Daily World News

Lisbon, a global and calm city

CM 28/08/2021 1

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As I began writing this article regarding a visit to Lisbon, Portugal, history flashed onto my computer monitor noting that in 1497, the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, departing on his first voyage, was soon to become the first European to reach India sailing under the Portuguese flag. Da Gama established Portugal as a colonial power and changed the previous dependence Europe had on trade by overland routes. He was advised by Jewish scholars and financed by Jewish businessmen. He also followed maps and instruments made by Jewish manufacturers. Jewish physicians were on his ships.
While in India, Vasco da Gama captured a Polish Jew, forcibly baptized him and named him Gaspar da Gama. Gaspar became not only the pilot of Vasco’s fleet in Indian waters but also served the Portuguese king as a linguist on other naval expeditions. Gaspar accompanied explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral on the mission on which Brazil was “discovered,” and accompanied Nicolau Coelho, the first European to step ashore in Brazil. 
For hundreds of years, Portugal, with the country’s shoreline facing the Atlantic Ocean, has had a long tradition of seafaring fishermen and traders. All of which goes to prove that when one thinks of Portugal, and Lisbon its capital, one thinks of the sea and weather-beaten faces of fishermen hauling in the day’s catch. Indeed, when you walk in Lisbon, you’re sauntering about in two neighborhoods, the one you’re in and the sea. Whoever has visited here knows that the fragrance of the city is salt and sea. I remember going down to docks on the water and partaking in seafood in fish restaurants.

While Lisbon may not have the panache of London, Paris or Rome, it is a good respite from the whirlwind movements of those three capitals. Lisbon calms the peripatetic traveler like me and yet, there is a lot to do in this city, including sampling Portugal’s wealth of port wines.
Thinking of this bustling port city, I recall the famous author Erich Maria Remarque’s comment from his novel The Night in Lisbon, in which he wrote, “By day, Lisbon has a naïve theatrical quality that enchants and captivates, but by night, it is a fairy-tale city, descending over lighted terraces by the sea.”
Lisbon does not lack entertainment. There is flamenco dancing, which started in neighboring Spain, but is extremely popular in Portugal. On two different nights, I took a train to nearby Cascais and Estoril, and spend several evenings in clubs and cafes where I enjoyed the art form of flamenco and listened as well to fado songs that reflect feelings born from the sea, and which often include the melancholia on the faces of the café goers.
In the Afalma section, there are two historic landmarks: the St. George’s Castle and the 12th-century Se Cathedral. The castle, which dates from the sixth century on, was fortified by the Romans, Visigoths and Moors, and once served as the royal palace. Climb the towers for a breath-taking view. Se Cathedral is an important religious building in the early history of Lisbon. Containing massive solid towers, the church resembles a fortress rather than a religious center.
Walking in the central square, Rossio, in the downtown district known for its towering statue of King Pedro IV who, history buffs can note, reigned briefly over Portugal and was the first ruler of the Empire of Brazil.
 A PAINTING by Allan Fleischmann of the interior of Shaare Tikvah Synagogue in Lisbon. (credit: Alan Fleischman) A PAINTING by Allan Fleischmann of the interior of Shaare Tikvah Synagogue in Lisbon. (credit: Alan Fleischman)
I DISCOVERED that Plaza Rossio, or Placal Ido Rossio, is actually the name of the Pedro IV Square. It has been one of the city’s main squares since the Middle Ages. Popular revolts and celebrations, bullfights and executions have been held here. In Rossio Square stood the Palace of Estaos, which housed the Spanish Inquisition. Between 2,000 and 4,000 New Christians, known as Marranos (Anusim, or Conversor) were butchered in the square. Rossio Square is a good spot to stand and reflect on the world of the Marranos, a world in which no one could trust anyone. Today, it is the place where Lisbon natives and tourists meet.
I marvel at the wavering mosaic pattern in various street sidewalk tiles. Even some of the cafes around the square date from the 18th century. Shopping galore!
I walk back to the historic heart of Lisbon, the Alfama district, and climb the hilly streets.
Later, I saunter along the tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade reminding me of the Champs-Elysees for its many international luxury boutiques.
Lisbon has one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in Europe, mainly because Portugal approved a law in March 2015 that grants citizenship to descendants of Jews it persecuted 500 years ago during the Inquisition. The rights apply to those who can demonstrate “a traditional connection to Portuguese Sephardi Jews.” Obviously, many Jews are applying for Portuguese citizenship to obtain an EU passport. The best estimates are that several thousand Jews reside in Portugal, including about 1,000Jews in Lisbon and an equal number in Oporto.
The historic Shaare Tikvah Synagogue is at Alexandre Herculano 59, Lisbon. Tel 351-213-931-130. www.cilisboa.org. This famous house of worship underwent a renovation in 2002 as a tribute to its 100th anniversary.
The synagogue is open Friday nights, Saturday mornings and Jewish holidays, according to Allan Fleischman, the shamash (sexton) of this house of worship.
Chabad holds activities and classes in Cascais and Lisbon. Contact Chabad at 351-910-345-754. info@chabadportugal.com.
The Communidade Israelita de Lisboa, is at Do Monte Olivete, 16, r/c, 1200-280, Lisbon.
A new Jewish museum was planned for the Alfama district, but will finally be built in the neighborhood of Pedroucos, as a “showcase of Portuguese Jewish life, both of the nation and the Diaspora.” The building will be designed by the noted Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind, who also designed, among other museums, including the Jewish Museum Berlin.
During World War II, Lisbon was a neutral country. By getting to Lisbon, many Jews were saved from the Nazis. The capital was a great escape hatch to the United States and other safe destinations.
Because Portugal is located on the far western edge of the Iberian Peninsula, and because Iberia itself was isolated for centuries, people said Europe began and ended at the Pyrenees. No longer! A free democratic atmosphere envelopes Lisbon and the country, and this brings tourists to Portugal today, more than ever.
The author, travel writer and travel-lecturer, wrote the just-published Klara’s War, A Novel, A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe,” 4th edition, (Pelican Publishing), Klara’s Journey, A Novel, (Marion Street Press,) and The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond,(Globe Pequot Press). Follow him on Twitter @bengfrank.


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