Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. I, No. 2 / Summer 1997
Jewish Museum in Prague Restores Spanish Synagogue

Jewish Museum in Prague Restores Spanish Synagogue

The Jewish Museum in Prague is restoring the magnificent Moorish-style Spanish Synagogue in Prague, built in 1867-8 (interior 1882-93). Since 1995, $120,000 has been spent to repair the building's roof. When preservation is complete, the building will house an exhibition presenting the history of the Bohemian and Moravian Jews from their emancipation at the end of the 18th century to the end of World War II. This project follows the restoration of the Pinkus and Klausen Synagogues, also part of the Museum.

The Spanish Synagogue is built on the site where once stood Prague’s oldest Jewish prayer house, The Old Shul, built in the 11th or 12th century, originally used by Jews of the East Byzantine rite. The Old Shul, destroyed and rebuilt many times, was finally demolished in 1868 and replaced by the present structure, built in the then popular Moorish or Spanish style, which gave the synagogue its common name. The building, designed by Prague architects Vojtech Ignac Ullmann and Josef Niklas, has a central square plan with an oversized cupola above the central space. The interior decoration, based on the designs by A. Baum and B. Munzberger, was completed in 1893 and includes gilded and polychrome Islamic motifs, carved decorations in wood surfaces and windows glazed with colored vitrailles.

During the German occupation, the synagogue was used to store belongings stolen from the Jews. From 1960 until 1979, the State Jewish Museum utilized the building for a permanent exhibition of synagogue textiles. The building was then closed due to structural instability. Repairs to the building were not forthcoming and the deterioration of the synagogue and of its collections continued unabated.

The Jewish Museum in Prague is no longer a State Museum. In 1993, the museum, including the synagogue buildings and all the holdings, was returned to the Jewish Community of the Czech Republic. As a private institution, the museum now relies completely on its own limited resources and thus is unable to cover the full costs of the Spanish Synagogue restoration. Therefore, the Museum seeks funding assistance from individuals and institutions. The Museum hopes to complete the entire $1.5 million dollar restoration project in time for the building’s 130th anniversary in 1998.

Those interested in making a contribution can contact either the ISJM or the American Friends of the Jewish Museum, Project Judaica Foundation, 900 Second Street, NE, Suite 205, Washington, DC, 20002 or fax (202) 371-0898.

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Updated: 24-Jul-98