Stained glass window inside the Rumbach Synagogue.
Pick up any guide book on Budapest, and you will surely find an entry on the Great Synagogue, the largest Jewish temple in all of Europe, and the second largest in the world (second to Temple Emanu-El in New York City). The Great Synagogue is indeed impressive, and definitely worth a visit. But those interested in both Jewish and architectural history ought not miss Budapest’s lesser known orthodox synagogue, located just down the street on Rumbach Street, and known simply as the Rumbach Synagogue.
Built by Viennese architect Otto Wagner in 1872, the synagogue exhibits a Byzantine-Moorish architectural style, with a yellow and rust brick facade appointed in blue ceramic tiles and crowned with a hard plaster rendition of the Ten Commandments. The building is one of the earliest examples of Wagner’s genius, and the only one he designed in all of Budapest. In the words of Wikipedia:
[The synagogue] served the so-called Status Quo Ante (moderate orthodox) community which preserved the traditional “pre-Congress” way of Judaic cult. The Moorish Revival synagogue has eight sides and while the interior as of this writing (2008) is badly in need of restoration, the octagonal, balconied, domed synagogue intricately patterened and painted in Islamic style is exquisitely beautiful. It was built not as an exact replica of, but as an homage to the style of the octagonal, domed Dome of the Rock Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.
Inside the Rumbach Synagogue during restoration ... and piano practice for an upcoming Jewish festival.
My husband and I recently took a walk along Rumbach Street and meandered inside to take a look (entrance tickets are sold at the door and they are very reasonable, about $5 USD). Though the temple attracts far fewer crowds than the Grand Synagogue, and is many times smaller, its visual impact is no less dramatic. As Wikipedia notes, it’s interior is indeed in need of restoration, which has been in progress since last year. Scaffolding hugs the sides of the walls, and ornate handcarved doors and numbered slabs of stone are scattered throughout awaiting some tender loving care. Still, the space offers a dazzling array of colors and textures associated with Islamic art, a popular style for synagogues in the 19th-century.
It is interesting to note that during the Turkish occupation of Hungary, from 1541 to 1699, Jews lived under relatively peaceful conditions. Unlike the Christian churches, synagogues were not transformed into mosques because the Turks respected the fact that the Jewish religion shared common Middle Eastern roots with the Muslims. The Nazis, of course, had absolutely no respect for Jews or their places of worship. During the Holocaust, the Rumbach Synagogue was turned into a temporary internment camp for about 18,000 Jews, who eventually were deported to death camps in the Ukraine. Now many decades later, one cannot help entering the temple without a sense of reverence for both its sobering history and vibrant beauty.
For more information about Budapest’s Rumbach Synagogue and local Jewish history, visit the Grand Synagogue’s website.
Rumbach Sebestyen street 11
District VII, Budapest
View of interior dome
Natural lighting, gold columns, and vibrant color welcome visitors of the Rumbach Synagogue
Intricately carved wooden doors and concrete slabs await restoration
Decorative wood beams
Geometric patterns indicative of Islamic art abound here.
Hard plaster designed to look like stone slabs crown the top of the building