Córdoba Synagogue

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Córdoba Synagogue
West wall of the Synagogue of Córdoba.JPG
Basic information
Location Historic centre of Córdoba, Spain
Geographic coordinates 37°52′47″N 4°47′0″W / 37.87972°N 4.78333°W / 37.87972; -4.78333
Affiliation Orthodox Judaism
Rite Sephardi
Country Spain
Status Museum
Architectural description
Architectural type Synagogue
Architectural style Moorish
Completed 1315

Córdoba Synagogue (Spanish: Sinagoga de Córdoba) is a historic edifice in the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba, Spain, built in 1315. The synagogues small size points to it having possibly been the private synagogue of a wealthy man. It is also possible that Córdoba's complex of buildings was a yeshivah, kollel, or study hall. Another possibility is that this was the synagogue of a trade guild, which converted a residence or one of the work rooms into the synagogue. The synagogue was decorated according to the best Mudejar tradition.[1]


After the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, the synagogue was seized by the authorities and converted into a hospital for people suffering from rabies (Hydrophobia) (Hospital Santo Quiteria). In 1588 , the building was acquired by the shoemakers guild, who used it as a community center and small chapel, and changing the patron saint of the building to Santos Crispin-Crispian, the patron saint of shoemakers. It was declared a National Monument in 1885. Since then it has undergone several phases of the restoration including that of Felix Hernandez in 1929. In 1935, the Spanish authorities marked the eight-hundredth anniversary of Maimonides’s birth by changing the name of the square in which the synagogue is located to Tiberias Square, honoring the great native-born philosopher, whom is buried in Tiberias. At this celebration the first Jewish prayer service in 443 years was held at the synagogue, openly and with full knowledge of the authorities. Another restoration was begun in 1977 for the reopening of the building in 1985 to celebrate the 850th anniversary of Maimonides birth.[1]


Building restrictions- The floor plan of Cordoba Synagogue, as well as other synagogues of the time period, was greatly affected by the restrictions placed upon them by Christian leaders. Restrictions varied depending on the location of the synagogue and whether or not Jews enjoyed a privileged status in that community. The size of the synagogue had to reflect its humility and inferiority to the catholic church, but it differed from place to place in accordance with the Christian buildings in the area. Sometimes, even the king’s favor was not sufficient to avoid the troubles that the local clergy could cause. In April 1250, Innocent IV ordered the Bishop of Cordoba to take action against the Jews who were building a synagogue whose height was not acceptable to the local clergy. Documents from the reign of Pope Innocent IV recorded resentment of a prominent new congregational synagogue:[1]

The courtyard of Cordoba Synagogue.

“The Jews of Cordoba are rashly presuming to build a new synagogue of unnecessary height thereby scandalizing faithful Christians, wherefore . . . we command [you] . . . to enforce the authority of your office against the Jews in this regard . . . .”[2]

The Courtyard- The Cordoba synagogue has a gate in the eastern wall that leads into a small courtyard that measures slightly more than twenty-five square meters (270 Sqft). The courtyard walls of the synagogue measure 5.5 meters (18 ft) on the northern wall, 5.5 meters on the western wall, however the southern wall is only 3.5 meters (11 ft) long, the eastern wall which contains the gate is the longest at 6 meters (19.5 ft). This gives the floor plan of Cordoba an unusual trapezoidal footprint. This unusual shape is most likely due to the layout of the surrounding streets which ran at an angle.

View of Cordoba synagogues entrance hall, from the prayer hall.

The Entrance Hall- The entrance to the synagogue, the facade, is located on the northern wall of the courtyard with three openings: a door and two windows on either side. Beyond the facade is the entrance hall which measures 7 meters (22.75 ft) on the northern wall, 6 meters (19.5 ft) on the southern wall, a 3 meter (9.75 ft) western wall, and an eastern wall of 3.4 meters (11 ft). This room has a wooden stairwell which leads up to the women’s section. This entrance hall functioned both as a cloakroom and a place for the maskilta. The ceiling of the entry hall is made of wood and is 2.3 meters (8.1 ft) high. The Prayer Hall- The prayer hall is the largest room in the synagogue, but even it is small in comparison to most buildings or homes of the period. It is slightly rectangular measuring (6.5 x 7 meters [21 x 22.75 ft]),[2] it has an extremely high roof in comparison at 11.5 meters (37.3 ft) to the top of the gables. The height of the room is impressive because it is high even among larger synagogues.[1]

The women's section on the second floor of Cordoba Synagogue. (There was originally latticework acting as a screen in the bottom half of the three arches).

