Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest

Friday, 28 June 2019 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Museums, Exhibitions

© Thaler/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Thaler/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Dohány Street Synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue, is a historical building in Erzsébetváros, the 7th district of Budapest, Hungary. It is the largest synagogue in Europe, seating 3,000 people and is a centre of Neolog Judaism. The synagogue 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, 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.

The Dohány Street Synagogue complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the graveyard, the Memorial and the Jewish Museum, which was built on the site on which Theodor Herzl‘s house of birth stood. Dohány Street itself, a leafy street in the city center, carries strong Holocaust connotations as it constituted the border of the Budapest Ghetto.

Built in a residential area between 1854-1859 by the Jewish community of Pest according to the plans of Ludwig Förster, the monumental synagogue has a capacity of 2,964 seats (1,492 for men and 1,472 in the women’s galleries), making it the largest in Europe and one of the largest working synagogues in the world (after the Beit Midrash of Ger in Jerusalem, the Belz Great Synagogue and Temple Emanu-el in New York City). The consecration of the synagogue took place on 6 September 1859.

The synagogue was bombed by the Hungarian 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. Its restoration and renovation started in 1991, financed by the state and by private donations, and was completed in 1998.

The Hungarian Jewish Museum was constructed on the plot where Theodor Herzl‘s two-story Classicist style house stood, adjoining the Dohány synagogue. The Jewish Museum was built in 1930 in accordance with the synagogue’s architectural style and attached in 1931 to the main building. It holds the Jewish Religious and Historical Collection, a collection of religious relics of the Pest Hevrah Kaddishah (Jewish Burial Society), ritual objects of Shabbat and the High Holidays and a Holocaust room.

© Arvatoth/cc-by-sa-3.0 © BáthoryPéter/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Damien Leblois Emanuel Memorial Tree in The Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park © flickr.com - Fred Romero/cc-by-2.0 © flickr.com - Fred Romero/cc-by-2.0 © flickr.com - Fred Romero/cc-by-2.0 © flickr.com - xorge/cc-by-sa-2.0 © OsvátA/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Pelz/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Thaler Tamas/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Thaler/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Uca69/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Zairon/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Emanuel Memorial Tree in The Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park © flickr.com - Fred Romero/cc-by-2.0
The building is 75 metres (246 ft) long and 27 metres (89 ft) wide. The style of the Dohány Street Synagogue is Moorish but its design also features a mixture of Byzantine, Romantic and Gothic elements. Two onion domes sit on the twin octagonal towers at 43 metres (141 ft) height. A rose stained-glass window sits over the main entrance. Similarly to basilicas, the building consists of three spacious richly decorated aisles, two balconies and, unusually, an organ. Its ark contains various torah scrolls taken from other synagogues destroyed during the Holocaust. The Central Synagogue in Manhattan, New York City is a near-exact copy of the Dohány Street Synagogue.

The torah-ark and the internal frescoes made of colored and golden geometric shapes are the works of the famous Hungarian romantic architect Frigyes Feszl. A single-span cast iron supports the 12-metre-wide (39 ft) nave. The seats on the ground-floor are for men, while the upper gallery, supported by steel ornamented poles, has seats for women. This synagogue is very different from other synagogues as it is the only one to have pipe organs and a cemetery. Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns played the original 5,000-pipe organ built in 1859. A new mechanical organ with 63 voices and four manuals was built in 1996 by the German firm Jehmlich Orgelbau Dresden GmbH. One of the most important concerts in the Synagogue’s history was in 2002, by the organ virtuoso Xaver Varnus. A crowd of 7,200 filled sanctuary seats and standing space some four hours before the concert to hear the artist’s virtuosity.

It was only in the 1990s, following the return to democracy in Hungary, that renovations could begin. The three-year program of reconstruction was initially funded by a US$5 million donation from Hungarian government. Jewish Americans Estée Lauder and Tony Curtis contributed to the additional $20,000,000 needed to complete the restoration in 1996.

Read more on budapest.com – Dohány Street Synagogue, JewishTourHungary.com – Dohány Street Synagogue, Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives and Wikipedia Dohány Street Synagogue (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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