Jewish Museum in Prague


Reconstruction of the Smíchov Synagogue in Prague 5 completed Jewish Museum in Prague

The Jewish Museum in Prague spends a large part of its funds on the renovation of Jewish monuments. This includes the overall repair and reconstruction of the Smíchov Synagogue in Prague 5, which was founded over 140 years ago. The synagogue building was completed in 1863 in Neo-Romanesque and Moorish styles. To mark this occasion, a parchment memorial document signed by members of the then community’s representative body was deposited in the synagogue. This document was found under the original floor in front of the Holy Ark during building alterations in January 2003.

Throughout its existence the synagogue has undergone several building alterations. Probably the most extensive reconstruction occurred in 1930, when an annex with a lobby leading to the main hall was added, the women’s gallery and conference room were enlarged, and a choir gallery with an organ was built in the main hall. The old building was connected to the new extension to form one unit plastered with artificial stone. This completely covered the original articulation of the building and transformed it into an almost abstract architectural composition.
During the Nazi occupation, from the autumn of 1941 onwards, the synagogue was closed down and converted into a warehouse for storing confiscated Jewish property. Its subsequent fate bears eloquent testimony to the consequences of the Shoah and the era of the Communist regime. From the beginning of the 1950s it was used as a warehouse for bearings and spare parts for the ČKD engineering company: the floor was concreted over, a new floor level was added to the main hall, two goods lifts were built in the western extension and a number of other alterations were made, which considerably damaged the building. In 1986 the synagogue was marked for demolition, but fortunately was saved by being promptly included on the national list of protected cultural monuments.
After the fall of the Communist regime, the ČKD company vacated the synagogue in 1993 and the devastated building was returned to the Jewish community in Prague a year later. In 1998 the Jewish Community rented the synagogue to the Jewish Museum in Prague as a suitable space for the storage of its archive and historically valuable collections of art. Work on the preservation of the synagogue in 1999, when it was given a new, copper roof. In December 2000, the Znamení čtyř architectural studio (architects Juraj Matula, Richard Sidej and Martin Bambas), was commissioned to undertake the reconstruction of the synagogue.

Reconstruction was launched in April 2002 with the removal of the built-in floor level and the demolition of technical installations. The original space of the synagogue, including the preserved Arks in the synagogue and in the winter prayer hall, were thus rediscovered after half a century. The Arks were dismantled and restored in the REINEX workshops. The preserved argillite paving was discovered, too, and the remains of wall paintings in the main hall were restored. Building work continued with alterations of load-bearing structures; jet grout columns created new foundations for load-bearing structures. In the summer of 2003, the preserved parts of the painted decorations were restored – mainly on the vaults and on the eastern wall of the synagogue. In addition to the renovation of the interior and the repair of the stone plaster rendering of the exterior, an extension of the new wing on the south-eastern side of the synagogue was built; this will be used as office space for Museum staff, together with a study and research room on the ground floor.

In the summer of 2002, structural work was carried out, the floor was consolidated and the foundations were prepared for the addition of a new, southern extension. Recently the consolidation of the floor of the main hall has been completed and work has begun on the construction of new section which will serve as a study and work areas for the Jewish Museum’s archive. The whole reconstruction of the Synagogue building should be finished by the end of the year 2003.

Since the beginning of 2004 work has focused mainly on fitting out the interiors and installing interior storage systems. A three-storey structure was installed on a steel frame in the main hall of the synagogue; this has been designed for the storage of the Jewish Museum’s archive materials (covering 2,400 metres). The western part of the synagogue will be used mainly as a depository for the Museum’s art collections; paintings covering an area of about 1,800 m2 and 6,000 drawings and prints will be stored here. On 4 February 2004, a brass box containing a facsimile of a memorial document dating from 1863, documents on the history and reconstruction of the synagogue including project plans and a memorial paper signed by the heads of the Prague Jewish community and the Jewish Museum in Prague, was deposited in a safe place in the synagogue. In late March, building works came to an end, the interiors were fitted out and outside landscaping was completed. Once the microclimatic conditions have been stabilized, the Museum’s archive materials and art collections will gradually be moved to the depositories. The synagogue will then begin to serve its new purpose as a study and research centre devoted to the history of Jewish communities in the Czech lands. The entire reconstruction of the synagogue was funded by the Jewish Museum in Prague with support from the Czech Ministry of Culture.

The public will be served on the ground floor by a study, while the synagogue itself will remain closed. A specialized bookstore will open in the former lobby of the synagogue.

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