Portuguese Synagogue, also known as Esnoga, is a late 17th century Sephardic synagogue in Amsterdam. Sephardic Jews are descendants of Jews expelled from Spain or Portugal at the start of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. Upon completion in 1675, this synagogue was the largest in Europe serving one of the oldest Jewish communities during the Dutch Golden Age.
It is a working synagogue and the property size is huge. The main synagogue building is free-standing in the center surrounded by a row of low buildings forming a square. Thus, creating an enclosed courtyard. The surrounding buildings include winter synagogue, the rabbinate, the mikvah (ritual bath), a candle room, a mortuary, offices and archives. These are modern renovated buildings.
The inside of the synagogue is simple with dark wood interior and old pews. Much of the décor claimed to be in its original state. I imagined stepping back to 1675! There is no heating or electricity in this building. The enormous arched windows from the Ladies’ Galleries on the second level allow plenty of sunlight during day time. For the evening services or events, candles are lit along the railings, wall sconces, on candlesticks and on the large brass hanging chandeliers. Must be spectacular! I have only seen photos. Last but not least, the sand-covered floor is an interesting old tradition because it supposedly absorbs dust, moisture and dirt from shoes and also to dampen noises.
My visit to Jewish Cultural Quarter of Amsterdam* started right here at the Portuguese Synagogue as it opened the earliest at 10 am. First, I was greeted with a thorough security check right before the door.
After settling the entrance ticket, I was free to roam about on my own. I was given a free audio guide in English and it provided me captivating explanation about various aspect of the buildings, Jewish religious ceremonies, history, traditions, customs and culture.
My visit was definitely educational and an eye-opener. Look out for the green signage on doors suggesting you may enter. Do not miss the Treasure Chambers located at the basement where priceless items such as collection of Torah and other Jewish religious ritual objects are stored. Also, check out the Ladies’ Galleries with own separate entrance at rear end of the main building accessible from outside. The famous Ets Haim Library is here. It is filled with original and rare texts and entry is limited to (scientific) researchers or special tours.
It was a fantastic insight into Jewish culture past and present.
*Jewish Cultural Quarter includes Portuguese Synagogue, Jewish Historical Museum (with a separate Children’s Museum) and National Holocaust Memorial. It has a joint ticket system whereby you can visit all the above museums once, within one month period for €15.00 total. Make sure you keep your ticket(s) safe.