The largest and most famous Venetian Scola, whose façade blends in with the neighboring houses, was built by a large group of Spanish Jews (said to be more than a thousand people).
The building, which is the only synagogue in the Venetian Ghetto that has always remained active — except in the years 1943 -1945 — overlooks the Campiello delle Scuole with a thick wooden door at its entrance.
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It was founded in the second half of the 16th century on the request of a Spanish Jewish community (and probably also by the Marranos and Ponentini Jews ) who were fleeing from the Iberian peninsula. They were welcomed by the Serenissima which had proved favorable to the integration, partly due to Spaniards huge economic potential. It then seems to have been completely rebuilt a century later with solutions that recall the works of Baldassare Longhena, a probable architect of the Levantine Scola, but the data found is not sufficient to confirm the hypothesis.
The synagogue has a large white facade adorned with a wooden door with five arched windows symbolising the Torah's books sticking out of it, even though its majesty appears to be almost suffocated by the houses that surround it in the Campiello delle Scuole. A simple plaque placed under the windows in the early post-war years commemorates the more than two hundred Venetian Jews who were deported to extermination camps; the names are then listed on the monument to the Holocaust in the Ghetto Nuovo.
The interior architecture was originally in the Moorish style, but now shows the later Baroque restoration. In the atrium we find a boiserie, to the left there is the Scola Coanim, used as a prayer and study hall, while you can scroll through the list of Venetian Jews deported in the years 1943 -1944 on the back wall; the other walls are studded with plaques that commemorate the many Venetian Jews who worked for the good of the community. Access to the Scola is through a wrought iron gate and a wide staircase divided into flights.
The synagogue preserves the typical Venetian layout with the aròn (sacred cabinet) and the tevà (pulpit) placed in front of one and other, but the various alterations have substantially modified their structures; some parts of the tevà, in fact, have been transferred elsewhere (probably to Amsterdam). An organ was positioned in the location of the original pulpit towards the end of the 1800s, altering its function. An attempt was made to reinstate things, and in 1980 the organ was set back and hidden by a heavy curtain to make room for the female choir. You reach the tevà by going up two wooden staircases and it is found placed on a high base with Corinthian columns of colored marbles; the final part of the room is completed by a light blue half-dome.
As per usual, the benches placed on the long sides of the room unite the area of the aròn with the pulpit, while a wooden grid on the left side encloses the area dedicated to women. A semi-circular wooden balustrade supported by polychrome marble columns marks the area of the Holy Ark and the Ten Commandments are engraved on the door. On the right side of the hall, near the steps, is a small plaque that commemorates how the Austrians, who in the year between 1848 and 1849 had besieged Venice, fired a bomb from Forte Marghera that struck the Scola Spagnola, but miraculously ‘did no harm, it passed with violence, although with judgment’. An oval-shaped women's gallery, which closely resembles that found in the Great German Synagogue, blends perfectly with the large Dutch chandeliers, brass and silver lamps and the traditional red curtains. The finely carved wooden kneelers are also particularly interesting.
Initially frequented only by the Spanish Community, the "scola" is today the main meeting place for all the Venetian Jews, which number only a few hundred between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic.