This beautiful synagogue was built between 1867 and 1868 on the site of the oldest Prague Jewish house of prayer. It was designed in a Moorish style by the architects Vojtěch Ignátz Ullmann and Josef Niklas. Its front facade was inspired by the Leopoldstädter Tempel which was built in Vienna, Austria.
This temple was built in 1853 as a tripartite facade with a tall central section flanked by lower wings on each side. As with its counterpart in Vienna, the central section of the synagogue is topped by a pair of domed turrets. The interior decoration of the Spanish Synagogue features a profusion of Moorish motifs depicting flowers and geometric patterns in brilliant reds, blues and greens with gold trim. The entire interior is full of color on the ceiling and the walls. The stained glass windows repeat the brilliant colors and patterns. The windows as well as the interiors were designed by the architects A. Baum and B. Münzberg and their work was not completed until 1893. In the same year, the city authorities decided to tear down most of the old Jewish ghetto. Three sides of the main hall are lined by galleries on metal structures, which fully open onto the nave. The Islamic motives are applied also on the walls, doors and gallery balustrades.
The typical synagogues in Europe usually put a bimah in the center of the main nave and benches around the walls. Supprisingly the Spanish Synagogue has benches arranged in rows in the center of the nave, similar to Christian churches. All of the orthodox synagogues use to have a separate women’s gallery which is situated above the main hall, like a balcony. The Spanish Synagogue contains beautiful cast iron columns holding up the women’s gallery.
During the Second World War, the Germans converted the building into a repository of confiscated Jewish artifacts. In 1955 the synagogue was handed over to the Prague Jewish Museum. All the interiors were reconstructed to designs by the architect Otto Rothmayer between 1958 and 1959. The last extensive repairs were carried out by the architect Petr Běťák between 1995 and 1998. In 1998, it was made accessible to the public again.
Spanish Synagogue Today
Nowadays the synagogue is used as a museum as well as a concert hall. For example František Škroup, the composer of the Czech national anthem, worked here as the choir director in 1836-45.
Name Of The Synagogue
There are two theories about who the Spanish synagogue acquired its name. Firstly, that the Moorish architectural style may have been found reminiscent of the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. The second theory is that the synagogue was constructed on the site of the city’s most ancient synagogue, which may originally have been used by Byzantine Jews. This fact may have given rise to the legend of a historic Sephardic community. But we may never know.
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