The Great Synagogue (Marea Sinagoga)

The Great Synagogue, or more accurately the Dohany Street Synagogue (named after the street it is located on), can be found in Budapest. This is the largest synagogue located on the European continent and it occupies the fifth position among the largest synagogues of the world. The edifice can hold within its walls an impressive number of people – there are approximately 3.000 seats available, divided more or less equally among women and men (the seats available for men outnumber those available for women by 20).

The synagogue, which is affiliated with the Neolog Judaism movement, has been constructed in the 19th century (between the 1854 and 1859) in the Moorish Revival architectural style. The embellishments used were of Islamic inspiration, in combination with elements of décor based on the architectural design used in medieval Spain.

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The architect that undertook the construction of the synagogue was Ludwig Forster, but the interior decorations were signed by Frigyes Feszl.

The Dohany Street Synagogue comprises various edifices: the Great Synagogue (whose name has been extended to encompass the whole complex), the Hero’s Temple, the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial, and a graveyard.

The history of the synagogue was quite tumultuous. In 1939, the edifice was bombed by the Hungarian supporters of the Nazis, and it had changed its destination. It was no longer used as a place of worship but underwent various transformations, so as to fit the purpose for which it was intended at that particular time: a center for a German radio and even a stable during the second world conflagration. But the most devastating alterations it underwent took place when the Nazis occupied the city, but more so near the end of the Second World War, during the Siege of Budapest.

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Under the communist regime, the edifice had been re-established as a religious site, only that this time the Jewish community it addressed to was far too diminished. The restoration work was initiated in 1991, but it took seven years to be completed, until 1998.

The synagogue measures  75 m in length and 27 in width. While the prevalent style is Neo-Moorish (or Moorish Revival) as it has been mentioned previously, there are other architectural elements as well which can be depicted. Thus the visitor will be presented with an assortment of architectural details pertaining to the Romantic, Gothic and Byzantine styles.  The structure of the synagogue comprises two identical towers which are completed by means of two onion-shaped domes. The towers are meant to represent the columns of Solomon’s Temple.

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The interior is similar to that of basilicas, having 3 aisles elaborately adorned, 2 balconies and 1 organ. The women and men who attend the religious service are not seated together: the seats for men occupy the ground floor, while women are seated in the upper gallery.

As it was aforementioned, the synagogue also comprises the Jewish Museum, an edifice erected in 1930 in the same architectural style as the house of prayer. The collections encountered here are representative for the Jewish religion (objects used in various rituals, documents, relics, etc.). Within the museum, tourists will also find a Holocaust room which recaptures the tragic destiny the Jewish community had under the Nazis’ reign of terror.

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If ever in Budapest, it is advisable to make time and visit this specific house of prayer. Not only that it is an important tourist attraction, known throughout the world, but the architectural design and the interior decoration of the synagogue are definitely worth your time – you will be looking at an impressive work of art.