Jewish Heritage in Spain and Portugal

Day-by-day Itinerary

Jews in Spain and Portugal

Day 1: Madrid


After we pick you up at the airport, we will have a panoramic tour of the city on the way to our hotel.

Our tour begins after lunch. We will visit the Bet Yaacov (main) synagogue with its small museum and meet with a representative of the Jewish community.

In the evening we will have a welcome dinner together in a kosher restaurant.


Day 2: Madrid

Cibeles,MadridOur walk through the center of Madrid will take us to the Plaza de España, with its monument to Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.  We will also visit the area in Moorish Madrid where the Jews lived under Moslem rule, near the Royal Palace and new Almudena Cathedral. We will walk through the bustling Plaza Mayor, now a magnet for tourists, but the site of far more sinister activities a few centuries ago.

In the afternoon you will have free time in Madrid to visit a museum, try some tapas, or just walk around the city.


Day 3: Madrid - Segovia - Avila - Madrid

The house museum de "El Greco" owned by Samuel LeviOn our private tour of Segovia we will visit what was once the main synagogue (now a convent) and Jewish Information Center (with information in Spanish and English), located in the house of Jewish community leader Abraham Senior, confidant and advisor to Queen Isabella. We will walk through the extensive Jewish quarter, and see the surprisingly well-preserved thousand-year-old Jewish cemetery.
We will also visit the Alcazar, the palace/fortress that figured prominently in 15th-century Spanish (and Jewish) history. 
After lunch, we go on to Avila.
As we approach the city, our first impression will be the imposing medieval wall that surrounds it.  We will stop to take a closer look—and find some surprising Jewish secrets embedded there.  Our private tour will take us to the remains of a building that was once a synagogue and the 14th-century Jewish-run tannery, the most important in Spain at that time.  As we walk through the Moshe de Leon Garden, we will hear about the author of the Zohar and the story of how the book made its way to Eretz Israel, where it became known to the Jewish world, and why there is a controversy surrounding its authorship.

We will see the church-convent, now a museum, built on the site where Santa Teresa de Jesus was born.  Daughter of conversos, she joined a convent at the age of 20 and later founded the Discalced Carmelite Order.   She is Spain’s foremost female saint and one of its most important literary figures as well.  We will hear about the influence the Kabbala had on her thoughts and writings.

We will visit the imposing Monastery of Santo Tomás. Its construction was begun in 1482 with funding from los Reyes Católicos, Fernando and Isabel, under the direction of infamous Friar Tomás de Torquemada, Spain’s first Grand Inquisitor, who is buried here.

We will also hear the horrific story of “the Holy Child of la Guardia” and the part that Avila played in that blood libel.
We return to Madrid, where we spend the night.


Day 4: Madrid - Toledo - Consuegra - Almagro

Before entering Toledo we will stop to see the spectacular view of the old walled city, immortalized by El Greco, and the Tagus River flowing around it.  The two ancient Jewish quarters can be seen clearly, as well as the Cathedral and the Alcazar (12th-century fortress). We will hear a detailed description of the imposing panorama.

Our private tour will include visits to the two synagogues remaining today: Santa Maria la Blanca and El Transito, which now houses the Sephardic Museum (the first museum in Spain to be adapted for blind visitors).  The synagogue was built by Samuel Ha-Levi, a prominent member of the Jewish community of Toledo in the 14th century, and treasurer and advisor to King Pedro I.  We will visit Ha-Levi’s house, which the painter El Greco lived in two hundred years later, and which now houses the El Greco Museum. We will wander through the alleyways of the Jewish quarter and hear about the street battles that took place between the “old” Christians and “new” Christians (conversos) and the role of the Church and local nobility at that time.

After lunch we will head south through La Mancha.  We will stop in the town of Consuegra, where you can still see a dozen windmills from the time of Don Quixote.  We will visit one of them, whose 16th-century machinery is still in perfect working order.

We continue south to Almagro.  We will hear about the important role that this town played as a haven for Jewish refugees.  We will walk through the old town and visit the picturesque main square dating from the 16th century.
We will also visit the “Corral de Comedias”, renowned 17th-century theatre, which has been functioning without interruption for nearly 400 years.

We sleep in Almagro.


Day 5: Almagro - Granada

Court of the lions, Alhambra, GranadaIn Granada we will have a private tour of the Alhambra and hear poetry written by Shmuel HaNagid, Grand Vizier to the King of Granada, and commander of his armies.

We’ll also see the Cathedral where the two Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, are buried.

We’ll walk through the Alcaiceria where the Jewish quarter was located, as well as the Corral del Carbón.  Built in the 14th century to serve as a warehouse, wholesale market and inn for itinerant merchants, it is the only such construction in Spain still preserved in its entirety.   It was owned by Jews when Granada was in Muslim hands.
We sleep in Granada.


Day 6: Granada - Cordoba

We leave Granada in the morning and head for Cordoba.

