Open to visit
Free audio guide
Mr Visserplein 3, Amsterdam
In the middle of Amsterdam's city centre stands a huge building with an incredible history: the Portuguese Synagogue. Built in 1675 and preserved unaltered ever since. With religious services still held to this day and open on other days for everyone to come and visit.
Never been inside? You’re not the only one. The Portuguese Synagogue has been called Amsterdam’s best kept secret.
World's biggest synagogue
Under Dutch law, Jews weren’t allowed to build synagogues. When that changed in the mid-17th century, new synagogues soon appeared.
The Portuguese Synagogue was the biggest in the world. It stands out in Gerrit Berckheyde’s View of the Great and Portuguese Synagogues in Amsterdam (1675-1680) at the Jewish Museum.
To the left in the painting is the Great Synagogue, built in 1671 by Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. This is now home to the Jewish Museum. On the right is the Portuguese Synagogue, built by Sephardi Jews from Spain and Portugal. Here, the Portuguese Synagogue is only just finished: the shed on the far right is the construction site cabin.
Things to see
The Portuguese Synagogue’s interior has remained unchanged since 1675. Hundreds of candles on polished brass chandeliers still provide the only lighting. On winter nights, these create an enchanting atmosphere.
The pews, the platform from which services are led (tebah) and the pinewood floor all date from 1675. Fine sand on the floor absorbs the footsteps, and the dirt and damp from the street. The furthest candle on the chandelier nearest the hechal (which houses the Torah scrolls) is the eternal light, which burns continually.
Hidden treasure chambers
The buildings surrounding the synagogue contain its treasure chambers. This is where the ceremonial objects are kept, many of which are still used in religious services. These Portuguese Synagogue exhibits are the most complete ensemble still preserved at their original location.
The synagogue has a huge collection of Torah scrolls, the oldest dating from the 14th century (!). The magnificent silverware includes cups, ewers and candlesticks for Shabbat and festivals. The textiles include almost six hundred items, many of which are mantles and linings for Torah scrolls.
“Its size intimidating, its rest calming, its purpose magical, and its history poignant and impressive. No one leaves the Portuguese Synagogue unmoved.”
Rosie de Sousa, visitor
Not to be missed
- The hundreds of candles illuminating the synagogue (tip: in the winter, visit around 4pm when it gets dark early).
- Look from the women’s gallery for a view of the whole synagogue from above.
- The treasure chambers.
- The winter synagogue, used when the weather gets cold.
- Ets Haim Library - Livraria Montezinos, the oldest Jewish library in the world (visit by appointment).