After reaching an agreement with the private owners, the City Council of Ourém, in central Portugal, has announced it will purchase the remains of what may have been the town’s medieval synagogue, hoping to restore it to form part of Jewish and local heritage tourist routes.
The city had attempted to buy the ruined building in 2019 but had failed to reach an agreement with the owners, and in September 2020 had started the process of expropriating it. The new accord – under which the town will purchase the site for €8,700 – halted the expropriation process.
The acquisition, the City Council stated in a press release October 26, creates the “conditions for the preservation of this important Jewish symbolic site, which integrates the historical heritage available in the Medieval Village of Ourém, and which could be boosted within the scope of the Rede de Judiarias de Portugal.” The Rede de Judiarias de Portugal is a Jewish heritage and history tourism network that links 37 cities and towns around the country.
The ruins consist of a stone façade with two pointed arches of unequal heights, with a gaping window opening in the wall about the taller arch. The façade is the only surviving part of the building.
It is commonly referred to as having been a synagogue dating back to the 15th century, although an information panel already placed at the site by the town says there is no documentation or archival sources that prove this — only an oral tradition indicating the street where it stands as the “old Jewish Street.”
The city’s press release said the façade “presents a high risk of collapse, endangering road traffic and the physical integrity of passersby and residents.”
The building is a protected monument included in the protection zone of the Old City of Ourém. According to the tourism website of central Portugal, the building was probably destroyed by an earthquake that devastated the city in 1755.
Ourém lies adjacent to Fatima, the site of a major Roman Catholic sanctuary and pilgrimage site, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children in 1917.