The Paradesi Synagogue was built in 1568 and is the oldest active synagogue in India. The synagogue was built by Sephardic Jews who were referred to as “paradesi” or “foreigners”.
Mattancherry is Cochin’s ancient trade and commercial hub. Since before the Europeans arrived, this has been a place trading vessels would come to for spices. And certainly it has remained the bustling commercial centre of Cochin through the colonial period till today.
Mattancherry is known for its godowns and for its trading firms, but also for being literally a melting pot. Here, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Jain co-exist harmoniously, testament to centuries of migration and interaction between cultures and faiths here.
Our second visual/walking tour of Old Cochin begins where we left off on the last tour, and takes us along the waterfront thoroughfares of Calvetty Road and Bazaar Road. On the way we admire the vernacular commercial architecture the area is known for, and stop by some places of worship.
Our destination is the historic Mattancherry Palace, and thereafter to the so-called “Jew Town”. Here, we dive deeper into the history of the Jews of Cochin. There are two key communities of Jews here. The first, and the older community, is that of the Malabari Jews or “black jews”, an ancient community with deep roots in India with records of them being in India from the earliest century of the Common Era. They have built synagogues in Cochin since the 12th century.
The second community of Jews arrived in the 16th century in the aftermath of the expulsion of the Arabs and Jews from Granada in 1492. This community of Sephardic Jews spoke Ladino and were referred to as the Paradesi Jews, or “foreigner Jews”. They built the exquisite Paradesi Synagogue in 1568, at which we end our walking tour.
Unfortunately, many of the Jews of Cochin are no longer resident here and had either migrated to Israel or to other countries post India’s independence in 1947. But there remains a small community here that still keep a minority of the supposedly 8 synagogues – in particular, the Paradesi Synagogue – active.
We begin our walk at the Calvetty Juma Masjid, on Calvetty Road, not far from Aspinwalls.
Pepper House consists of two historic godowns (probably housing spice) with Dutch-style roofs that sit on Calvetty Road. Today it is an artspace and one of the venues of the Kochi Biennale.
The inner courtyard of Pepper House recalls the courtyard of the Dutch Era Museum in Pettah, Colombo.
Vestiges of the canals the Dutch built still exist. This is the Eraveli Canal. Past this, Calvetty Road becomes Bazaar Road.
The St George Orthodox Koonan Kurishu Syrian Church is the oldest Syrian Church in Cochin. It is one of the churches that pertain to India’s St Thomas Christians. [Public domain.]
Mattancherry Muslim Orphanage.
The Cutchi Hanafi Mosque was built in 1825, and serves the Cutchi Memon Muslim community which had migrated here from the Kutch region in Gujarat.
Vdasa Prabhu & Sons, Tea Merchants.
Nidha Stores, Oils & Provisions.
Sha Dewsee Rayasee, Food Chemical Dealers.
Shah Damodar Laljee & Sons
Church of Our Lady of Life Church, Mattancherry.
Cottage Industries Exposition, Bazaar Road.
Mookken Devassy Ouseph & Sons.
Chettiar & Co, Sugar Merchants.
The Waterfront Granary – a restored granary repurposed as a boutique “museum hotel”.
Cochin Spice Market.
Entrance gate to the Mattancherry Palace complex.
Guard Tower, Mattancherry Palace Complex.
Exterior view of the Mattancherry Palace, erected by the Portuguese in 1555 for the Raja of Cochin, renovated by the Dutch in 1663, and called the “Dutch Palace” thereafter.
From the palace, we enter “Jew Town”, some of whose commercial buildings have been restored.
Fine Art Emporium, Jew Town. Note the Art Deco ornamentation.
Sassoon Building (1949), Jew Town.
Albert Arts Collection, Jew Town.
The former Pepper Exchange building, Jew Town.
The Cochin Oil Merchant’s Association, Jew Town.
Mandalay Hall, Jew Town, was owned formerly by a Jewish family who had roots in Mandalay. They have since migrated to Israel.
Approach to the Paradesi Synagogue.
Conservation of the Paradesi Synagogue.
View of the interior of the synagogue towards the Ark. The hanging glass lamps are from Belgium. The floor consists of 1100 blue and white porcelain tiles in the “willow style” made in Canton and imported in 1762. No one tile looks the same.
An exterior view of the Paradesi Synagogue, with its clocktower added in 1760. We end our second walking tour of Cochin here.
About Kennie Ting
I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.