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Jewish life in Porto

It seems that Jews came to Porto even before the Middle Ages. They lived close to the cathedral and inside the walls of the city, and occupied many prominent positions as doctors, merchants and at court.

Enjoying a good relationship with the Crown at the time, the Jews flourished in Portugal until the mid-15th century, when they were forced to convert to Christianity or leave. According to many historians, Porto tried to protect its Jewish community but succumbed to the Inquisition. At the beginning of the 20th century, a new Jewish community of Porto was born, mostly due to the courage and tenacity of Capt. Barros Basto, a World War I hero who converted to Judaism after learning of his Jewish ancestors. Sometimes dubbed the Portuguese Dreyfus, he not only founded the community but also raised the funds to build a synagogue in Porto and gathered dozens of Jewish families.

What was once the Jewish quarter is now a commercial area filled with quaint little stores. The old synagogue is located here, and many signs indicate the rich Jewish life that existed here. According to our guide, most of the houses where Jewish people lived had two doors – one for the store and one to the upstairs family residence. The Jews brought to Portugal modern commerce, medicine and business. The Porto people proudly claim that Jews were always welcome here and they mourn the expulsion of Jews during the Inquisition, saying that it took the city backwards.