There has been a significant Jewish presence in Leiria since the early thirteenth century, with a Jewish commune building up outside the village walls, growing and growing until it reached its heyday in the fifteenth century.
The Jewish Quarter is still visible today within the medieval urban fabric, within which typographer Samuel de Ortas set up shop in 1492, printing Abraham Zacuto’s Almanach Perpetuum in 1496, which went on to play a key role in the Portuguese discoveries.
Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy) still stands within the Jewish Quarter, having been built on the site of the ancient synagogue and serving as a reminder of its former presence. The Baroque church houses the Intercultural Dialogue Centre, which also spans a house dating back to medieval times called the Casa dos Pintores (Artists’ House).
Start of the route: Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy)
End of the long route: Paper Mill
End of the short route: Rodrigues Lobo Square
Itinerary of places: 15 stops – long route (A);
9 stops – short route (B)
1 – Leiria Intercultural Dialogue Centre and Synagogue
2 – Casa do Arco (Arch house)
3 – Casa dos Pintores (Artists’ House)
4 – Rua Barão de Viamonte (Rua Direita/Straight Street)
5 – Travessa da Tipografia (Typography Alley)
6 – Rua Latino Coelho (Rua da Judiaria/Jewish Quarter Street)
7 – Cathedral Bell Tower Viewpoint
8 – Leiria Castle
9 – Leiria Cathedral
10 – Rodrigues Lobo Square
11 – Rossio de Leiria (Leiria Square)
12 – Igreja do Espírito Santo (Church of the Holy Spirit)
13 – Fonte das Três Bicas (Three-Spout Fountain)
14 – Igreja e Convento de Santo Agostinho – Leiria Museum (St Augustine Church and Convent)
15 – Paper Mill
1. Leiria Intercultural Dialogue Centre and Synagogue
The synagogue was a central feature within the Jewish commune, having been located where the Church of Mercy now stands – a Christian temple of worship with Mannerist and baroque traces, which was classified as a monument of public interest in 2015.
The Leiria Brotherhood of the Holy House of Mercy was founded in 1544, having served as somewhat of a replacement for the Church of S. Martinho (demolished between 1546 and 1549) in the town centre, at least until the Cathedral was completed in 1559.
2. Casa do Arco/Arco da Misericórdia (Arch house/Mercy Arch)
Casa do Arco, a building with traces of Art Nouveau-style architecture designed by Ernesto Korrodi, now stands where the hospital and Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Leiria shelter was located until the year 1800, when it was transferred to where the new hospital now stands, in the neighbourhood of Anjos.
This locale evokes the memory of the doors into the Jewish Quarter in Leiria, dating back to the beginning of the thirteenth century, which would have opened onto the São Martinho square, which is now Rodrigues Lobo square.
3.Casa dos Pintores (Artists’ House)
Artists’ House, a building of medieval origin located in the centre of the Jewish Quarter, next to the old Largo dos Banhos (Bathing Square), is one of the few buildings remaining that testify to the oldest forms of architecture that would once have made up the historic centre. The building’s name “Casa dos Pintores” (Literally Painters’ House, or Artists’ House) comes from the large number of artists who have painted the building’s facade over its long history.
4. Rua Barão de Viamonte (Rua Direita/Straight Street)
The Jewish population settled on the edge of the medieval village in the Middle Ages, outside its walls, along the old Rua Direita, which is now Rua Barão de Viamonte. The Jewish Quarter then reached its heyday in the fifteenth century, before Jewish persecution began in Portugal, in 1496.
The archaeological excavations carried out have revealed that the area has remained heavily occupied since the Late Middle Ages, throughout the modern and contemporary eras.
5. Travessa da Tipografia (Typography Alley)
The importance of Leiria in the history of the Portuguese printed press is widely recognised due to the medieval village having housed one of the first printing workshops in the country. From 1492, when the Ortas family arrived in Leiria, onwards, several Hebrew incunabula were printed, as well as mathematician Abraham Zacuto’s pivotal Almanach Perpetuum, which was printed in 1496.
