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Jewish Walking Tour in Porto


Traveling to Porto requires planning ahead for your vacations: book your flight, schedule your rental car to drive alongside the country, find the perfect hotel or bed and breakfast, and ultimately enjoy the culture and history.

In Porto, it’s possible to have a Jewish walking tour, covering the old Jewish quarters where the People of the Book used to live. We shall venture ourselves and learn about Porto’s Judaism and the Sephardic Jews` help to shape the “Invicta” city throughout the centuries.

Porto downtown city center


The Origins of the Sephardic Jews

It’s accurate to say the Jews enjoyed peaceful times until 1492 when the (Spanish) Catholic Kings proclaimed violent measures against them. In Portugal, they experienced a whole different scenario, even to say they were protected and tolerated by kings and queens.

However, the atmosphere started to change as we progress towards the Renaissance era when king Manuel I wanted to extend his colonial empire and sought funds to finance the Portuguese Discoveries within the wings of the Catholic Kings. One of the demands of Fernando and Isabel was the expulsion of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal included, or the conversion into New Christians with the goal to start a New Christian young generation. One century later, in 1536, the Portuguese Inquisition was established. Officially there were fewer Jews in Portugal, but we’re talking only those who were registered in the Inquisition Books; unofficially, Portugal started to have hidden Cypto-Jews who secretly maintained their faith in Yahweh. Only in 1821 the Inquisition became extinct, followed by many Catholic orders that witnessed the same fate. Afterward, the Jews started to experience an El Dorado, a Golden Age during the Industrial Revolution.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to determine when exactly the Jews arrived in Porto or even the Iberian Peninsula. A few historians and archaeologists state after the fall of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem, the Jews were obliged to a Diaspora, and migrate to the Western world. Others defend the thesis they arrived followed by the Phoenician travels and thus coming to the shores of Porto and many coastal towns.

These pre-settlements were always along the coastline. The goal was simple: to explore the water resources and improve trading with other maritime communities, such as Greeks, Phoenicians, Vikings, Muslims, and much more.

Porto had 4 Jewish quarters and during this walking tour, we will discover where they were!


1 – Cathedral Quarter

Back in the 12th century, Porto estimated approximately 1000 inhabitants lived inside the medieval wall. Curiously, 4% were considered Jews, who enjoyed times of peace in the hills of the Cathedral quarter.

With 4 gates to enter and leave the city, the Jews of Porto settled where nowadays is Santana Street, one of the lowest streets of this quarter, and also the location of one of the old gates used to be. The major group that lived in Porto was undoubtedly Christian, but if the Jews wanted to live alongside the majority, they had to settle in one of the lowest streets, less protected and safe.

This quarter was also shared with other ethnicities such as Muslims, even though outnumbered, represented a significant part of Porto’s foreign communities back in the Middle Ages. We cannot say that Santana Street was a confined space, but historically speaking the first synagogue was actually here, being considered a common house that turned into a temple. Most likely, walking in this street today, one of these houses held centuries ago a Sefer Torah.

This secluded area it’s a bit hilly with streets going up and down, but the lifestyle during the Dark Ages was similar to this, living in elevated areas for protection.

Porto cathedral


2 – Munhata Quarter

Our Jewish walking tour is far from the end. Now, we will proceed to one of the lower areas where the Jews settled after the 1300s, the Munhata Quarter.

In-between the Ribeira, where the Douro River lies, and the streets around the Stock Exchange Palace and the Alfândega, this was considered the second Jewish quarter in Porto. Curiously, one of the streets named Belmonte honors a hidden sanctuary in the countryside for the Jews who found shelter during the Inquisition and World War times.

Most of this quarter was a commercial hub due to the proximity of the riverbank, where goods and supplies came from the Atlantic, and the boats unloaded their cargo directly to the stores in Porto. These Jews, undoubtedly, embraced trading, especially salt, fruit, wood, fish, and velvet. The first northern trading routes started to emerge with Hamburg, Stockholm, London, Amsterdam, and Flanders. Notice that the main street behind the Stock Exchange Palace is called Rua Comércio does Porto (Commerce Street), an allegory to the mercantile past. Yet, no menorahs and no mezuzahs can be found here. What could have happened?


3 – Miragaia Quarter

Clearly, the Jewish community moved elsewhere, to another different location due to the social and religious pressure imposed by the monarch and the Church.

The third Jewish quarter was called Miragaia, as the name implies Watching Gaia from afar. This quarter had grown greatly during the 13th century when more than 75 houses were built for the Hebrews, and the Jews kept engaging and maintaining the trading activity with Baltic cities, as well as the Hanseatic League.

Witnessing and walking around Miragaia, we can admire the breathtaking views and hidden gems, especially around the Jewish Hill. Recently, this area was renovated and from the top, you can enjoy an almost full vista point of both Porto’s old town and Gaia’s waterfront. Inside this old quarter, an epigraph was discovered and later transferred to Lisbon. This was evidence concerning a 16th-century synagogue that was located here, outside of the wall and a bit far from the hustle and bustle of Porto’s downtown.

Strolling down to the Alfândega (Custom House), we can observe a green-hanging gardened area. The Virtudes Garden takes us back to a 1500s Jewish Cemetery (Maqbar, since the Jews could never have a cemetery close to any Catholic Church and especially inside the walled city. They lived in this quarter until 1386, when king João I, pressured by the Spanish monarchy, ordered them to move to the final and last quarter.


Porto architecture

4 – Olive Field Quarter

The ultimate Jewish quarter in Porto. Our walking tour will take us to an area that feels tucked away from the old town.

Not far from the iconic “Harry Potter” Bookstore – The Lello & Irmão Bookstore – was the Olive Field Jewish quarter. Even strolling through the Base lounge & cafe area, the olive trees decorate the urban scenario. These trees were brought from the south and planted in Porto as an apology from the Christians to the Jews for what happened five centuries ago due to the pogroms and forced baptisms.

The Olive Field quarter was a city inside the city, a taxed quarter where the Jews had to pay 200 Maravedis to live here. Two doors encompassed this walled ghetto; the first not far from the currently Photography Museum and the second in the Stairs of Esnoga. The name of this parish called Victory (Vitória, refers to the victory of the Christians against the Jews, a statement of the Portuguese Inquisition.

When the political climate started to change, this quarter sheltered many Jews that ran from Spain and found in Porto a reason to live peacefully. Yet, walking through this area, you can find a plaque dedicated to the Expulsion Edit of king Manuel I, as well as a few old Jewish street names. Stay sharp, because one of these houses, in S. Miguel Street, has a Hekhal, where the main scrolls of the Torah were kept.


Our Jewish walking tour in Porto has ended. Portugal with a local runs this tour every day. If you would like to learn and enjoy more about Porto’s Jewish history, don’t forget to contact us.

Porto Jewish walking tour



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