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Re-birth and renovation

By budapestbill      
Moorish-style minarets flanking the entrance to the Great Synagogue. The towers symbolize the two columns of Solomon's Temple. Onion-shaped domes adorn the twin towers which stands at a height of 43 metres.

Situated in Dohány Street, Budapest. (Dohány means tobacco in Hungarian).

Dohány street itself, is a leafy street in the city centre, and carries strong Holocaust connotations as it constituted the border of the Budapest Ghetto.

Jews were banned from the city in the 18th century so they established a Jewish quarter just outside the old city boundary. Remains of the old Pest city walls run on the opposite side of the road.

The original synagogue was bombed by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party on 3 February 1939. Used as a base for German Radio and also as a stable during World War II, the building suffered some severe damage from aerial raids during the Nazi Occupation but especially during the Siege of Budapest. During the Communist era the damaged structure became again a prayer house for the much-diminished Jewish community.

The Great Synagogue, also known as Dohány Street Synagogue (Hungarian: Dohány utcai zsinagóga/nagy zsinagóga, Hebrew: בית הכנסת הגדול של בודפשט‎ bet hakneset hagadol šel budapešt) or Tabakgasse Synagogue, is located in Erzsébetváros, the 7th district of Budapest. It is the largest synagogue in Eurasia and the second largest in the world, after the Temple Emanu-El in New York City. It seats 3,000 people and is a centre of Neolog Judaism.

The synagogue is 75m long and 27m wide, and was built between 1854 and 1859 in the Moorish Revival style, with the decoration based chiefly on Islamic models from North Africa and medieval Spain (the Alhambra). The synagogue's Viennese architect, Christian Friedrich Ludwig Förster, believed that no distinctively Jewish architecture could be identified, and thus chose "architectural forms that have been used by oriental ethnic groups that are related to the Israelite people, and in particular the Arabs." The interior design is partly by Frigyes Feszl.

Theodore Herzl's house of birth was next to the Dohány street Synagogue. In the place of his house stands the Jewish Museum, which holds the Jewish Religious and Historical Collection, built in 1930 in accordance with the synagogue's architectural style and attached in 1931 to the main building.

The spacious interior has equally rich decorations. A single-span cast iron supports the 12-m wide nave. The seats on the ground-floor are for men, while the upper gallery has seats for women. Surprisingly the synagogue has an organ, though this instrument is used in Christian churches. The temple's acoustic make it a popular venue for concerts.

Budapest great synagogue has witnessed tragic events in WW II. The Germans established a ghetto for the Jews in 1944 that served as a gathering place for deportation. Many people found refuge in the Dohány utca synagogue but thousands died during the bleak winter of 1944/45. Their bodies are buried in the courtyard.

In the cobbled Raoul Wallenberg (Swedish diplomat who saved many Jews during WW II) park stands the Holocaust Memorial by Imre Varga. It was erected in 1989 above the mass graves in the honour and memory of Hungarian Jewish martyrs. On each leave of the metal weeping willow tree you can read a name of a martyr. You can also see a piece of brick from the original ghetto wall in the garden.

Behind the main building stands the Heroes' Temple that was built in 1929-31 to commemorate the Jews who died in the First World War.

The recently restored Great Synagogue was funded partly by a foundation set up by Tony Curtis who has Hungarian roots, the Hungarian state, and by private donations, due largely to a US$ 5 million donation from Hungarian Jewish immigrant Estée Lauder.

It was only in the 1990s, following the return to democracy in Hungary, that renovations could begin. A three-year program of reconstruction began in 1991 and was completed in 1996, and was re-inaugurated in the presence of famous Jews such as Yitzhak Rabin.

The adjacent Jewish Museum (on the left of the synagogue) has a Holocaust memorial room and displays about the Jewish culture.

Taken in March 2006.

Tags: Photo journalism Architecture Landscape and travel

Voters: martinjp,

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