Portuguese Synagogue, Jewish Cultural Quarter

Amsterdam’s Portuguese Synagogue is part of the city’s Jewish Cultural Quarter, a popular attraction that also includes the Jewish Historical Museum and the National Holocaust Museum. Prominently located in the midst of the Rembrandt House Museum, Hortus Botanicus, ARTIS Royal Zoo, and Hermitage Amsterdam, the Portuguese Synagogue is a historic synagogue that dates to the late seventeenth century. This stately structure is famous for its candlelit interior and extensive collection of religious ceremonial objects, and is also home to the world-famous Ets Haim Library.

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History of the Portuguese Synagogue

Work on the Portuguese Synagogue (or “Esnoga,” as it’s sometimes called) began in April of 1671. The acclaimed architect Elias Bouman came up with the design for the structure, and oversaw its construction, which was completed in 1675. When the Portuguese Synagogue first opened its doors, it was the world’s largest synagogue.

Ets Haim, the historic library located within the Portuguese Synagogue, was established in 1616. It moved into the new synagogue when it was completed in 1675; with the exception of a quarter-century period in the late twentieth century when most of the library’s collection was moved to the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem for safekeeping while its Amsterdam location was extensively renovated, it has been there ever since. The Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam still convenes regular services in this incredible space.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – September 24 2017: Interior of the Synagogue of Amsterdam

Portuguese Synagogue Highlights

The expansive interior of the Portuguese Synagogue is the centerpiece of a visit to this historic attraction. The synagogue here is legendary for appearing today almost identically as it would have roughly 350 years ago. That’s because the site has never installed electricity: when additional light is necessary, the synagogue is illuminated by chandeliers equipped with candles. From its plank floors to its timber ceiling, stone columns to wooden pews, visiting the Portuguese Synagogue is like taking a trip back in time.

The Portuguese Synagogue is home to the Ets Haim Library. Ets Haim (which means “tree of life” in Hebrew) is considered the oldest active Jewish library in the world, and is recognized the world over for its cultural importance and impressive holdings. This beautiful, elegant space contains approximately 600 manuscripts and over 25,000 printed texts, and is especially known for possessing a remarkable collection of Jewish historical works from the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries.

The basement of the Portuguese Synagogue is where you’ll find the attraction’s so-called “Treasuries.” Here the synagogue routinely presents a rotating selection of some 800 ceremonial objects curated from its permanent collection of artifacts. Items on display here are subject to change, but usually include such treasures as historic textiles, menorahs, silverware, Torah coverings, and a whole lot more.

More to See and Do at the Portuguese Synagogue

The Portuguese Synagogue is a thought-provoking part of the Jewish Cultural Quarter experience. Here are some additional details to keep in mind as you plan your visit.

•Those visitors who wish to see for themselves the wonder that is the Portuguese Synagogue as it’s all lit up at night by candles will need to book a ticket for one of the attraction’s special evening candlelight concerts.

•Most visitors wishing to experience the Portuguese Synagogue typically choose to do so by purchasing a ticket to the Jewish Cultural Quarter, as this covers their admission to all four attractions that are a part of this organization. However, it is worth noting that the Portuguese Synagogue does also run guided tours of its premises. These guided tours (available in a 60-, 90-, or 120-minute format) allow visitors to see portions of the site not usually available to visitors in possession of a standard-admission ticket.

•To that end, visitors may only enter the famous Ets Haim Library as part of a special, library-specific guided tour (the Portuguese Synagogue’s regular guided tours only allow participants to peek in at the library from its doorway). If having the chance to walk through the storied spaces of Ets Haim Library is important to you, then you’ll need to visit the Portuguese Synagogue’s official website for more details about when these unique tours are scheduled to run during your trip.

•The Portuguese Synagogue’s Museum Shop is open for business any time the attraction itself is open to the public. This charming store sells predominantly Jewish history books, as well as an extensive selection of religious products.

Why the Portuguese Synagogue Should Be on Your Must-See List

A visit to Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter makes for a rich and rewarding experience, and the Portuguese Synagogue comprises a vital part of this powerful attraction. If you’d like to learn more about the important roles Jewish people have played in the life of this vibrant city while coming face to face with numerous artifacts treasured throughout the past several centuries of Jewish history, then you’ll find the Portuguese Synagogue a tremendously rewarding destination.