East Portugal town opens Jewish heritage center

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) – Portugal’s culture minister inaugurated a Jewish heritage center in the country’s east in memory of 80 former residents who were persecuted during the Portuguese Inquisition almost 500 years ago.

Minister Luis Filipe de Castro Mendes and Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, Tzipora Rimon, attended the July 15 inauguration ceremony in Monsaraz, of the Interactive Center of Jewish Culture, which is also known as “House of Inquisition,” the Tribuna Alentejo reported Saturday.

“It aims to provide an in-depth view, with more content about a part of Monsaraz’s history and its Jewish community that previously had never been presented to the public in such a format,” Monsaraz Mayor José Calixto told the SAPO broadcaster about the new center, which contains an exhibition on the city’s former Jewish residents and Sephardic culture.

Portugal’s already substantial Jewish community grew considerably after 1492, when tens of thousands of Jews immigrated to it from neighboring Spain as a result of the Spanish Inquisition – a campaign led by the Catholic Church and the Spanish royal house against the country’s Jews. In 1536, Portugal followed suit with its own inquisition. In both countries, Jews were stripped of their possessions, forcibly converted to Christianity or forced to leave. Thousands were killed in pogroms and executions.

Over the past 20 years, Spain and Portugal have invested millions in preserving the heritage their 16th-century Jewish communities left behind. Since 2013, both countries have passed laws allowing Sephardic Jews to become citizens, in what was described by both governments as an act of atonement for the inquisition.

In Portugal, the government recently allocated approximately $6 million to the Portuguese Jewish Network – Sefarad Routes – a state-funded project for preservation and commemoration works at sites connected to the country’s Jewish past. So far, it encompasses approximately 30 municipalities in the country’s center and north.

In Monsaraz, the new center was inaugurated on the opening night of the biannual “Open Museum” cultural festival.

Separately, the municipality of Elvas near Monsaraz has allocated approximately $350,000 toward renovating its ancient synagogue, Mayor Nuno Mocinha last week told Radio Porto Alegre. It is scheduled to open in April.

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