Vul. Staroyevreiska, 54 – former Great City synagogue

ID: 275
The synagogue was built in 1801 in Neo-Classicist style on the site of a Gothic synagogue which dated back to 1555. Two semicircular arches through which one can today access the square from Staroyevreiska and Brativ Rohatyntsiv Streets are the remaining entrances to the synagogue. The city synagogue had a compositional-space structure similar to the one of the synagogue in the Cracow outer distric (pl. Przedmiejscie Krakowskie). The Great City Synagogue was destroyed in 1943. Today (2008) an empty square is on it's place.


1320: The wooden synagogue was constructed
1407: The roof of the old synagogue was repaired
1527: The old city synagogue burnt in the great city fire
1530-1555: Gothic synagogue was constructed
1797: Gothic synagogue was disassembled
1797-1801: New, Classicist synagogue was constructed
1878: Renovation works (the roof reconstruction) according to the project by Michael Gerl
1910: Reconstruction of the staircase to the women’s galleries according to the project by architects Jozef Sosnowski and Alfred Zachariewicz   
1943: Nazis destrpyed the synagogue
1970’s: Archeological excavations on the site of the synagogue and marking its foundations

The oldest city synagogue was wooden. It was located on the site of the stone building No. 29 on Fedorova Street; this is evidenced by the discovery of tie-beams with Jewish signs on them and the date of its construction – 1320. According to a privilege granted by Polish king Kazimierz III in 1367, the city Jews took an oath in the doorway of the synagogue.  In the records of the “Book of Expenses” it is noted in the section of the year 1407 that 15 Groszes were granted to the synagogue for the roof and the wood for heating. It is clear from these records that the synagogue roof was repaired, while the wood for heating was meant for the heated synagogue located in a separate premise of the main synagogue. It was located on a vacant parcel, and needed to be fenced off. On 5 July 1456 certain Aaron, a local Jew, gave a promise to personally construct a fence on two sides of the building. The wooden city synagogue burned down on 3 June 1527 in a catastrophic Lviv fire which is recorded in “The Fire Description” in city books.

In 1555, a stone synagogue was constructed in the center of the city. It was built in another location, since the land plot where the wooden synagogue used to stand was by then crowded with residential buildings. Therefore the stone synagogue was constructed on the square right next to the fortification wall near the Armoury and the Tailors’ Tower. Until 1606 this synagogue served as the Great City Synagogue. We do not know how it looked, but the stone fragments found during the excavation works witness to the fact that it was a Gothic building. In his sculpted model of the city, local architect Janusz Witwicki recreated the City Synagogue as a typical Gothic building – with a high roof and a steeple.

Because the synagogue was small, in the early seventeenth century the role of the Great City Synagogue shifted to the “Golden Rose” Synagogue, in the private ownership of Yitzhak ben of Nachman (Isaak Nachmanowicz).  The Gothic synagogue was in function for almost 250 years. In 1797 it was disassembled by decree of the Governor of Galicia. The reasoning was that is was old, dilapidated, and very small. Because the “Golden Rose” Synagogue, which was then called the “Great Synagogue” was also becoming small, the Jewish community began to construct a new, considerably bigger, synagogue on the site of the disassembled old synagogue, between 1799 and 1801. In addition to various valuable reliquaries (silver candle holders, Torah crowns, shields, lamps, etc.), diverse works of art (carved reflectors, lanterns, spiders, cloths, etc.) were installed in the synagogue.
The new city synagogue occupied a large parcel between the modern Brativ Rohatyntsiv and Starojevrejska Streets, and its eastern façade finished off the eastern part of the block overlooking Zaarsenalna (today Arsenalska) Street. For some time there were two wooden buildings between the synagogue and the armoury, one of which housed a hospital.

After the Community transferred the reliquaries from the Nachmanowicz Synagogue to the newly constructed synagogue in 1801, the latter became the main city synagogue.

In the early 1860’s, the building already required repairs. The Jewish community under the leadership of Jozef Mehrer and Hersz Ettinger was obliged to develop a project for the repair works including a change of the roof constructions and shingles to a fireproof tin covering. In 1872 the project was realized by the architect Michael Gerl. The municipal authorities also required that the Community improve the cobblestone pavement near the City Synagogue which, according to the document, were not only an obstruction to pedestrians, but even threatened people’s lives. And because the drainage system did not work properly, huge puddles were emerging when it rained. The reconstruction of the Synagogue was resumed only in 1878.

In 1910, according to the project by architects Jozef Sosnowski and Alfred Zachariewicz, reconstruction of the staircase was conducted. A new, higher roof was constructed over it and stairways added to the women’s gallery.
The City Synagogue was blown up by the Nazis in the fall of 1943. During the re-planning of the territory in the 1970’s, architectural excavations were conducted on the site of the demolished synagogue. During the course of these excavations part of the former synagogue’s basement premises, as well as fragments of stone elements, in particular the late Gothic portal with preserved traces of polychromy, were discovered. The excavations were completed with the marking of the foundations of the 1801 synagogue.

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The City Synagogue occupied a complete parcel between the contemporary Starojevrejska and Brativ Rohatyntsiv Streets, and therefore had the shape of an irregular rectangle. The main part of the building consisted of a prayer room, in a shape of an irregular square, and two-florr galleries along the western wall. Three stairways leading to the women’s galleries and other synodal premises were constructed in a narrow section between the western wall and the border wall of the neighboring building. The entrances to this part were organized from today’s Staroevreiska and Brativ Rohatyntsiv Streets. The entrance to the prayer room led from Starojevrejska through the entrance hall (pulisz). In special composition of the synagogue, two traditional architectural volumes united into one large building which was girded with wreath cornice and freeze and was covered by a common three-sloped roof. The façade emphasized the architectural peculiarities of the construction. The walls of the prayer room were segmented with pilasters into three sections each of which had an elongated semi circular window arranged high above the floor with a round window above it. The window slits were decorated with pilasters and archivolts. The western section, where women’s prayer rooms were located was distinguished by two levels of windows. Two galleries over the entrance hall were designated for women. Men’s prayer room had the same planning as the Cracow outer district synagogue: four faceted columns divided the vaulted ceiling into nine equal fields. The central ceiling was sail-shaped. Architectural design of the synagogue corresponded to the prevailing style of that time, Classicism. The interior was filled with carving, and there were traditional murals on the wall. Richly decorated Aaron haKodesh was lit though a round window. Ner Tomid, the niche with eternal fire, was located near the western wall of the prayer room, to the north from the main entrance. 

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Vul. Fedorova, 27 – former Golden Rose Synagogue (Taz, Turey Zahav)

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Józef Mehrer – Community Head
Hersz Ettinger – Community Head
Michael Gerl – architect
Józef Sosnowski – architect
Alfred Zachariewicz – architect
Janusz Witwicki – architect


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Written by Oksana Boyko
Edited by Natalka Rymska and Markian Prokopovych

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