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The Synagogue

The presence of a temple of the Spanish Jews in Vidin is mentioned in 1869. The construction of the building, which was one of the most beautiful of this kind in Bulgaria and almost as big as the central synagogue in Sofia, begins immediately after the Russian-Turkish war from 1877-1878 and continues till 1894. After its erection, a school was opened to it. The architecture of the synagogue carries the marks and char­acter of the European architecture from the river valley of Danube and into its details are woven elements from the eastern patterns and symbols.
The interior impresses with its colossal im­pact and with the use of ancient Jewish and classical architectural forms. After the expatriation of a big part of the Jewish community in Vidin in 1949 the syna­gogue loses its main function. Nowadays the building is one of the significant cultural monuments of the city of Vidin.

Built in 1894 in the neo-Gothic style Vidin was Bulgaria’s second largest synagogue, a testament to the wealth and pride of the local community that had flourished for more than five centuries after its arrival from Spain in the fifteenth century. The synagogue contained a narthex, prayer hall. And lofts all of which were decorated with a combination of classic architectural forms and ancient Jewish decorative symbols, illuminated by stained-glass windows.

Today, the Vidin Synagogue with its four towers stands as a ruin, roofless and forlorn. Seized by the communist government in the wake of WWII, the synagogue was subsequently appropriated by the state. During the 1970s the Ministry of Culture and the National Institute of Monuments developed a plan to restore the building. Work began in 1983 and continued until 1989, when the collapse of the communist regime lead to the abandonment of the project, just as workers had removed the roof. Exposed to the elements for more than a decade the synagogue is now a ruin. Complete photo documentation of the synagogue and its interiors took place prior to the restoration attempt and could be used as the basis for a new restoration program. The Bulgarian national Jewish organization, now the owner of the site, wishes to see the building restored as a concert hall for use by the community, and also as a monument to its forebears.

VIDIN, port city on the right bank of the Danube in N.W. Bulgaria. The fortress of Judaeus, which was rebuilt in the vicinity of Vidin by Justinian I (527–565), confirms the presence of Jews at that time (Procopius of Caesarea (6th century) War with the Goths, Dewing translation, 1954, B. IV. VI. 21). After the expulsion of the Jews from Hungary in 1376, some of them settled in Vidin. When Vidin fell to the Turks in 1394, the community was led by Shalom Ashkenazi of Neustadt (Hungary), who founded a yeshivah in the town and whose pupil Dosa ha-Yevani (“the Greek”) wrote in 1430 the work Perush ve-Tosafot. Refugees from Bavaria, who were expelled in 1470, also settled in Vidin. Refugees from Spain arrived there via Salonika. In 1778 David Shabbetai Ventura, the author of Nehar Shalom (Amsterdam, 1774), and Elijah Ventura, the author of Kokheva de-Shavit (Salonika, 1799), arrived in Vidin. To commemorate the escape of the Jews of Vidin during the rule of the Turkish leader Pazvantoglu (1794), a local Purim was fixed on the fourth of Adar. The number of Jews in Vidin at the end of the 19th century was between 1,300 and 1,500; in 1919 there were 2,000 Jews and in 1926, 1,534. The members of the community did not suffer severely during World War II. The decree of expulsion in 1943 was not carried out (see *Bulgaria). After the establishment of the State of Israel, most of the Jews of Vidin immigrated there together with most of Bulgarian Jewry. In 2004 there were 55 Jews in Vidin, affiliated to the local branch of the nationwide Shalom organization.

1. Historical check-up
Vidin Synagogue was built in 1894 with funds from donations from Jewish merchants from the neighborhood “Kaleto”, as well as from Jews from all over the Principality of Bulgaria. It is the second largest after the synagogue in Sofia, but is considered more beautiful. In plan the building is completely symmetrical, with the correct form of the basilica type with a narthex, galleries and 4 towers. The internal dimensions of the prayer hall are 21 x 10 m. The interior is colorful, with elements of ancient Jewish and classical architectural forms. Since 1950 the building is not used as intended and is converted into storehouse, resulting in its extremely poor condition at the moment – with no roof and crumbling walls.

2. Project Goals
The aim is to create a museum complex named after the Vidin-born world famous artist with Jewish origin Jules Pascin. The project includes the exposure of the Baba Vida fortress, near which is the building of the synagogue.

3. Scope and basic activities
The Synagogue is a free standing three-nave basilica with a narthex. It is located in the triangular lot near the Danube River and the medieval castle Baba Vida. Fully symmetrical building has identical towers in its four corners, and its most impressive part is the great prayer hall measuring approximately 21 meters length and over 10 meters wide. The hall is also remarkable for the combination of ancient Jewish and classical architectural forms. All areas are covered with complex cross-legged brick arches with a double curve. The complex arches were painted blue and bronzed and on them were situated hexagonal stars. Finishing touches were attached to two crystal chandeliers hanging from the center of the large arches. They were shedding light on slender arcade standing on bronzed cast iron columns delivered into the river directly from Vienna. On the ground floor there was beautiful mosaic and the altar is placed on the podium in the apse. It probably followed the tenets of ancient Jewish temple with central part, two towers, arches, columns and more than likely above it was the symbol of the sun. The entrance of the synagogue was decorated with two huge marble slabs with bronze reliefs and inscriptions in Hebrew, and after the Second World War the names of all Bulgarian Jews who died during the war were inscribed on them.

4. Ideas for a change (activities)
The project foresees adapting the building for it to become a cultural center with a multi functional purpose.The first level will have a permanent exhibition entitled “Jules Pascin”, as well as space for temporary exhibitions. Where appropriate, the building will be used for various other events as a multifunctional room with a flat floor with a maximum of 180 seats. For this purpose are provided two small warehouse rooms for inventory and dining rooms and in the rear is provided a small room for office and a second one, intended for technical management of the main features of the building. A podium stage on 50 cm is built before the apse which restores the original condition of the building. Right of the entrance a small shop is set up with movable walls to an interior space, on the left – wardrobe for visitors. In the two side galleries are organized exhibition areas. Two symmetrical staircases lead to a 6.60 meters level, where there will be a permanent exhibition and a library, museum exhibition “Holocaust”, meeting room and a small temple of prayer. The exterior of the building will be restored in its original condition on the basis of photo documentaion, written evidence and shooting of the project since 1980.

The Synagogue

The Synagogue

The Synagogue

The Synagogue

Tags: building, Bulgaria, cultural monuments, Jewish community, Synagogue, synagogue in Sofia, temple of the Spanish Jews, Vidin

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