Visit the UNESCO Heritage Jodensavanne
In the 17th century, Jodensavanne was the most prominent Jewish settlement in the Western Hemisphere. Today, it and the cemetery at Cassipora serve as a unique testimony and an essential milestone in the Euro-Sephardic colonisation of the Americas. The synagogue of Jodensavanne, now in ruins, is one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere and the first of architectural significance in the Americas.
The synagogue was built in the 1660s and could accommodate up to 600 people. It was a centre for Jewish life, including worship, education, and socialising. The cemetery at Cassipora is the final resting place for many of the Jews who lived in Jodensavanne. It is a physical reminder of the existing community and a testament to their endurance and perseverance.
Despite facing many challenges, the Jewish community in Jodensavanne thrived for over 150 years and made significant contributions to the development of the Americas. The ruins of the synagogue and the cemetery at Cassipora are a valuable part of the cultural heritage of the Americas, and they serve as a reminder of the pioneers of American Judaism.
Brief History of Jodensavanne
Jodensavanne is a historic settlement located in Suriname, South America. It was the first and only place in the New World where Jews were granted a semi-autonomous settlement. The Jews who settled here were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and were welcomed by the British and later by the Dutch.
To attract Jewish settlers, the colonial government offered them special privileges that included freedom of religion, ownership, and the right to their judicial court. The Jewish merchants were especially valued for their expertise in international trade. This helped to establish Suriname's economy and trade relations with other countries.
In 1665, the Jews were granted land near the Cassiporacreek, where they built a synagogue and a cemetery. They were later permitted to move to a hill overlooking the River Suriname, where they founded the settlement of Jodensavanne. The community flourished, and the synagogue became the centre of Jewish life in Suriname.
In 1685, the synagogue named Beraha VeShalom (Blessing and Peace) was inaugurated. It was the first central architectural synagogue in the New World, made of European bricks.
The synagogue symbolised the strength and vitality of the Jewish community in Suriname.
In the late 17th century, Jodensavanne, a thriving agricultural community, had a population of approximately 575 Jews. They owned over 40 plantations and had around 1,300 enslaved people. Not only did the Jewish community play a crucial role in the economy, but they also helped protect the colony's plantations from rebel enslaved people.
The military supply camp 'Post Gelderland' of the defence line 'Cordonpad' was located nearby. It consisted of a wide bridle path with military posts at regular intervals. However, due to the decline of the sugarcane industry in the 19th century, most Jews living in Jodensavanne migrated to the capital city of Paramaribo. After a devastating fire in 1832, the settlement was abandoned and desolate.
Jodensavanne and Cassipora boast of exceptionally grand cemeteries that hold remarkable historical significance. The Cassipora cemetery features 216 impressive tombstones, the oldest dating back to 1667. The cemetery of Jodensavanne has approximately 452 graves, with many made of bricks, while others are carved from European marble imported into the region. Adorned with beautiful ornaments, the tombstones feature inscriptions in Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Hebrew, providing a glimpse into the cultural diversity of the region.
Moreover, Jodensavanne has a third cemetery, known as the African or Creole cemetery, that was established at the periphery of the settlement. Although the cemetery has approximately 141 graves, only 36 were identifiable during the 1998 survey guided by Rachel Frankel. The cemetery provides a vital link to the region's African and Creole past, underscoring the cemetery's importance as a site of cultural heritage.
In addition to the cemeteries, the synagogue is another crucial monument that adds to the rich history of Jodensavanne. Although more remains of the settlement are yet to be excavated, the foundation of the synagogue's layout is visible, providing a glimpse into the architecture of the time.
Furthermore, the natural wells and defence line at Post Gelderland remain recognisable, providing an essential link to Jodensavanne's history as a fortress town. The cemeteries, synagogues, wells, and defence lines are significant landmarks that tell the story of Jodensavanne's rich history and cultural heritage, providing a unique experience for anyone visiting the region.
Jodensavanne has a diverse heritage, with numerous accounts chronicling its history.