Jodensavanne (Jewish Savannah) was settled by a population of Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition on mainland Europe in the mid-seventeenth century. The English, and later Dutch, colonists encouraged the Jewish group to settle and own the land along the River Suriname, making this the first and only location in the New World where Jews were granted a semi-autonomous settlement. In 1665 they settled on piece of land close to Cassipora Creek to build a synagogue and lay out a cemetery. Shortly afterwards, the community moved to a hill overlooking the River Suriname where the settlement of Jodensavanne was founded, later to become the largest Jewish settlement of the hemisphere. In 1685 the synagogue of Beraha VeShalom was inaugurated. The Bracha VeShalom was the first brick synagogue of major architectural importance in the New World. The former settlement of Jodensavanne and the cemetery at Cassipora bear a unique testimony and mark an important stage in the Euro-Sephardic colonization of the Western Hemisphere. At the end of the seventeenth century, approximately 575 Jews lived in Jodensavanne, now a flourishing agricultural settlement of more than 40 plantations and roughly 1,300 slaves. By the nineteenth century, however, most of the Jews with roots in Jodensavanne had moved to the capital, Paramaribo, due to the decline of the sugarcane industry. After a great fire in 1832 the settlement was abandoned.
1996 and 2000 World Monuments Watch
In 1996 and 2000, WMF placed Jodensavanne on the World Monuments Watch, drawing significant attention to the former settlement and its conservation needs. Much has improved since the first nomination of the site to the Watch in 1996. The Jodensavanne Foundation has been successful during the past 10 years in promoting the site and has advanced preservation activities and maintenance at the site. They have also improved interpretation and general information for visitors. In 2001, through WMF’s Jewish Heritage Program, funds were provided for site signage, visitor brochures, and a self-guided visitor tour program. The creation of these materials was carried out in partnership with researchers working with records of the community of the Jews of Suriname pertaining to architecture and the construction of the synagogue in 1685.
The former Jewish settlement of Jodensavanne, located in the Para District, is historically, culturally, and economically of global significance and represents an important component of both Jewish and Surinamese history. The site was designated a national monument at the beginning of 2009 by the national government for its unique cultural significance. UNESCO placed it on its tentative list of World Heritage Sites in 1998.