6. Rua Latino Coelho (Rua da Judiaria/Jewish Quarter Street)
The Jewish Quarter, a closed-off, organic urban structure, is made up of a web of buildings in a medieval mesh, radiating out from the synagogue along streets that still exist to this day. The Ortas family, who were typographers, lived on Rua da Judiaria or Rua Nova (currently Rua Latino Coelho).
7. Leiria Jewish Quarter (Cathedral Bell Tower Viewpoint)
In terms of its urban design, the Jewish Quarter in Leiria had a herringbone-like pattern, with streets that have maintained medieval traces to this day and have since become a central part of the city.
The nerve centre of the Jewish Quarter would have been at the junction of Rua Barão de Viamonte (Rua Direita) with Rua Nova or Rua da Misericórdia (Rua Miguel Bombarda), which was formerly known as Rua da Judiaria (Jewish Quarter Street).
8. Leiria Castle
Leiria Castle and its walled nucleus, the crowning glory of the entire municipality, have a prime location, at the meeting point between the River Lis and River Lena.
Archaeological remains indicate that the Hill upon which the castle is built has been occupied for about five thousand years.
King Afonso I of Portugal conquered Leiria from the Moors in 1135, with the castle having seen a complex architectural evolution since, with the addition of military (keep), civil (Paços Novos – New Palaces) and religious (Nossa Senhora da Pena Church) elements.
9. Leiria Cathedral
Leiria Cathedral is built in a sober, Mannerist style, with construction having begun in 1559, following the demolition of the Church of S. Martinho (between 1546 and 1549) and the opening of the new square. The Diocese of Leiria was created on the 22nd May 1545, and on the 13th June of the same year, Leiria was elevated to the status of city. The architectural ensemble that makes up Leiria cathedral was classified as a National Monument in 2014.
10. Rodrigues Lobo Square
The city’s main square is named after Francisco Rodrigues Lobo, a new-Christian poet who was born in Leiria and whose family was affected by the persecutions that took place as part of the inquisition following the edict of expulsion of the Jews and Muslims issued in 1496. The square contains a statue built by Joaquim Correia in honour of the poet.
11. Rossio de Leiria (Leiria Square)
Two remarkable pieces of public art can be admired in the old Rossio, which was landscaped in the 2nd half of the nineteenth century: the statue of the Pilgrim Shepherd and a sculpture entitled The Lis and The Lena. The Pilgrim Shepherd, sculpted by Pedro Anjos Teixeira in 1959, is a reference to the work of local poet Francisco Rodrigues Lobo, who created the first official record of the names of the Rivers being Lis and Lena. The sculpture The Lis and The Lena, by Master Lagoa Henriques, in the fountain, is an allusion to the two rivers and was inaugurated in 1973.
12. Igreja do Espírito Santo (Church of the Holy Spirit)
A Baroque religious monument dating back to the eighteenth century, the church was built on the site of a late thirteenth-century hermitage with the same name. It would have had an adjoining hospital and poorhouse, which went on to be absorbed by the Leiria Santa Casa da Misericórdia Charity in 1614.
13. Three-Spout, Big or Figurehead Fountain
This Baroque-inspired animal drinking fountain, also known as Fonte das Carrancas (Figurehead Fountain), was built in the eighteenth century.
14. Igreja e Convento de Santo Agostinho – Leiria Museum (St Augustine Church and Convent)
A religious complex classified as a monument of public interest, containing both Mannerist and Baroque features.
Between 1577 and 1579, shortly after Leiria was elevated to the status of city and granted a diocese (1545), construction began on the church and Augustinian Convent, on the initiative of Bishop and Friar Gaspar do Casal. The first diocesan seminary was located next door (1671-1672).
Army barracks were installed here after 1834. The old convent currently houses the Museum of Leiria, which was inaugurated in 2015.
15. Paper Mill
King John I of Portugal granted Gonçalo Lourenço De Gomide a royal charter to make paper in Leiria in 1411, founding what is considered to have been the first ever paper factory in Portugal.
This production of paper may primarily have come about in the medieval village as a result of the first printing workshops in the country having been set up here by Jewish printer, Samuel de Ortas’s, family.
The mill has operated as a museum since 2009, following further work done by architect Siza Vieira.