On this visit to Amsterdam I'm so happy to report that we did pay a very important visit to a stunning synagogue, completed in 1675 by Sephardic Jews originally from Spain!
Just a little background for you. Jews were expelled en masse from Spain in 1492, while Jews were expelled from Portugal in 1497. Of course those who were allowed to leave were the fortunate ones. Many were burned at stake for refusing to convert, and many gave in to the pressure to convert. For hundreds of years, the Inquisition continued to investigate those who had been forced to convert, and their descendants, on suspicions that in secret they still practiced Judaism. (Which indeed they did, in very secretive ways.)
Some of those who wished to practice Judaism freely found refuge in Amsterdam. During a substantial migration that took place in the 17th century, these Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal called themselves Portuguese Jews to avoid being identified with Spain, which was at war with the Dutch Republic at the time.
The Amsterdam Sephardic community was one of the largest and richest in Europe during the Dutch Golden Age, and their very large synagogue reflected this. Unfortunately though many many years later roughly 4,000 members of the Sephardic community perished in the Holocaust together with Ashkenazic Jews from the region.
The synagogue has a very high vaulted ceiling, and to this day has no electricity. Stunning brass candle chandeliers hang through out the space and are lit prior to Shabbat services on Friday nights. (Though during the colder months I believe services are held in a smaller synagogue with heating.) This is something I hope to witness myself sometime, I'm sure it's breath-takingly beautiful!
The ceiling is dark, while the floors are covered in what seems to be unfinished floor boards, and I was quite surprised that they seemed to be un-swept. Then I read that they are purposely covered in a layer of thin sand, Dutch style, to muffle sound and keep the floor clean!
A truly stunning space.
And the women's balcony is just gorgeous, with a great view of all that's happening below.
I have a fondness for old engravings, so I certainly love this one which shows the synagogue on the left!
Entrance to the Portuguese Synagogue also grants admission to the Jewish Museum just across the street, and one can also purchase a guide in the gift shop of the museum for a walking tour of Jewish Amsterdam. I bought the booklet for a little self guided tour in the future, hopefully!