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Dohány Street Synagogue

Dohány Street Synagogue
Budapest
Greater Budapest

The Dohány Street Synagogue of Budapest is not only the largest Hebrew temple of Europe but its surroundings are like a small island with a fabulous atmosphere, full of exhibitions, synagogues, cemeteries and memorials.

It is symbolic that the neighboring corner plot holds the house where, in 1860, Tivadar Herzl, the Hungarian writer who envisioned the notion of a Jewish state, was born. The Dohány Street Synagogue, constructed in the middle of the 19th century in a richly ornamented eastern style, in the so-called Moorish style, became so large, with its 1,200 square meters of floor space and 44 meters tall towers, that only the synagogue of Manhattan exceeds it in size. The building was designed by the architect of the synagogue of Vienna, Ludwig Förster, who often cooperated with Otto Wagner; the interior decoration was created by the Hungarian architect Frigyes Feszl.

Dohány Street Synagogue

The center of the Jewish religious life of Budapest

At the time of civil emancipation, the Jewish population, which played a significant role in the modernization of Hungarian economy and culture, was ready to give up some of the more medieval elements of the faith. This is how so-called Neolog Judaism was established and soon became the most popular version of the faith in Hungary. The change was also apparent in synagogue architecture and, thus, in the Dohány Street Synagogue. Although women and men were still separated, here they prayed not in separate rooms, but men on the ground floor and women on the balcony. Neolog synagogues, including the Dohány Street Synagogue, are often designed similarly to Christian churches, even featuring an organ. Here, almost three thousand people can enjoy its sounds. Most self-respecting, wealthy Hebrew citizens would also purchase seats, reserved for their use only. The value of some synagogue benches was so great that mortgages could be taken out for them. Today, the synagogue is not only a center of the Jewish religious life of Budapest, but, thanks to its excellent acoustics, it is also a popular concert venue.

Dohány Street Synagogue

In addition to the synagogue, visitors should also seek out the garden, separated by the densely constructed inner city by an arched cloister and filled with romantic, melancholic mulberry trees. Its center piece is the Heroes' Temple, designed by László Vágó in a mixture of modernistic and eastern elements, raised in the thirties in memory of the ten thousand Hungarian soldiers of Jewish birth who have given their lives in the World War I. Since the World War II, however, the garden honors not only the heroic soldiers but also the victims of the Holocaust. Indeed, the garden was a part of the closed ghetto in which the majority of the Hebrew population of Budapest, about seventy thousand people were crammed together and separated from the outside world by high walls in the autumn of 1944. A section of the wall was later reconstructed as a kind of memento and can now be viewed in the garden. Of those who lost their lives in the ghetto of Budapest during the Holocaust, more than two thousand were buried here in a hurry after the Allied Forces took Budapest and liberated the ghetto. This was despite the fact that the Jewish religion prohibits burial next to synagogues. It is how the garden became one of the most shocking, most authentic Holocaust memorials of the world. Around the trees, grave-shaped flowerbeds were planted where families with members who were laid to final rest here placed memorial plaques.

 

There is also a memorial to the heroes of the Hungarian resistance and the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Behind the Heroes' Temple, the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs stands in a memorial park named for Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews. The steel leaves of the statue, shaped like a weeping willow, honor the victims. Having no graves, many families engraved the names of their ancestors on one of the leaves. The memorial was partially funded by Tony Curtis, an American actor of Hungarian descent. The ticket you buy to the synagogue will also grant you access to the Jewish Museum which has a permanent exhibition where fantastic metal artwork and porcelain will show you every-day Jewish life and the world of Hebrew holidays.

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