Jewish Architectural Monuments – between Use and Destruction

Cultural heritage makes people awareof their common history and common future… Mauritio Carta

The hardships which Bulgarian society is facing in the period of transition and restructuring of the economy are a challenge to the preservation of the cultural identity of the towns, as well as the individual cultural identity of the citizens. Many problems in contemporary urban development concern the status of architectural monuments, including these monuments which are symbols of the cultural identity of the Bulgarian Jews – the Jewish neighborhoods, synagogues, cemeteries, schools and reading rooms. The most important problems can be summarized as follows: – loss of initial function. There are only two functioning synagogues in Bulgaria – one in Sofia and one in Plovdiv. – degradation of the construction, architecture and urban structure and decrease of the historical value of most monuments due to self-destruction, insufficient preservation with irreversible destruction of the architectural and spatial solution as well as the functional and spatial structure of the surrounding area. Although they have the status of cultural monuments – twenty synagogues have been included in the national register of architectural and cultural monuments protected by the state – many of these historical sites have not been reconstructed in the last few decades and are victims of destruction due to natural disasters and lack of management and concern. After the property restitution the majority of these buildings now belong to the Jewish communities, but the communities are small, lacking in funds and unable to stop this process. An analysis of the territories of Burgas and Russe, where the Jewish population was predominant until the middle of the 20th c. shows that buildings, which are extremely valuable from an architectural and civil perspective have been preserved, but are not in a good condition. – insufficiently appraise role of these monuments for the cultural identity of the towns as testimonies of the wealth of urban material and spiritual structure. Four synagogues were destroyed in the 1970’s because of the implementation of new urban development plans in the historical town centers of Kjustendil, Haskovo, Karnobat and Dobritch The synagogue in Shumen does not exist anymore. – lack of urban development initiatives for organizing the spatial urban environment of these sites and objects. Fifteen synagogues still remain in Bulgaria – in the towns of Pazardjik, Russe, Varna, Sofia, Samokov, Burgas, Vidin, Plovdiv, Yambol, Pleven, Gotse Deltchev and Silistra. They were built around the middle and second half of the 19th c. and the beginning of the 20th c. The synagogue in Vidin, the two synagogues in Varna and the synagogue in Samokov, which has the status of a national monument of culture, are left to demolition. The synagogue in Burgas was reconstructed to fit the needs of an art gallery and the hall space is now irreversibly destroyed because of the addition of a second floor. One of the earliest preserved synagogues on the territory of the country – the synagogue built in Russe in the middle of the 19th c, has been transformed into a temple of the Church of God. The yard space of the two synagogues in Pazardjik, which were refurbished by the state and the inside of the small synagogue, are examples of radical use for irrelevant and disrespectful functions (they are being used as coffee shops). The development of a strategy for the preservation of the rich architectural heritage of the Jews in Bulgaria is even more necessary because of the danger of constantly losing the few remaining traces of this culture and the cultural identity of towns which were the historical treasures of the multifaceted and mutually complementing cultures of their ethnically diverse population.

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