Penamacor is a small town with many historic gems at the heart of it’s Cidade Antiga, the Old Town and Bairro Judeu, Jewish Quarter. As Penamacor is a border town, only 12 km from Spain, a large number of Jewish people settled here after the Spanish expulsion of 1492 and their influence on this Portuguese town is still evident today.
The oldest part of the town is located at the very top of the hill that Penamacor is built upon and Rua de S. Pedro”, is one of the most historic in town. The Cimo de Vila, top of town, is home to Penamacor’s Watchtower, (Torre de Vigia), the former Building of the Town Council, the Clock Tower, the Pillory (“Pelourinho”), the Church of Mercy, António Ribeiro Sanches Sephardic Medicine House of Memory, the Church of Saint James (São Tiago) (main church) and the Convent of Saint Anthony (Santo António) of Penamacor. This part of town offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, the viewpoint Miradouro, is a great place for a picnic.
Penamacor’s most famous son was one of the most symbolic figures of 18th century European culture: the doctor and philosopher António Ribeiro Sanches. A New Christian, persecuted for many years by the Portuguese Inquisition for the charge of never having renounced Judaism, he was the doctor of Catherine the Great and his revolutionary writings transformed medical teaching in Portugal.
The town’s museum is also worth a visit and houses artefacts, coins, militaria and a rather gruesome collection of taxidermy. There are some great walking routes and even an alternative international school. Penamacor is probably most renowned in Portugal for it’s humongous Vila Madeiro, the largest bonfire lit at Christmas time but is well worth a visit at any time of year. If you visit Penamacor don’t forget to travel to the nearby Serra da Malcata Natural Reserve and historic villages of Sorthela, Monsanto and Idanha-a-Velha.
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