We will have a private guided tour of the Mosque, which was once the biggest in the world.  Built in the 9th-10th centuries, it is Cordoba’s best-known site.  In the medieval quarter we will also visit the 14th-century synagogue and the “Casa de Sefarad”.  This museum, devoted to all aspects of Jewish life in Cordoba, is located inside one of the houses in the old Jewish quarter, and has architectural features that date from the 14th century. We will have a private tour of the museum and a workshop on Ladino canticles.

We will also visit the nearby “Casa Andalusí”, a restored house whose lush gardens and patios will give us a glimpse into life in Cordoba under Moorish rule. In the evening we will walk through the Jewish quarter, and see the lovely typical patios, Yehudah Ha Levi Square, the monument to Maimonides,   the zoco (medieval market), and Puerta de Almodovar (the entrance to the Jewish quarter).

We sleep in Cordoba.


Day 7: Cordoba - Medina Azahara - Seville

Medina Azahara

While still in the process of restoration, the ruins of this majestic Arab city, with its palace, mosque and gardens, will give us an idea of the lifestyle of the caliphs who lived and ruled from here. As we walk through the city, we will hear about the enormous freedom that the Jews enjoyed during this, their best period in Spain, when a Jew even rose to the position of Vizier (Prime Minister) to the Muslim Caliph.

We go on to Seville.  As we walk through the Santa Cruz neighborhood, which used to be the Jewish quarter, we will hear about Jewish life here after the city was conquered by the Christians in 1248 and until the expulsion in 1492.

In the evening, we will treat you to an UN-touristy flamenco performance.

We sleep in Seville.


Day 8: Seville

In the morning we will visit the Plaza de España.  Located in the Maria Luisa Park, the plaza was built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition.  Its semi-elliptical form symbolizes an embrace of Spain and its former colonies. Its walls are made of brick decorated with wrought iron, marble and ceramic tiles, showing maps and historical scenes related to each of the 48 provinces in Spain and the shields of each provincial capital.  The plaza appeared in the films Lawrence of Arabia and Episode II of George Lucas’ Star Wars series.

We will visit the recently-opened museum in the Castillo de San Jorge.  This former prison of the Inquisition now houses exhibits devoted to memory and tolerance.

After lunch we will visit the Alcazar (fortress-castle, part of which dates from the 9th century), where Columbus presented the Catholic Monarchs with his plans to navigate westward to reach the Indies.  Within the Alcazar is the “Casa de Contratación”, which was established in 1503 to regulate commerce between Spain and the New World. We will also see the Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.  The Giralda, its emblematic bell tower, was originally built as a minaret in the 12th century.

We sleep in Seville.


Day 9: Seville - Merida - Caceres - Hervas

In Merida our guide will tell us the little-known story of one of the first Jewish communities on the Iberian Peninsula, and we will see where, according to popular tradition, one of their synagogues was located, next to the remains of the Roman Temple of Diana.

We will visit the National Museum of Roman Art, the biggest one of its kind in Spain.  A stone plaque on display there testifies to the existence of two synagogues in Merida in the 4th century.

We will also see the Roman amphitheatre, which is the best-preserved one in Europe and the venue of an important annual classical theatre festival.  

We leave for Caceres.

Jewish quarter, HervasIn Caceres we will walk through the historic center, the walled city of the 15th century, with its fortress-like palaces that belonged to the nobility.  We will see the old Jewish quarter whose small whitewashed houses contrast markedly with the aristocratic buildings that we have just seen.  Here we will see the former synagogue (today the Chapel of San Antonio). We will see the mansion that belonged to the Carvajal family and hear about their surprising ties with converso families in Extremadura. We will also hear about converso conquistadors in Nuevo Leon (present-day New Mexico).

In Hervas we will hear about why there were Jews working the land in this town--this was not a common Jewish activity—and also about why so many Jews returned from Portugal to their former lands around Hervas after 1536.

Our private tour will be led by members of a local cultural association that specializes in Hervas’ history and Sephardic music.  As they guide us through the very narrow alleyways of the Jewish quarter, we will see where the Jewish guild continued to function after the Expulsion in 1492, the site of the synagogue, and the Street of the Rabbi.  During our tour our guides will treat us to a performance of traditional Sephardic songs.

We sleep in Hervas.


Day 10: Hervas - Bejar - Candelario - Guarda

After breakfast we will leave for Bejar, where we will have a private tour of the ancient Jewish quarter and the David Melul Jewish museum, and discover why Jews started returning to this area after 1535.  We will also see the bullring, considered to be the oldest functioning one in the world.
We go on to nearby Candelario.  As we walk through the town’s narrow hilly streets with their characteristic gutters and wooden half-doors, we will see traces of mezuzah concavities on some of the houses. The Jewish quarter, located behind the church, was known as the Barrio de los Perros (“Neighborhood of the Dogs”).
We cross the border and enter Portugal.
We arrive in Guarda, where we will walk through the old Jewish quarter, which has remained practically unchanged over the centuries, and we will see cruciform markings at the entrance to some of the houses. We will hear about when and why they were put there.  Nearby, in the heart of the judiaria, we will see a small church where the synagogue used to be.
We sleep in Guarda.


