Awaking with ridiculously sore feet (why do we always find it necessary to do everything possible on the first day and not pace ourselves?) we decided to stick closer to our temporary home in the Jewish quarter.
We were a couple of blocks from the Dohány Street Synagogue, also called Budapest's 'Great Synagogue.' And great it certainly was. My only synagogue experience up until now had been attending a Bar Mitzvah in a modern synagogue in London. This one definitely beats it!
It is the largest functioning synagogue in Europe, and the second largest in the world (the title being held by the Temple Emanu-El in New York) and can hold 3000 people. After being badly damaged toward the end of the Second World War, it was massively restored in the 1990s, partially from donations from two descendants of Hungarian Jews, Estee Lauder and Tony Curtis.
It was originally built in 1859 in the Moorish Revival style, rather than traditional Jewish style. The interior was as spectacular as expected, although the hordes of tourist groups being yelled at in various languages kind of detracted from any atmosphere it might have had.
More interesting than the richly-decorated interior
though, were the museum and grounds attached to the synagogue commemorating the Jews who died during World War II. The synagogue was bombed at the beginning of the war.
Germans used the synagogue, firstly as a stable, then as a communications centre. Finally, in 1944 the Nazis established a ghetto in the Jewish quarter as the gathering place for the deportation of Hungarian Jews. Many found sanctuary in the synagogue but thousands died in the 1944-45 winter, and over 2000 are buried in the courtyard.
A memorial to those who died dominates the courtyard, in the form of a metal weeping willow. Designed by Imre Varga the 'Tree of Life' includes a leaf for over 4000 victims of the Holocaust in Budapest, with a name inscribed on each leaf.
Next door is the Jewish Museum. Very interesting with a surprising number of artefacts that survived the war. I hate to sound completely uncultured but the most amazing part of the museum was the genius who had designed it with star-of-David-shaped spotlights in the ceiling in each room which projected stars onto the floor everywhere.
Next stop was the Rumbach Synagogue which was still undergoing major renovations.
It will hopefully be restored to its former glory as it certainly must have been beautiful. Sadly, it was badly damaged and neglected for many years and currently houses a temporary exhibit on some of the areas former residents who were sent to concentration camps during the war, along with photographs made into full-size models of some of the Jews who had lived nearby in the first half of the 20th century.
Next on the list was a short walk to the Kazinsky Synagogue on, amazingly enough, Kazinsky Street. Not much imagination went into naming them apparently. Kazinsky Street Synagogue is an Orthodox synagogue, requiring appropriate clothing which according to the guide, some tourists found too much to ask. He seemed ridiculously appreciative of the fact, not only had we dressed appropriately, but brought extra cover-ups in case they were needed. We got out own private tour of the synagogue, thanks to the lovely (Hungarian, German, English and probably a lot more speaking) people at the door.
Finishing in the Jewish quarter for the time being we walked across the city to the National museum. Much like any other European capital museum, it does hold the distinction of
owning Beethoven's piano. A beautiful Broadwood grand that was used by Beethoven and then acquired by Franz Liszt - bet all the other pianos are jealous! The museum also had examples of music being played on the piano, it's quite an experience to hear Beethoven being played on his actual piano.
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