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Ritual Treasures

The Portuguese Synagogue

The Portuguese Synagogue, Amsterdam (NL)

In the heart of Amsterdam, between Waterloo Square and the Hermitage, an important monument is situated: the Portuguese Synagogue (1675). Ritual objects, seventeenth-century prints, and a UNESCO protected library, Ets Haim – Libraria Montezinos: the Portuguese Synagogue harbours one of the most special Jewish heritage collections in the world. Thus far not all of the annexes of the Portuguese Synagogue were accessible to the public. At the end of 2011, following an extensive restoration, part of these annexes opened to the public and visitors can view the treasures of the Portuguese Jewish community in their natural context.

Amsterdam (NL)
Joods Historisch Museum
300 m2
Concept, spatial and graphic design
Herman Kossmann (lead), Nienke van den Berg, Maaike van Keimpema
Jewish Historical Museum and Portuguese Synagoge
Exhibition building
Heijmerink en Wagemakers
Lighting design
Robert Jan Vos, Atelier Wegener
Graphic design
Graphic print booklet
Riwi ColloType
New public display

The new public display encompasses the opening of several annexes, which thus far were not publicly accessible. Visitors to the Portuguese Synagogue will be the guests of a Jewish community that is still alive. The ceremonial objects are, like the buildings, still in use. The old rabbinate, the Mikwe (ritual bath) and the Tahara room, in which the ritual washing of the deceased took place, can all be visited. This also applies to the Ma’amad (board room) and the atmospheric winter synagogue. These annexes have been made publicly accessible in many different ways. Some spaces have been refurbished and been given the orginal collections, while others have remained in their original, sometimes centuries-old state. The refurbishment offers natural occasions to tell stories, in which pieces from the collection and the spaces invite to making connections between the past and the present. An extension and redesign of the shop is part of the refurbishment.


The basement of the annexes contains the specially designed transparent ‘treasuries’. These new depots display the collections of the Portuguese Synagogue in their original use. Visitors can walk along the large glass facades of these treasuries and experience the treasures in these rooms in all their splendour. Over 800 ceremonial objects are on display, ranging from silver and silk to brocade. In addition, antique books, furniture, Torah scrolls and prints are also on display in these treasuries.