Day 11: Guarda - Trancoso - Belmonte - Castelo de Vide

Olive oilIn Trancoso our private guide is an expert in local Jewish history, who will tell us about this town’s Jewish community and show us the vestiges that remain of it.  We will see the medieval walls, castle, stone crosses, and the Jewish quarter, including the unique casa do Gato Preto, the former rabbi’s house, decorated with the Lion of Judea.
IBelmonte we will see the modern synagogue and Jewish Museum, and hear the fascinating story about how the “hidden Jews” of this remote little village came “out of the closet” after 500 years living as marranos and practicing Judaism secretly.

We will also visit the local Olive Oil Museum, and learn about the history of this product and how it is made.

We head south to Castelo de Vide, where we will have an introductory evening walk and spend the night.



Day 12: Castelo de Vide - Marvão - Tomar - Lisbon

In the morning we will see Castelo de Vide by day.   Our first stop here will be the top of the castle that gave the town its name.  From here, we will see a magnificent panorama with Marvão in the distance, and Spain just beyond. We will walk through the medieval Jewish quarter and visit Portugal’s oldest synagogue, now a Jewish museum and study center.  We will walk down to the public fountain at the foot of the Jewish quarter and hear some of the traditions related to the Jews of the town, then and now.

We will then visit Marvão, the mountaintop town that we saw from Castelo de Vide.  This “Eagle’s Nest” has a breathtaking 360º view of the surrounding countryside.  We will hear about its Jewish history and visit the Municipal Museum, where we will see two tombstones with Jewish inscriptions.  From Marvão we head west to Tomar
We will visit the Castle and Convent of the Order of Christ, the main monument of the city.  Built in the 12th century by the Templars, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.  We will also visit the 15th-century Synagogue, the most well-preserved medieval one in Portugal.  Since 1939 it functions as the small Jewish Museum Abraham Zacuto, with interesting pieces related to Jewish history in Portugal.
We continue on to Lisbon.
After checking into our hotel, we will take an introductory walk through the old downtown area of the city, where there were two important Jewish quarters at the time of the expulsion from Portugal in 1496.  We will hear about their history and visit the Rossio square, where the Court of the Inquisition was held, and a massacre of converted Jews took place in 1506.  We will see a monument to the Jews that the city of Lisbon erected in 2008, commemorating the massacre.


Day 13: Lisbon

LisboaWe will visit the two functioning synagogues, one Orthodox and the other Conservative (Masorti).  The latter communitiy is made up of retornados, descendents of forced converts who have decided to return to their Jewish roots.  We will meet with them and hear the fascinating story of their community and synagogue.
We will visit the Castelo de São Jorge.  This X-century fortification was built on the top of the highest hill in the historical center of Lisbon, and from it we will be able to see an impressive view of the city and Tagus River.


Day 14: Lisbon - Sintra - Cabo de Roca - Estoril - Lisbon

Today we head west from Lisbon and our first stop is the picturesque town of Sintra.  Located at the foot of the Sintra Mountains, the area is dotted by royal retreats, estates, castles and buildings from the 8th-9th century, in addition to many buildings completed between the 15th and 19th century, including the Castelo dos Mouros, which was used as a refuge by the small Jewish population in the 15th century.  We will walk through the old Jewish neighborhood and also visit the Sintra National Palace, which is the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in Portugal. Sintra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

We head west to Cabo da Roca, a cape which forms the westernmost extent of mainland Portugal and continental Europe.  As the 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões said: “Where the land ends and the sea begins”—the end of the earth.

On the way back to Lisbon we will pass through Estorilthe upscale seaside resort with its famous casino, which became a refuge for deposed European nobility and intellectuals fleeing the Third Reich.  
We return to Lisbon, where you will have a free afternoon.  


Day 15: Lisbon

LisboaToday we will visit the waterfront area.  First we will see the Monument to the Discoveries.  Inaugurated in 1960, it celebrates the Portuguese  Age of Exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries.
We will visit the impressive 16th-century Hieronymites Monastery, one of the most prominent monuments of the Manueline-style architecture (Portuguese late-Gothic) in Lisbon.   
We will also see the nearby Belem Tower.  This fortified tower, built in the Manueline style, was originally commissioned by King John II in the 15th century to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus River and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.
In 1983, UNESCO formally designated the Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belem as a World Heritage Site.
We will walk through the nearby Alfama neighboorhood. This is the oldest district of Lisbon, and its most emblematic quarter.  It was home to an important Jewish population in the 15th century, and one of its streets is still called Rua da Judiaria. Because its foundation is dense bedrock, the Alfama survived the 1755 earthquake, and has remained a picturesque labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares to this day.
This is the typical neighborhood for hearing Fado, and in the evening we will invite you to a farewell dinner and performance.  This traditional music of Lisbon has has been compared to the blues because of its plaintive sound and lyrics which sing of saudade (longing, nostalgia…) On November 27, 2011, Fado was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.


Day 16: Departure from Lisbon