Eastern and Central Europe (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

(Ben Green) #1


Jewish Culture

One of the key heart lands of Jewish
culture, Eastern and Central Europe was
home to two main groups of Jewish
commu nities. The first to arrive were the
Ashkenazi, who emi grated from the Rhine
valley from the 12th century onwards. They
were followed by the Sephardic Jews,
who, after being expelled from Spain in
1492, resettled in South Eastern Europe. Although
over 90 per cent of the region’s Jewish pop ulation
per ished during World War II, traces of their heritage
can still be seen in the carefully preserved historic
quarters of many European cities.

A 19th-century line engraving
depicting the expulsion of Jews
from Spain on the orders of King
Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Eastern and Central Europe’s rich Jewish heritage
is evident in the large number of synagogues
found across the region. Dating from the 1850s,
Budapest’s Great Synagogue (see p353) is a
testament to the size and prestige of Hungary’s
Jewish community. Built in the Moorish Revival
style, the inte rior features both Byzantine and
Gothic elements.

The old historic quarter of Třebíč (see p278),
in the Czech Republic, is a beautifully preserved
example of one of the small towns once dominated
by Jewish trading families.

Sofia Synagogue
(see p606), built in 1909
to serve the city’s growing
Jewish community, is
an impressive combina -
tion of Oriental and Art
Nouveau styles.


Tallinn’s Beit Bella Synagogue,
inaugurated in 2007, is the first
synagogue to open in Estonia
since the destruction of the ear-
lier one during World War I. It
hosts many concerts and events.

Vilnius’s Choral Synagogue was the
only one in the Lithuanian capital to
survive World War II unscathed. It
was completed in 1903 for a congre-
gation that introduced choral singing
into their religious services.
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