The World’s Most Beautiful Synagogues

A detail of one of the stained glass windows in the Eldridge St. Synagogue
A detail of one of the stained glass windows in the Eldridge St. Synagogue | © Stephen Chernin / Getty Images
Lily Cichanowicz

Throughout history, houses of worship have stood as some of the most beautiful structures. These buildings bear important architectural innovations, and have been the sites of significant cultural and political events. Jewish synagogues have been central to the blossoming of the Jewish experience and cultural expansion. Here is a list of the ten most exquisite and intriguing synagogues from around the world.
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Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg – Russia

Vasily Stasov designed the Grand Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was completed in 1893 as a central worship space for the area’s growing Jewish community. One of the synagogue’s most notably opulent features is its 47 m copula. It was also possible to get married here at the lavish adjoining wedding chapel. The synagogue stands as a reflection of the prominent roles many Jewish individuals played in this period of Russia’s history. Today you can visit this house of worship, which was entirely restored in 2003. There are a variety of activities on offer and several surrounding Jewish cultural shops.

Dohány Street Synagogue – Budapest, Hungary

Dohány Street Synagogue is also known as the Great Synagogue of Budapest. It is the largest synagogue in all of Europe, seating 3,000 people. It was completed in 1859. Its architecture is of the Moorish Revival style. For instance, the structure features two opulent minarets and is furbished in detailed designs reminiscent of Middle Eastern aesthetics. Interestingly, a Viennese architect, Ludwig Förster is responsible for the synagogue’s design. The synagogue complex consists of multiple cultural and historic buildings, including the Jewish Memorial and Museum. The museum serves as a poignant marker of life for Jews living in Budapest during the Holocaust, as the synagogue itself served as a border for the Budapest Ghetto.

The Sofia Synagogue – Bulgaria

The Sofia Synagogue bears some similarities to the one on Dohány Street. It was designed in Moorish Revival style by an Austrian architect, Friedrich Grünanger. It is intended to resemble the Leopoldstädter Tempel in Vienna. Its sumptuous interior consists of Venetian mosaics and columns of Carrara marble. The ceiling is topped with a large octagonal dome. Officially opened in Bulgaria’s capital city in 1909, it was constructed to accommodate the country’s Sephardic Jews. The synagogue’s chandelier weights 1.7 tons, making it the largest in all of Bulgaria. Despite the fact that the building’s Central Market Hall can hold 1,300 worshipers, attendance today is very small. This is because of the aliyah: outward migration of Bulgarian Jews during the Zionist movement.

Subotica Synagogue – Serbia

Located in Serbia and completed in 1902, the Subotica Synagogue is designed in Hungarian Art Nouveau style. It was constructed when Serbia was still part of Austria-Hungary, hence this uncanny cultural influence in the synagogue’s aesthetic. The Subotica Synagogue served the Serbian Neolog community. Today it is considered a Monument of Exceptional Importance, and it is protected by the national government. Maintaining the building has posed many challenges in the realms of restoration and conservation. It is still being revived. It is one of the only synagogues designed in the Hungarian Art Nouveau style left in existence.

Tempio Maggiore of Florence – Italy

The Tempio Maggiore is also known as the Great Synagogue of Florence. It was a historically significant element of Jewish life in Tuscany following the emancipation in the 19th century. The synagogue was built to commemorate newfound religious freedom. The design was a synthesis of Italian architectural tradition and Moorish stylistic elements. The building is constructed of layered travertine and granite, creating a bold pattern of red and beige stripes, which have since faded. During WWII, Nazis and Italian fascists attempted to execute a plan to destroy the synagogue using explosives. Italian resistance fighters thwarted this plan, however, by defusing most of the bombs. The Jewish community in areas surrounding the temple dates back to Roman times.

Eldridge Street Synagogue – New York

The Eldridge Street Synagogue was built in 1887. It stands as a historic landmark in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Eastern-European Jews led the undertaking for its construction. In this way, it is one of the first of its kind in the United States. Peter and Francis William Herter were the architects behind its design. They gained popularity in the area and were subsequently known for incorporating elements of Judaism like the Star of David into their designs. The building received much acclaim in the press upon its completion. It served the congregation of Kahal Adath Jeshurun and draew massive crowds during high holidays in the early 20th century.

Jubilee Synagogue – Prague, Czech Republic

The Jubilee Synagogue is also known as the Velká synagóga and Jerusalem Synagogue. The structure gets its name from the Jubilee Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. It bears a remarkably colorful façade. Built in 1906, today the synagogue also serves as a small museum, housing photos, artifacts, and films reels of the lives of Czech Jews after WWII. The synagogue is a hybrid of Art Nouveau and Moorish styles. In addition to its colorful nature, the building’s façade is known for its brilliant blue horseshoe arches. In 2008, the temple was converted into the museum it is today. It’s certainly worth taking a tour if you find yourself in Prague.

New Synagogue – Szeged, Hungary

Another remarkable Hungarian synagogue is located in the town of Szeged. This building was designed in Magyar style, a blending of Art Nouveau, Historicist, and Moorish aesthetics. There are even some Gothic and Roman architectural details present in the structure. Lipót Baumhorn was the architect responsible for carrying out this design. He was famous for the fin de siécle style, which is another name for the Magyar look. The synagogue also belonged to Hungary’s large Neolog Jewish community. The synagogue stands at a commanding 485 meters, with a tall, domed ceiling. The Torah Ark is made of Sittim wood, a biblical reference to the Temple of Solomon.

Westend Synagogue – Frankfurt, Germany

Architect Franz Roeckle completed the Westend Synagogue in Frankfurt in 1910. It is constructed in Egyptian-Assyrian style. Its domed interior is largely composed of shimmering gilded gold and shell limestone. In addition to the main Orthodox worship sanctuary, which holds 1000 people, the synagogue consists of apartments, prayer rooms, classrooms, offices, and even a synagogue for liberal services. The synagogue made it through the Night of Broken Glass and WWII relatively unscathed. Following the war, the synagogue went through renovation efforts and was completely restored by the early ’90s. The Jewish community of Frankfurt can be traced back all the way to the 11th century.

Rykestrasse of Berlin – Germany

The Rykestrasse Synagogue, or the New Synagogue of Berlin, is the largest synagogue in Germany. Johann Hoeniger originally built the structure in 1904. During the rise of the Nazi regime, when Jews were outlawed from public life, the synagogue opened as a place of lectures, concerts, and benefit performances for poor Jews. On the Night of Broken Glass in November of 1938, much of the synagogue’s contents were burned and destroyed. At this time its rabbis and other inhabitants were accosted and sent to concentration camps. The building itself was minimally damaged and regular services continued until 1940. After the war, Soviet army personnel reopened the synagogue for service. Today it is still in operation as a space for worship.

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