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Fort Kochi - Part 7 : Jew Town and Synagogue

Our introduction to Fort Kochi and her glorious history began with our visit to the St. FrancisChurch, the oldest European built church in India. Then, the Mattanchery Palace gave us an insight into the lives of the Hindu rulers, who were the original inhabitants of this beautiful town. A few minutes’ walk now brought us to another, and even more fascinating aspect of Fort Kochi – the Jew Town.

Special Cancellation at the Jew Town Post Office, Mattanchery Jetty



Jews, it is said, arrived in India during the reign of King Solomon. It is believed that the first Jews were traders from Judea who settled here, and, while following their religion, merged with the locals seamlessly. Their first settlement was at Cranganore, as Kodungallor was then called, near the erstwhile port of Muziris. A massive flood in the Periyar forced the river to change its course, and, along with it, the fortunes of the land. As Muziris was forgotten, Cochin rose in importance, and the Jews, along with many other communities, shifted to Fort Kochi. Here, under the protection of the kings, they built a new synagogue, which was destroyed by the not-so-benevolent Portuguese. Meanwhile, the Sephardic Jews also arrived here, expelled from Spain, their homeland, and rebuilt the Synagogue in 1568, which stands till today, the most ancient among the Jewish places of worship in India.

Jew Town... a view of the street with the clock tower looming over it


The Sephardic Jews were called ‘Paradesi Jews’, literally meaning ‘foreigners’, a clear distinction from the Cochin or Malabari Jews who had arrived centuries earlier. The synagogue, therefore, is, even today, called the ‘Paradesi Synagogue’.

Entry to the Synagogue


This was one among seven synagogues originally built in Cochin, but is the only one which still survives as a house of prayer. It is now maintained by the World Monuments Fund, in association with  the Jewish community of Cochin and the National Culture Fund. Visitors are allowed on payment of a nominal fee, and it was good to see that entry is regulated so that the peace and quiet are maintained.

Postcard showing the Chinese tiles lining the floor of the Synagogue..
a total of 1100 tiles were laid in 1762. And the best thing is, no two are alike!!!! 


Inside, it is simple, but remarkably peaceful. We were told that the floor tiles had been brought all the way from China, and on the outer wall, is a plaque brought from the first Synagogue ever to have been built in India, in 1344! That synagogue is no more, but its memory survives, in the form of the original inscription in Hebrew which graced its wall once.

Clock - still working! 


The clock tower rises over the neighbourhood, still the tallest structure around. This however, is a later structure, added in 1760. It was only when we went back to the Mattanchery palace that we realized that they shared the same compound wall!

Back View of the Synagogue tower.. from the Mattanchery Palace


Hindus and Jews, Muslims and Christians, living side by side, in harmony – isn’t that almost Utopian? To think that such an Utopia actually existed right here, makes me wonder, "Where did it go?”



Information and Suggestions:

  • The Paradesi Synagogue is also called the Mattanchery Synagogue. It is within walking distance of the Mattanchery or Dutch Palace.
  • The synagogue is open for visitors from Sunday to Thursday between 10 AM to 1 PM and 3 PM to 5 PM. it is closed on Fridays, Saturdays and all Jewish Holidays.
  • There is a nominal entry fee, and visitors are allowed inside in batches. While you wait, please use the time to take a look at the history of Jews in India depicted through paintings in the outer room of the synagogue.
  • Also, ask for a booklet on the history of Jews available for Rs. 20/- as well as for postcards showing the interior of the synagogue.
Postcard showing the Synagogue decorated for Simcha Torah . 

  • There is lots to see in Jew Town apart from the Synagogue. The quaint houses, shops and cafés are an interesting way to spend time looking around. Also, the Jewish Cemetery here is one of the oldest. You may not be allowed inside, though.
Inscription on the wall of the Jewish Cemetery

  • Finally, as you leave Jew Town, pause at the post office on the corner. If it is a working day, go inside and ask for the special cancellation….It will be a one-of-a-kind memento of your visit here!




Comments

  1. It is really interesting to read some one else about places one has visited. I also visited Chenamangalam, Paravoor (Parur) where there is one more Synagogue of a later date, which is really beautiful. Here you may visit the Cemetery as well.

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    1. It is always interesting to re read about the places we have visited, PNS. I havent visited the Paravoor one yet... maybe next time... before that, i have to write about the mumbai one that i visited, and visit the others in mumbai too!

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  2. Very interesting...and I love the streets there! Need to revisit Kochi...

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Sid!! its such a beautiful place to walk around!! i hope u do go again. would love to look at it through your lens!

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  3. Hey! This post brings back lovely memories of a quick run through Fort Kochi in 2011. A friend and I went there on our way to Trivandrum for a conference. I bought a lovely handkerchief with fine handmade lace trimmings in one of the shops of Jewtown :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Usha!! it deserves a much longer stay. I am so sure you will love the place... both of you actually... i didnt buy anything there.. was too busy clicking pics :D

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  4. Lovely post on Jew town. Love this place. It is so serene and beautiful.

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  5. Very nice and interesting place to visit. It's very impressive that the clock still works after all those years.

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