The Portugese Synagoge
Besides many Catholic and Protestant churches, Amsterdam also counts several Jewish places of worship. At the Mr. Visserplein, right next to Waterlooplein, we find the Portugese-Israelitic Synagoge. The recognizable building is one of the oldest synagoges in the world that has constantly been in use. This in contrast to the nearby Grote Synagoge (Great Synagoge), that was closed by the Nazis in 1943 and never reopened afterwards. The impressive Portugese Synagoge is one of the more important synagoges in the world and continues to be at the center of the Jewisch community of Amsterdam.
Jews in Amsterdam
At the end of the 15th century, Spain was led by strongly devoted Catholic rulers, driving many Spanish Jews to Portugal. When Portugal also came under Spanish control in 1497, many Jews faced the choice of converting to Catholicism or to move again. Many converted, although only to the outside world, but when the inquisition commenced in the 1540's another exodus took place. When the Netherlands rebelled against Spain, many Jews found a new home in the relative tolerant northern cities. In 1585 Antwerp was captured by the Spanish, which made many Jews move to Amsterdam. The Jewish population was very entrepreneurial and had good trade contacts, giving a strong impulse to the economy of Amsterdam.
The Portugese Synagoge
From the second half of the 17th century, it was allowed for Jews to build synagoges in Amsterdam. In 1671 construction started close to Waterlooplein on the Portugese-Isrealitic Synagoge, also known as Esnoga or Snoge. This neighbourhood housed a large part of the Jewish community and besides the synagoge we still find the Jewish Historic museum and the Pintohouse. The Portugese Synagoge is based on the Temple of Salomo in Jeruzalem and was designed by Elias Bouman, who later became the city architect of Amsterdam. Construction was halted during the disaster year of 1672, when the Netherlands were under attack by both England and France. After restarting, the synagoge was opened on the 2nd of August 1675. The Portugese Synagoge consists of a large main building with a frontal yard that is surrounded by lower buildings. The building was the largest synagoge in the world of its time, and together with the synagoge of Prague it is the oldest in the world that has been constantly in use.
Traditional Interior and Library
The interior of the Portugese Synagoge was never modernized and remains almost fully as it used to be. The building has no heating system and lacks electric light, so almost 1000 candles are used for lighting. To prevent the wooden floor of the synagoge to become dirty it is covered by a thin layer of sand, just like in older times.
The support buildings house the Ets Haim - Livraria Montezinos library, one of the largest collections of Jewish writings and scripture that contains books from 1484 till now. The library is part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
- Amsterdam – Russell Shorto
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