King John the Ist (Father of Henry the Navigator) created the Olival Judiaria in 1386. It was the new Judiaria, there probably
having been two previous Judiarias within the city
walls and two outside the city wall, ( Miragaia,
which still has 'Stairs of the Jews, Patio of the Jews and
Street of the Jews, and Monchique in which Captain
Barros Basto claimed to have found the remains of the
Synagogue. Around 1826, a stone from the
Synagogue was found which is today in the Carmo archaeological
Museum of Lisbon. I believe it dates from the 14th
Now back to Olival. It is significant for a number
of reasons. It was here, on Rua de Sao Miguel that
Gabriel da Costa (Uriel Acosta) was born,
grandson of one of the thirty wealthy families that
settled in the Judiaria in 1492 upon their expulsion
from Castile. Gaon Aboab (the grand rabbi of Castile), who died shortly thereafter negotiated the deal with King John the 2nd (each
family paid 10,000 ducats (?) when the usual charge
for fleeing Jews entering Portugal was eight,
half or less if the person was skilled in the arms
industry-i.e. Blacksmiths, tinsmiths etc). King John
built thirty houses for the newcomers who had agreed to
pave the street.
Da Costa committed suicide in Amsterdam in 1640 following his expulsion from the Esnoga for denying the immortality of the soul. Spinoza (Bento de Espinoza) was eight years old). Da Costa is
often referred to as the worlds first secular Jew. All
copies of the book he published were burned, except
for one copy found by H.P. Solomon in 1989 in the
Royal Danish Library, the subject of a book by the
same author reproducing Da Costa's manuscript( written
in Portuguese) with an English translation and
an extensive introduction) .
Another reason for the importance of this Judiaria is
the discovery by a priest last year, at Number 9, Rua
de Sao Miguel, a hidden stone niche for placing the
Torah scrolls (ekhal) behind a wall during the renovation of
the building for seniors facility. The ekhal has been dated to the 16th
Behind the three storey house and going down
towards the old port is the "Escadas da Sinagoga", ie
the stairs of the synagogue (essentially a narrow lane
consisting of a stone staircase), still marked to this
day. It was a quick route to a waiting ship.
The discovery has been reported worldwide
including the New York Times and Israel. The
seniors centre is set to open at the end of the year.
According to the local priest, Father Jardim, the ekhal will be
protected with either a plastic cover or curtain. For
now, a guest book is maintained for all visitors to
sign. He is willing to move the seniors centre to
other premises if the society he created is suitably
Nearby, on Rua da Vitoria is the former monastery of Sao Bento, now occupied by the Porto orchestra. Some local historians believe
this is where the original synagogue was. There are
two churches in the Olival. There are virtually no markings of
this great historical area, which incidentally, does
not form part of the nearby Unesco designated world
heritage site. The area is starting to be
In my opinion, it is necessary to act now to
achieve the following:
1. The return of no. 9 Rua de Sao Miguel to the
Jewish-Marrano community,
2. Designate the entire area of Olival as protected
world heritage site. And
3. Erect appropriate signage.