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The oldest synagogue in the Americas stands out from the jungle-bound ruins of this once-prosperous Sephardic trade port founded in the 17th century.
Arguably the most important and intriguing historical site in Suriname, the ruins of Jodensavanne (‘Jewish Savannah’) stand on the elevated east bank of the Suriname River some 50km upstream of Paramaribo. Now largely engulfed by jungle, this ruined town was Suriname’s second-most important settlement from the late 17th century until its demise in the early 19th, and it is also a remote and poignant reminder of the South American exodus undertaken by some of the 800,000 Sephardic Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula by the Spanish Inquisition in the 1490s. Its most significant building is the ruin of the oldest brick synagogue constructed in the Americas, but the site also houses an extensive cemetery comprising 452 known graves marked with (mostly engraved) stones. The neglected and largely unexcavated site was placed on the World Monument Fund Watch List in 1996, and the Stichting Jodensavanne, Jodensavanne Foundation (JSF) has since helped to publicise its existence and to enhance visits with the provision of good onsite interpretative material. Jodensavanne was designated a national monument in 2009 and it is the only place in Suriname currently included on UNESCO’s tentative list of proposed World Heritage Sites.