Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. I, Nos. 3-4 / Winter 1997-98
Veroia Synagogue Receives Getty Grants
Veroia, Greece: Synagogue within context of Jewish quarter. Photo: Rachel Friedman, 1993.
All but one of the synagogues of Salonika were destroyed during the Second World War and many other abandoned synagogues have been demolished throughout Greece in the decades since. An important representative survives, however, in the small town of Veroia, not far from Salonika. Prior to the war there were 850 Jews living in Veroia. Today, there are only two families.
The synagogue, which is no longer used, is located on the southern edge of an almost intact (architecturally) Jewish quarter, or mahallasah, as it existed in the Ottoman period. The 19th-century synagogue is a wood-frame building erected in different periods. The main facade is exposed stone masonry built with wooden ties. Inside on the ehal and on the decorative domes in the center and the western parts of the ceiling, traces of colorful floral decoration in gold paint have recently been discovered under the current layer of paint. The faux-marble painting of the interior also hides traces of older layers in light blue, similar to the synagogue of Komotini (demolished in 1994). The interior of the synagogue follows the Sephardic Greek tradition, where the reader's desk is located in the center of the hall.
Although registered by the Greek Ministry of Culture as a national historic monument, the synagogue at Veroia has been in disrepair for many years, and further neglect will almost certainly have lead to its collapse as in the cases of the synagogues of Didimoticho and Komotini. There are plans for major restoration and preservation work, but to date, only minor repairs to prevent damage to the interior have been performed. According to Nicholas Stavroulakis, Emeritus Director of the Jewish Museum of Greece, "The structure is somewhat theatrically built insofar as the front is of stone and appears quite solid and only in examination is it apparent that the entire structure rests on wooden supports and these have rotted in place, making the entire structure tremble at times." Stavroulakis first brought international attention to the plight of the building at the New York "Future of Jewish Monuments" conference in 1990. At that time, in situ preservation of the building seemed an impossibility, and arrangements were discussed to move surviving fittings and durnishing to the Museum in Athens, as had been done with the synagogue of Patras hours before that building was demolished.
Now, however, the case for in situ restoration has improved. Two grants from the Getty Grant Program, secured for the municipality through the work of architect Elias Messinas, have allowed complete documentation of the structure and the preparation of a conservation plan. The Getty provided an Identification Grant in 1995 enabling a detailed architectural, structural and photographic survey of the building. In 1996, a Preparation Grant was provided for the completion of architectural, structural and mechanical working drawings, a conservation study, and the design of an exhibition hall in the basement, where a presentation of the history of the Jews of Veroia, the quarter and the synagogue will be displayed. Conservation work is scheduled to take place when all the necessary funds are secured.
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