Kraków – Old Synagogue

History

The Old Synagogue in Kraków was built in 1407 by Czech Jews who came to the Polish capital after the Prague massacre in 1389. It belonged to medieval, typically gothic, two-nave synagogues. In the second half of the 16th century, one-storey extensions were added to the synagogue, which housed a vestibule, a kahal house and a women’s gallery. It became the center of religious life of Kazimierz Jews. In 1557 a great fire broke out, which consumed the whole building completely. The reconstruction was carried out by the Florentine architect Mateo Gucci, who gave it a renaissance character, but retained the previous, two-nave plan of the building and reconstructed its rib vault. In addition, the walls were raised to today’s height and crowned with an arcaded attic that covered the roof. The works lasted until 1570, because that year was the inscription of the builder on the vault. The synagogue burned several times, the last fire took place in 1773. In the second half of the 19th century, the Jewish community carried out its general renovation. In 1939, the Germans turned the building of the synagogue into warehouses, systematically destroying and devastating the monument throughout the war. In 1956, the Polish authorities began to renovate the ruined synagogue.

Architecture

The synagogue is built of brick on a stone and brick foundation. The stone was also used in the lower parts of the façade and architectural details. It is a rectangular, two-nave hall with a rib vault supported by two slender columns. The main part of the synagogue is a prayer room for men, and a much lower room for women on the north side. From the south side, the singers room adjoins the prayer room. There are also other single and two-level annexes added to the building.

Current state

The current condition of the synagogue is the result of many reconstructions and renovations, which were carried out over the centuries, but it has retained a gothic – renaissance appearance. From the 16th century, the main prayer hall, the porch and the gallery for women on the first floor of the western wall survived. Today in the synagogue there is a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków – History and Culture of Jews. It collects monuments in the history and culture of Jews, above all in Kraków.

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bibliography:
Krasnowolski B., Leksykon zabytków architektury Małopolski, Warszawa 2013.
Website wikipedia.org, Synagoga Stara w Krakowie.