One of the world’s oldest active synagogues, and the oldest in the Commonwealth, can be found in the center of the port’s spice district, Jew Town. The district is a particularly historic reminder of Fort Cochin’s multicultural heritage.
The synagogue sits at the center of the district once inhabited by Fort Cochin’s prosperous spice trading community of Malabari Jews, who traveled here from Holland and Spain. Today, apart from the synagogue and faded street signs, reminders of the district’s once-thriving Jewish community are few.
There were once seven synagogues in this quarter of Old Cochin, but Paradesi Synagogue (also called Pardesi) is the sole survivor. It sometimes also known as the Mattancherry Synagogue, as it shares a temple wall with the neighboring Mattancherry Palace. The word ‘paradesi’ is an Indian term for foreigner.
The original synagogue built in 1568 was destroyed by the Portuguese, and the current building with its distinctive clock tower was erected under the rule of the Dutch.
Notable features include the synagogue’s floor of blue-and-white tiles, individually hand-painted in Canton in a willow pattern. Colored glass lamps and glittering Belgian-glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and the gold pulpit is richly decorated.
As is traditional, there is a separate upstairs balcony for female worshipers. There are also historic Torah scrolls and copper plates inscribed with the synagogue’s charter of privileges on display.
When you visit the synagogue, make sure to come modestly dressed (no shorts or sleeveless tops allowed).
The Paradesi Synagogue is off Jew Town Road, on the eastern edge of the peninsula in the district of Mattancherry.