie described the tower as “one of the highlights” of the trip to Lisbon.

Lisbon is a city of hidden treasures – the more you look, the more wonder you’ll find. For Suzie and her family, the best attractions were the ones that they couldn’t find in the guidebook and simply found along their travels.

Bairro Alto Hotel

FBI Travel organised the Brown’s family trip and one key element was the accommodation. Staying at the 5-star boutique Bairro Alto Hotel Lisbon, the large suite had three beds with two balconies overlooking the Praca Luis de Camoes.

The hotel is home to the fabulous Flores Do Bairro Restaurant – combining traditional Portuguese flavours with French and Asian influences. With a warm and friendly environment, it’s the perfect setting to relax after a day in the city.

For Suzie and Harvey, their next trip is already planned and booked – will you see them out on your travels? For more information about organising a luxury holiday around the world, get in touch with the team at FBI Travel today.



Want to Stay in the Know?

Want to Stay in the Know?

Join our travel club to get access to our expert travel knowledge and the latest luxury holiday offers!

You have Successfully Subscribed!