This is a story about transformations that reflected and impacted the development of the Jewish community, and it is a story that recalls the tragedy of the community’s murder during the Holocaust and the following decades of neglect and history ignored.
This is also a story of one of the city’s most remarkable Renaissance buildings, and the story of a particular part of the Jewish quarter that over the centuries hosted three important religious buildings.
… Before the Second World War, there were dozens of synagogues in Lviv, and the city was an important center of Jewish religious, cultural and social life. The oldest synagogues were located in the inner city in the historical Jewish quarter located near to the city’s main Rynok Square. The inhabitants of the Jewish quarter were citizens of the town and at the same time members of a self-contained community.
It is believed that the oldest synagogue in Lviv once stood on what is now Arsenalna Square in the 14th century. It was destroyed in the Great City Fire of 1527 and another synagogue was built on the site in 1555. This served as the community’s main synagogue until the beginning of the 17th century, when it became too small for the growing congregation. Unfortunately, there are no records of what either of these buildings looked like. The Golden Rose Synagogue, built for private use by the financier Yitzhak ben of Nachman (Isaak Nachmanovych) on an adjacent plot in 1582, then took over the role of the quarter’s main synagogue, and many of the community’s religious reliquaries were transferred there. The Golden Rose, designed by the master builder Paulus Szczesliwy, was one of the most spectacular late-sixteenth-century Renaissance architectural landmarks of the city. From 1654 to 1667, the famous scholar and Rabbi David Ha-Levi Segal, known for his work “Turei Zahav” (The Golden Lines), prayed here, and hence it also became known as the Turei Zahav. By the end of the 18th century, the Golden Rose had itself become too small for the community. It was therefore decided to replace the old 1555 synagogue that still stood on the neighboring site, with a much bigger building. The new “Great City Synagogue” opened in 1801 and became the main synagogue of the inner city Jewish quarter.
The Beth Hamidrash (House of Learning) building, located between the Golden Rose and what became the site of the Great City Synagogue, was first mentioned in the 17th century and was originally a timber structure. In 1797, it was rebuilt in brick and contained a heated library and study rooms on the upper floor, and a vaulted prayer hall on the ground floor.
Left: Conservation works, 1988—1990.
Right: Janusz Witwicki, The Golden Rose Synagogue, 1943
All three buildings were destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War. Parts of the walls of the Golden Rose survived, but otherwise the places where these buildings once stood are now empty and abandoned. Archeological excavations took place on the site of the Great City Synagogue in the 1970s. During the late 1980s, the positions of the foundations of the Beth Hamidrash and Great City Synagogue were established and documented, and conservation work was carried out on the remains of the Golden Rose.
Archeologists on the site of the Golden Rose Synagogue, mid 1990s
During the past two decades the site of Golden Rose synagogue and Beth Hamidrash was neglected, inaccessible and unmarked. The space was fenced off with metal structure that had to become a temporary means of protection, but had however only separated the remains of Golden Rose from viewing. Traced foundations, that were implemented in the late 1980s, collapsed quickly due to poor quality of work and lack of adequate protection. The area was overgrown with bushes and trees. In 2013 Lviv city council commissioned an archaeological research for this space, and in 2015 conservation works began together with memorial space construction.
At the end of 1980s the tracing was implemented and new paving was arranged at the Great City Synagogue site as well. In the years to come it was used as an open space for parking and spontaneous cultural events. During the first half of 2010’s, the rapid commercialization of the space took place. Two restaurants appeared there, and in the warm season placed their tables and fill almost all the space of the Great City Synagogue site. Construction of the memorial space on the site is planned for 2017.
The site of Great City Synagogue; view on Beth Hamidrash site and the Golden Rose remnants © Ilia Levin, 2010
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