The Synagogue of Santa Marina La Blanca was built in 1180 in Toledo, Spain and is disputably considered to be the oldest synagogue building still standing in Europe.
The name of the Synagogue is unusual for a Synagogue but the name is explained by its history. Its original name was Ibn Shushan Syanagogue but in the early 1400s it was turned into a church and renamed Santa Maria la Blanca (Saint Mary the White). Now it is understandable why it is called the Synagogue of Santa Marina La Blanca.
Similar to its name the Synagogue’s construction also has an interesting history. It was built during the Christian Kingdom of Castile by Islamic architect for the Jewish population of Toledo. This combination of time period and cultural mixture can be seen in the architecture with predominantly plain white interiors, some beige decorations and the use of brick pillars.
The most striking feature of the Synagogue are the horse-shoe shaped arches. The arches are lined up in rows that connect the support pillars of the building.
The unexpected feature for me was the natural colored wooden ceiling. The entire interior is mostly white with light beige accents and then when I looked up the ceiling was a surprising dark wood.
On the ends of the rows there are scalloped decorations that are the most colorful part of the synagogue.
Next to the scalloped decorations is a painting that is only partially remaining. When I visit places like this that are extremely old, it is nice to the them kept in good enough condition to see how they looked during the time they were built but seeing portions that have not been restore help to convey the historic period of the site.
The entry hall and walkways around the exterior of the worship area have plain white wall with circular window and basket weave tile work.
Every time I visit a religious site that is significantly old, I always pay special attention to the accent features. Many times the decorations are just as impressive as the facility. In this case I think the architectural decorations are a symbol of simple elegance. The synagogue has impressive décor but it is done in a way that it does not detract from the purpose of the site.
The Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca has a long spiritual history but it is no longer used for religious ceremonies. Currently, it is a museum owned and preserved by the Catholic Church where the public can enjoy the facility.
Visiting historic religious sites from place around the world always causes me to pause and reflect on the beliefs of the people that were responsible for building these places. Many places are extravagantly decorated with more decorations than and can possibly be absorbed but the Synagogue of Santa Marina la Blanca is modestly decorated but it still has an air of elegance.
The horse-shoe shaped arches are beautiful and when they are viewed across the room they are impressive. Even the circular windows elegantly compliment the design of the circle portion of the arches.