Paradesi Synagogue, in the southern Indian port city of Kochi, is the oldest synagogue in India as well as the entire British Commonwealth. Founded in 1568 by Spanish and Dutch Sephardic Jews, the synagogue has a highly decorative interior that reflects the tastes and traditions of the many cultures that flourished along trade routes in the region. European, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian designs are all found within the synagogue. Paradesi is the only one of seven synagogues in Kochi’s Jewish quarter still in operation. In its current state, the complex consists of four buildings enclosed within large compound walls. For much of its early history, the synagogue served a community of foreign-born spice dealers (the word paradesi literally means “foreigner”). The congregation’s original building was destroyed by the Portuguese in the seventeenth century but was later rebuilt in its current form.
How We Helped
WMF’s work at Paradesi Synagogue began in 1996, documenting the condition of the complex and establishing a master conservation plan. In 2001, WMF started to work predominantly on the synagogue’s clock tower, a prominent feature that rises 45 feet and dates from 1761. In early 2006, the conservation team completed its work, which included repairs to unsound masonry and replacement of rotted structural elements within the teak-framing system. Additionally, WMF oversaw the cleaning and painting of the clock tower, installation of a mechanism to replace missing mechanical clock works, and re-hanging the large brass bell, which had rested for years on the floor of the synagogue’s entry building.
Why It Matters
WMF’s work at Paradesi Synagogeu is part of our larger effort to celebrate the history of Jewish architectural and cultural heritage worldwide. WMF’s complete renovation of the clock tower, a prominent and symbolic representation of that history, serves as a beacon and catalyst for further attention to the importance of the site. The synagogue now serves as a centerpiece for the revitalization of the surrounding area, an especially appropriate goal given the district’s, and the city’s, increasing importance as a domestic and international tourist destination.