Kerala’s long history as a port and trading hub drew travelers of many cultures and faiths to its shores, from Portuguese and Syrian Christians to the Jews who first arrived as traders in the 9th century B.C.E. The latter community—known as the Paradesi
(Foreign) Jews—received a decree of 72 privileges (including tax exemption and freedom of religion) in the 1st century C.E., and steadily grew for centuries after, attracting those fleeing persecution in other parts of the world. While the population has substantially shrunk since its heyday (many members of the community moved to Israel
in the 1950s), historic Jew Town is still a notable part of old Kochi. Start at Mattancherry Palace, then stroll along the narrow main street—lined mainly with antique and knickknack shops—to the Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568 on land granted by the Hindu Rajah of Cochin. There, surrounded by 18th-century painted tiles imported from China, lamps from Belgium, and rugs received from the last emperor of Ethiopia, you’ll get a feel for how unique this place of worship is, and the diverse influences that helped shape its rituals, and its dwindling community. Afterwards, tour the nearby Heritage Arts museum, then enjoy a drink or meal at its Ginger House restaurant, overlooking the backwaters.