Synagogue, Kossuth-Straße 3-5
1861 the Jews of the city decided to build
a synagogue. The 600 square fathom property on which the building is situated
today was purchased by the Jewish community on July 10, 1860 for 6000 Forint.
After the acquisition of the property the commission for the building of the
synagogue, "Synagogenbaukommission", tendered a competition for the
planning of the school and synagogue. The following parameters were defined:
1. Synagogue with 400 seats, ground floor
with corresponding galleries, entrance on the Western side.
2. School building: 8 classrooms (5 boys’ and 4 girls’ classes), one room
should be able to accommodate 100 people, the other 8 should hold 80 people.
3. Council hall of the community accommodating 100 people.
4. Office for 4 officials, appropriately sized.
5. Rabbi quarters with 4 main rooms and adjoining rooms.
6. Janitor’s quarters with 2 main rooms and adjoining rooms.
The building plans were to be submitted by
December 30, 1866. The tender sparked great interest both locally and abroad. 33
applications were handed in, 3 of which were selected. The commission, knowing
of its responsibility and for its own peace of mind, sent the prized structural
designs as well as two others to Vienna on February 4, 1867 to have them
evaluated by the Austrian association of engineers and architects. After the
return of the building plans Károly Benkö’s design which had placed first -
by the association as well as the governmental comitatus engineer of Györ
József Kliegl - was realized. The company that had come in second, the Budapest
firm Örömy, Hencz und Bergh, was commissioned to draw up the detailed
blueprints with the certain changes.
On September 30, 1868 the commission tendered the construction. The results of
this call for tenders were deliberated in a public hearing on October 25 and the
cheapest offer was selected, the contract went to Vilmos Fränkel, a Viennese
builder and architect. His offer was priced at 118.629 Forint and 61 Kreuzer,
the deposit was 11.324 Forint. On November 6, 1868 the city council gave consent
to the construction. Örömy, Hencz und Bergh took over the supervision of works
for a 2,5% compensation. The expenses were met by the Jewish community by
selling seats to an “eternal price” and through interest-free loans by
members of the community as well as donations. Breaking of the ground was on
November 9, 1868. Construction was fast, on October 9, 1869 the school was
completed and the walls of the synagogue had reached their final height. The
carpentry, stone cutting and glass works were done by local craftsmen. The
shrine of the Thora, the chandelier and the adornment painting are the praised
word of Viennese masters. The school was ceremoniously opened on October 17,
1869, the synagogue was inaugurated after the placement of the cap stone on
September 15, 1870.
The outline of the Györ synagogue is a strechted triangle. The facades are
spectacularly set between the corner towers with ball helmets. The large rose
window draws one’s attention as well. And there are twin windows closing in an
arch. On the axis of the inner room the ark of the covenant stands on the Mizrah
platform, it has three columns and is crowned with a flat dome. Behind it is the
cell of the Thora. The entire inner room is spanned by a two story gallery, its
cassette balustrade is decorated with stars of David. The walls are painted with
stylized ornamental motifs and framed with decorative borders. The main entrance
of the synagogue opens in front of the Western facade, the threefold structure
of the walls emphasizes the axis of the entrance. The design by Károly Benkö
is the first realization of the movement of neological synagogues. The building
features the main characteristics of neological synagogues such as the quiet
yard tucked away by the wings of the school building, the monumental central
synagogue with its high dome, the specifically European women’s galleries, the
organ and the vertical structures which serve to emphasize the sacral character
of the building. The synagogue of Györ is one of the main sites of the
neological trend. The synagogue built in the style of late Historicism and the
Sezession for a long time set an example for the construction of synagogues in
other cities. It became an archetype of the metropolitan synagogue with great
During the five decades following the inauguration of the synagogue the Jewish
community grew both in members and in wealth. In 1910 it counted 5583 people.
The synagogue had become too tight for larger celebrations, in the case of a
fire the galleries could not have been evacuated fast enough using only the
three spiral staircases.
The idea of expanding the building had come up with the turn of the century. By
1925 the necessary finances were available so the city sold property on the
Eastern side of the existing building. On November 8 1925 a closed competition
was tendered. Nine applications were submitted, the first prize was awarded to
the Budapest engineer Dávid Jónás, the Budapest architect Sándor Hegyi
placed second. On January 24, 1926 the community government commissioned the
architect Arnold Barbach with the planning of a small synagogue using the
winning designs. On March 25, 1926 the city council decided in an extraordinary
meeting that it could no longer carry the responsibility for the dangerous state
of the stairs of the synagogue and ordered the alterations according to the new
plan. This plan connected the stairs of the main synagogue and added a winter
synagogue between the two new staircases. 1,2 million Crowns were granted to
cover the expenses. The construction was done by the cheapest company, Pittel
und Brausewetter AG. Construction work started on April 19, 1926 and the festive
autumn service was already held in the new synagogue.
