The Great Synagogue

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The Dohány Street Synagogue (HungarianDohány utcai zsinagóga / nagy zsinagógaHebrewבית הכנסת הגדול של בודפשט‬, Bet ha-Knesset ha-Gadol shel Budapesht), also known as the Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue, is a historical building in Erzsébetváros, the 7th district of BudapestHungary. It is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world.[1] It seats 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".[2] 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.[3]


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.[4] 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 (see below).



The building is 75 metres (246 ft) long and 27 metres (89 ft) wide.[5] 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.[citation needed]

The Central Synagogue in ManhattanNew York City is a near-exact copy of the Dohány Street Synagogue.[6]


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.[7] A new mechanical organ with 63 voices and 4 manuals was built in 1996 by the German firm Jehmlich Orgelbau Dresden GmbH.[8] 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,[citation needed] to hear the artist’s virtuosity.[9]

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