Fodor's Expert Review Touro Synagogue
In 1658, more than a dozen Jewish families, whose ancestors had fled Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition, founded a congregation in Newport. A century later, Peter Harrison designed this two-story Palladian house of worship for them. George Washington wrote a famous letter to the group in which he pledged the new American nation "would give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." The oldest surviving synagogue in the country, Touro was dedicated in 1763 and its simple exterior and elegant interior remain virtually unchanged. A small trapdoor in the platform upon which the Torah is read symbolizes the days of persecution when Jews were forced to worship in secret. The John L. Loeb Visitors Center has two floors of state-of-the-art exhibits on early American Jewish life and Newport's Colonial history. The last synagogue tour is generally an hour before the visitor center closes.