Qantara Qantara

Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca

Saint Mary the White

  • Name : Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca
  • Place : Toledo, Spain
  • Construction date/period : Twelfth century
  • Construction materials : Brick, stone
  • Architectural pattern : Stucco decorations

Situated in the old ghetto on the city of Toledo, the synagogue was built by Abraham Ibn Alfashar, ambassador and advisor to Alfonso VIII in the Almohad court, at the end of the twelfth century. It was then rebuilt in 1250 after a devastating fire. During the Middle Ages, it was one of the most famous synagogues in Castille. The Santa Maria la Blanca and the Synagogue of El Transito are the only synagogues in Toledo that have survived to the present day.

Although there has been some debate as to the whether the synagogue is Almohad or Mudéjar in origin, it is widely believed to be a Mudéjar construction. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the prayer rooms in Andalusian mosques often comprised three naves perpendicular to the qibla wall, separated by horseshoe arches, which may have served as a model for this synagogue.

The synagogue, which has a basilical plan and is similar to the city's great mosque, has five naves, the central nave being higher than the others—a feature that can also be found in the Gothic cathedral of Toledo. The naves are separated by arcades with horseshoe arches that rest on thirty-two octagonal brick pillars topped by capitals decorated with various volutes. The lobed arches decorated with carved plaster vegetal motifs and geometric interlacing were influenced by Almohad art. Classical Mudéjar panelling in the central nave completes the ensemble. Everything seems to indicate that the building was designed and constructed by Muslim craftsmen.

Then, between 1550 and 1556, an apse was added, comprising three Renaissance style chapels, which are attributed to Alonso de Covarrubias. The synagogue's current name originates from the beginning of the fifteenth century, when it became a church of the Order of Calatrava in 1410. Today, the monument is a tourist attraction, and a centre for cultural exchange and activities.


Borrás Gualis, G., ‘El mudéjar y la expresión artística de la minorías confesionales en Áragón: mezquitas y sinagogas’, in Aragón Sefarad, Zaragoza, 2006, p. 381–393.

López Guzmán, R., Arquitectura mudéjar: del sincretismo medieval a las alternativas hispanoamericanas, Madrid, 2000, Cátedra.

VV.AA. El Arte Mudéjar. La estética islámica en el arte cristiano. Madrid, 2000, Electa.

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