With Jerusalem's Temple of Solomon as inspiration, Elias Bouman designed this noted synagogue between 1671 and 1675 for the Sephardic Jewish community, the first Jews to settle in the Netherlands. They were descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (Sepharad is Hebrew for the Iberian peninsula), escaping the inquisitions or forced conversion to Catholicism in the 15th and 16th centuries. On its completion it was the largest synagogue in the world, and its spare, elegantly
proportioned wood interior has remained virtually unchanged through the centuries. It is still magically illuminated by hundreds of candles in two immense candelabrum during services. The buildings around the synagogue house the world-famous Ets Haim ("Tree of Life") library, one of the oldest still-functioning Jewish libraries in the world.