The beautiful synagogues of Kraków in the Jewish District of Kazimierz are a unique collection of monuments of Jewish sacred architecture in Poland, the largest complex of its kind in Europe next to Prague, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Kraków was a prominent center of Jewish life before WWII, with at least ninety prayer-houses. The synagogues themselves are representations of almost all European architectural styles, such as Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism, Modernism, and many others. Only two are still active, while only the Remuh Synagogue serves as a house of prayer.
The smallest of the seven, the Remuh Synagogue is located next to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Krakow. It was originally called the "New Synagogue" to differentiate it from the Old Synagogue. The first mid-1550s building was destroyed in a fire, and second building was erected in 1557 in the late Renaissance style. It underwent a number of renovations, including a major one in 1957, which restored much of its bright interior destroyed in WWII. There are inscriptions on the courtyard walls in memory of Kraków Jews who died in the Holocaust. Above the Art Nouveau door of the late Renaissance Holy Ark stand Hebrew inscriptions from the Bible, carved in 1558.
This Orthodox Jewish synagogue is a rare remaining example of a Polish Fortress synagogue, Poland’s oldest synagogue, and a priceless monument of Jewish architecture in Europe. The magnificent synagogue was built in 1407 or 1492, rebuilt in 1570, and reconstructed in 1904 and in 1913. This was one of the most important Kraków synagogues and the main religious and social center of the Kraków Jewish community before the Nazi invasion. Completely devastated in the war, it was renovated from 1956 to 1959 and is currently a museum, a Division of the Historical Museum of Kraków, with exhibits about Jewish life and culture.
The Izaak Synagogue was built in 1644 and named after its donor, Izaak Jakubowicz (d. 1673). It is an early Baroque building, the walls of which are adorned with painted prayers and the vaulted ceiling with plasterwork. It also had a greatly admired, wooden Aron Kodesh, but the baroque beauty was destroyed with the bimah and the rest of the interior in WWII. After the war, the building was used by an atelier, by a theatre, and as an exhibition space. A renovation was done in the 1980s, the building was returned to the Jewish community, and it’s now a practicing Orthodox Synagogue again.
This house of prayer was founded in 1620 by one of Europe’s richest men, Wolf Popper. It was one of the most impressive synagogues with its entrance embellished with openwork doors depicting four animals that symbolize the main characteristics of a devout man: an eagle, a leopard, a lion, and a buck deer. This beauty, with its splendid furniture and decorations, porches, annexes, and ark, slowly declined after Popper’s death, and its brilliant interior was destroyed in WWII. There is a vibrant youth center in the Synagogue now, which offers educational activities, an art studio, and classes in Jewish dance.
The 17th-century synagogue was built in Baroque style with a square prayer hall, and a carved wood and stucco Torah Arc. In the 1800s, an annex with entrance hall and washrooms was added, the western wing was built, and the building was joined with its neighbor. The Synagogue is richly decorated with remnants of paintings from the 17th-18th centuries, as well as paintings from the 1920s depicting holy places and Biblical scenes. Kupa Synagogue was carefully restored after WWII and today serves Kraków's Jewish community as a location for religious ceremonies and cultural festivals, particularly the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków.
The High Synagogue is an inactive Orthodox Jewish synagogue, built in the second half of the 16th century in a modified Renaissance style. Its interior walls display paintings of scenes in Jerusalem and a lovely pair of lions in the women's gallery. After WWII, the ceiling and roof were changed and another floor was added. The original features that remain are the 17th-century baroque chanukah candlestick (displayed in the Old Synagogue), the wall paintings, and Poland’s largest and oldest Renaissance Aron ha-kodesh. The High Synagogue is a Landmark Conservation building open to visitors, with exhibits about the customs and traditions of the Jewish community in the interwar period.
The Moorish Revival synagogue was built in 1860–1862, with richly adorned, colorful and golden interior, and the arch over the Aron Kodesh designed in the style of Polish folk art. It was ruined in WWII, but after the war, regular prayers were held here until 1985. The synagogue underwent a major renovation from 1995 until 2000, and is today a major, active place of worship, though formal prayers are held several times a year. It’s also a thriving center of Jewish life and culture, and you can attend various concerts and gatherings here, particularly during the Jewish Culture Festival.
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