The Women’s Section[edit]

The women’s section of the synagogue is in the gallery above the entrance hall, its measurements and layout are identical to those of the entrance hall. It is unclear whether the women’s section and the entrance hall were part of the original building. It is possible that this part of structure was added later due to the difference in the structure and height of the roof. The Women’s section features three broad arches which look onto the sanctuary. These arches are decorated with elaborately interwoven stucco and latticework, customary in Synagogues. The original latticework was either of wood or stucco, but one cannot be certain which. The three arches are interwoven with elaborate patterns and Hebrew text, the central arch is different than the identical outer arches, the center arch has different decoration and is taller in order to accommodate.[1]

The Foci of the Synagogue[edit]

The apse containing the hekhal (Torah ark) on the eastern wall of Cordoba.

The hekhal (ark), where the Torah scrolls were kept, was located on the eastern wall which was customary. The wall of the foci is angled, following the street outside, and was decorated with elaborate stucco in accordance with the Mudejar tradition. One of the Hebrew inscriptions mentions the hekhal reading: “I will bow down before Your Holy hekhal….” The second focus, the tevah (elevated platform), can be placed in the center of the room, and there are proposals and opinions to that effect. The tevah was probably located in the center of the sanctuary room, as a practical measure to save space.[3] Benches were placed along the walls of the room in order to give congregants a feeling of ease during services.

The location of the hekhal was based on directions given by Maimonides (Cordoba 1135-Fustat 1204) in his authoritative legal code, the Mishneh Torah. In the Second Book of Love of the Torah, Laws of Prayer, states: “When building a synagogue… a heikhal should be built to hold a Torah scroll in it. The heikhal should be built in the direction of prayer in that town [towards Jerusalem], so that they [the congregation] should face the heikhal when they pray. And a bimah should be set up in the center of the house, to enable the reader of the Torah or one who admonishes the congregation, to go up to it so that everyone will be able to hear him. Etc…"[1]

The Ceiling and Illumination Level[edit]

The ceiling and illumination level of Cordoba Synagogue.

The ceiling of the synagogue is made of thin wooden panels above thick beams that hold the ceiling in order to hide the gabled tile roof. The wood panels and beams were richly decorated and worked to add to the building's ornamentation.The ceiling is angled upward in order to give the sanctuary a greater feeling of height common in the architecture of Spanish synagogues.

The only floor which receives natural light is the top floor, because the synagogue was built in a neighborhood where the houses butted against each other. Three of the upper walls have windows for illumination, five windows for each of three windowed walls. The windows were 0.6 meters (23.4 inches) wide and 1.5 meters (58.5 inches) high. The lintels of the windows are classic arch shapes and may have been decorated with latticework at one time.[1]

The Decorations and Inscriptions[edit]

Translated from Hebrew: “Provisional sanctuary and abode for the Testimony completed by Yitzhak Moheb son of Mr. Ephraim Wadawa, in the [Hebrew] year [50]75 [(1315 C.E.)] So return, oh God hasten to return to Jerusalem”

Cordoba synagogue was influenced by the Mudejar tradition of stucco panels, stylized geometric patterns, and floral patterns. Hebrew verses in the style of the Toledo synagogue wrap around the windows and much like Toledo the stucco panels used many colors. The inscriptions featured inside the synagogue are mostly from Psalms, other books of the Bible, and piyyut (liturgical poetry). One of the inscriptions gives important information on the synagogue's construction as well as the primary benefactor of the synagogue. The reconstruction of the text today is based on the version accepted by Cantera-Burgos. “This minor sanctuary has been refurbished by Yitzhak Mahab son of the wealthy Ephraim in the Hebrew year 5075 (1315 C.E.) may God remove curses from our nation and rebuild Jerusalem soon[this quote needs a citation].” The inscription states that the building was refurbished in the year 1315 C.E. though we cannot know what was there before they began work or what they did. Nor can we tell when the original building was constructed.

The hekhal had a decorative band that praised the Temple in Jerusalem and linked the synagogue to it: “I will bow down toward your holy hekhal and praise Your name for Your mercy and Your truth, for You have magnified Your word above all Your name….”(Psalms 138:2).

In the women's section there is an appropriate verse: “Your neck is like the tower of David built with turrets” (Song of Songs 4:4).

There were several verses of longing for Jerusalem: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you shall be blessed. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces” (Psalms 122:6-7).

Understandably, there were many verses of pleading: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me; for my soul trusts in You; in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until these great troubles pass by” (Psalms 57:2).[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Ben-Dov, Meir (2009). The Golden Age: Synagogues of Spain in HIstory and Architecture. Israel: Urim Publications. pp. 149–161. ISBN 978-965-524-0160. 
  2. ^ a b Cohen-Mushlin, Aliza, ed. (1992). Written at The Hebrew University. "Sepharad". Jewish Art. Jerusalem. Eighteen: 31–41. ISBN 965-391-003-5. ISSN 0792-0660. 
  3. ^ Dorfman, Rivka; Dorfman, Ben-Zion (2000). Synagogues Without Jews: and the communities that built them. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society. pp. 301–303. ISBN 0-8276-0692-3. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°52′47″N 4°47′0″W / 37.87972°N 4.78333°W / 37.87972; -4.78333