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Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca in Toledo

Built at the end of the 12C, it was rebuilt after a fire in the 13C.

The interior of the Synagogue has five aisles, divided by horseshoe arches. The capitals are unusual, all being differently decorated with pine cones integrated into a geometrical arrangement. Around 1550 the synagogue was converted into a Christian church and three chapels were added to the end wall.

This Synagogue was the largest of all the ten synagogues that used to exist in Toledo before the expulsion.  In this guide to one of Toledo´s top sights, you will discover some anecdotes, like the reason for its name or why it looks more like a Muslim mosque than a synagogue from the outside.  Learn in this guide all things needed to plan your visit to the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca.

 

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Table of Contents

Date of construction

The Synagogue was built during the XIIth century and the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca is one of the oldest buildings in Toledo (along with the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz. There is a visible inscription at one of the beams of the Synagogue that indicates the beginning of the construction in the year of 1180.

Architecture and style

The Synagogue is not a typical synagogue.  To start with, it was built in a  mainly Catholic territory at that time and by Muslim builders for the use of Jewish users and owners. This building in itself provides an excellent example to understand why we name today Toledo as the city of three cultures.

The building can be considered as a fine example of Almohad architectural style since due to the time it was built we call today Mudejar. The use of bricks instead of pillars and the decoration of columns with vegetation motives illustrate the Almohad influence. 

From the outside, the synagogue could be described more as a mosque than as a synagogue (with the obvious detail that there is no minaret in the building) Brick, stone, and adobe are used in the façade and it Is in the interior where the visitor will probably be most surprised. There are 5 different naves all of them divided by horseshoe arches, the central nave being the largest of all them. There are a total of 32 pilasters and the overall impression, as already mentioned, is that of being inside a mosque.

Tickets and tours to enjoy the Synagogue

The Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca can be visited by purchasing the Toledo card which gives you access to some of the most important sights in the city, included this Synagogue.

History of the Synagogue of Santa Maria La Blanca

The Synagogue was one of the ten Synagogues that existed in Toledo. At the end of the XIVth century revolts in Toledo and other areas of Spain against Jews implied a reduction in that number. The ultimate challenge for Jewish culture came in 1492 when Isabella and Ferdinand requested the expulsion or conversion of the Jews that live in Spain at the time.  Today only two Synagogues are still in place in Toledo: The Synagogue of Santa Maria de la Blanca and the Transito Synagogue.  This last Synagogue holds an interesting Sephardic museum. 

The other Synagogues of Toledo

As we have mentioned, up to ten Synagogues provided service in Toledo during the 14th century. Santa María la Blanca was at that time known as the New Synagogue (in opposition to the Old temple which it did not replace) Amongst the other ten Synagogues we find: Syanogue of Samuel Ha-Leví, Synagogue of  ben Zizá, Sinagogue of Cordobes, Synagogue of Suloquia or the Synagogue of Algiada. 

Only a few of the ten Synagogues survived the different pogroms that underwent the Jewish quarter. The 1391 pogrom was probably the toughest and most decoration and ornamentation elements of the Synagogues were destroyed (when not the whole building). Today it is not possible to place where most of these Synagogues were located.  The Spanish government launched a project to offer Spanish citizenship to those descendants of Jewish families who were forced to exile in the XVIth century. 

Following the history of the Synagogue, during the XVIth century, it was used as a beaterium for public women who desired to change their lives.  And during the XVIIIth century, it was used by the army as barracks. Only in the XIXth century, it recovered as what we find today. 

Which Synagogue is best to visit in Toledo?

This is not an easy question. Not everybody is the same and tastes differ. The ideal option is to visit both Synagogues! Having said this, we would recommend if there is only time for one Synagogue to pay a visit to El Transito Synagogue, which also hosts the Sephardic museum. 

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