It’s not just the elegance of the 12 historical villages of Portugal that conquers us – but also the rich historical heritage where distinct peoples and cultures, such as Christians, Muslims, and Jews, cross.
In 1599, in Castelo Rodrigo, a man was born who went on to be called Martim Alvares, and whose destiny was to make this village famous all over the world. In reality, the man was named Efraim Bueno (he was Jewish) – Martim was the name he received when he was baptized as a “new Christian.”
Despite being integrated into the community, Efraim decided to immigrate to Bordeaux, where he studied Medicine. He then took off for Amsterdam, known for its religious tolerance (so rare and valuable at the time) where he exercised his profession. There, he met one of the most famous Dutch painters of all time, Rembrandt, who chose this Portuguese doctor to represent the Jews persecuted by the Catholic religion. Castelo Rodrigo and its Jewish community were thus eternalized in Art History.
In fact, Castelo Rodrigo is one of the 12 historical villages where we can find evidence of the Jewish people’s passage through our country. Here, we discover, for example, a gate with a Hebrew inscription, dated from 1508, on the street of the Prison, which attests to the presence of a community of Jews and new Christians in Castelo Rodrigo.
It is also believed that the Medieval Cistern of Castelo Rodrigo had been an old synagogue: A part was used for worship, and the other for mikveh, which was for ritual baths. With nearly 13 meters in depth, it has two entrances – one in Gothic style, and the other with an archway in the shape of a horseshoe, in Arabic style. The synagogue’s destruction would have occurred when the Jews were expelled, as ordered by D. Manuel I (1469 – 1521), and was later renovated as a cistern/water reserve.
The Albarran Tower we find in Castelo Rodrigo belongs to its Muslim legacy, another people who left their mark in our country and is conserved in the historical villages. This tower, the northernmost Albarran tower known in Portuguese territory, represents a military system introduced by the Muslims to the peninsula.
But the streets of Castelo Rodrigo keep secrets from past conflicts among Christians, Jews, and Muslims: In this village, there are traces of Paleolithic, Megalithic, Castro, and Roman cultures. A true outdoor museum that conserves the History of our origins over time. Castelo Rodrigo is, therefore, a required stop among the various historical villages that deserves a visit from us, where stories from books, of enchanted princes and princesses, of infinite battles and sieges come to life before our eyes…