The work on the inside of the smaller synagogue called the winter chapel went
slow, it was inaugurated on November 20, 1927. The small synagogue was where the
daily services were held in winter which meant that during the construction
period the synagogue was closed for a long time.
Due to the well-known tragic events of the 1940s and the deportations the number
of members of the Jewish community fell drastically. Of the 5700 people deported
only around 780 returned.
This fated the further development of the
synagogue. It was re-inaugurated on March 15, 1946 but the synagogue and school
built by the formerly very large Jewish community could not be maintained. The
Györ city council wanted to take over the building as government property and
use it for cultural events. The Nation of Hungary bought the synagogue from the
Jewish community on July 18, 1969. The school quarters at first housed the
offices of the grain company and old furniture sorted out by the municipal
authorities was stored here. These parts of the building were continuously
renovated whereas the main synagogue and the winter synagogue deteriorated more
and more. The city requested that the Ferenc Liszt conservatory be given room in
the “A” wing of the school and that the synagogue be made a concert hall.
There was a competition tendered to five invitees. The construction plans were
made in 1971 and the Györ section of the Ferenc Liszt conservatory took
ownership of the wing of the school building on October 1, 1973. The Jewish
community continued to operate in the quarters on Kossuth Lajos Street, the
first floor was designated the prayer house.
In the 1980s mere maintenance was
possible. There were many plans and visions which could not be realized due to
lack of financing.
On March 15, 1991 a foundation for the Synagogue of Györ was founded. It became
the communal organization "Kultureller Konferenzzentrale Györ", “center
for cultural conference of Györ", and from 1997 to 2005 fought for the
survival of this extraordinarily beautiful and unique building as a venue for
cultural and music events and to house works of fine art. 1994-95 the facade on
Kossuth Lajos Street was renovated. The wrought-iron fence was reconstructed in
After long negotiations legal documents for the construction were drafted,
supported by the authorities for protection of historic sights of interest and
on March 4, 2004 they became legally binding. With the construction permit in
place the realization of the project began. Again a competition was tendered,
the winning firm doing not only the planning but also the implementation. The
work of the general contractor was supported by several sub contractors. The
restoration was done by famous artists in the field, Gábor Ludányi (stone and
plastering works), László Csúcs (adornment painting) and András Seres (wood
restauration). The construction site was handed over on December 6. The first
task was to tidy up and do research for the restaurations. With the
documentation of the research it was possible to plan the implementation and
start with the first steps. The complete reconstruction of the octogonal body of
the synagogue restored it to its 1869 state. All external and internal elements
of the building were either reconstructed or restored to their former
The sacral past of the building is visible in the restored elemts of the facade,
the restored memorial plaques inside of the synagogue and in the Thora shrines,
prayer stools and menorah donated by the Jewish community. The Thora blanket is
a givt of the Villányi family. With the collaboration of the head of the Jewish
community of the time, Tibor Villányi, the golden star of David was restored to
the central dome, it pays tribute to the original function of the building.
Thanks to the restauration the Hebrew writing above the main entrance and the
altar are again visible. Heading the main entrance it reads: “This house is
holy for our God, it is here that we bow to our knees before our creator”,
above the altar: “Behold, the ark of the lord of the world”.
The major works were completed with July 12, 2006. The building was given taken
into possession on the same day. The “jewelery box” in Györ serves the
public as cultural center in many ways, it hosts short and long term
exhibitions, musical and literary as well as many other cultural events. The
main operator of the building is the University of István Széchenyi, the main
users are the university and the municipal art museum.
Main parameters of the building:
ground floor: former sacral hall: 413 m2,
winter synagogue: 77m2,
other rooms (halls, sanitary facilites, etc.): 125 m2,
university premises: 963 m2,
rooms designated to the Jewish community: 185 m2.
total area of the ground floor: 1763 m2.
1. story: 930 m2
2. story, gallery: 308 m2
total net area: 3240 m2
height of the four towers above the pavement: 18 m
area of the four towers: 11,4 m2
height of the dome above the pavement: 22 m
height of the dome’s arch: 8 m
diameter of the dome: 14 m
area of the dome: 387,5 m2
inner height of the synagogue: 13,5 m.
The permanent exhibition of the Vasilescu
collection in the central hall and the gallereis greatly contributes to the
synagogue’s significance as a cultrual center. The János Vasilescu collection
of 20th century artworks is known throughout the country first came to Györ in
February 2005. It was on display at the municipal art museum. The technical
inventor and successful businessman is of Romanian origin but settled in Hungary
and started collecting Hungarian works of art in the 1960s. Up to 2002 he
continually expanded the collection and then offered it to the Hungarian nation.
The Vasilescu foundation issued a call for tenders among the Hungarian museums
to find a suitable venue for the collection. In 2004 the synagogue of Györ
became the permanent home to the artworks.