Old Synagogue is a proper museum nowadays and focuses on Krakow's Jewish history.
At one time Krakow had the largest Jewish population in Poland, accounting for almost 25 per cent of the city’s inhabitants – a community that dated back to the 12th century. By 1939 there were more than 90 synagogues in Krakow, yet in just a few short terrible years most of the city’s Jews and many of the synagogues were gone. Today Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, features seven historic synagogues as a reminder of the city’s rich Jewish heritage and as a beacon of hope for the future.
The Old Synagogue – now Poland’s oldest surviving synagogue – was first erected in the 15th century, but extensively rebuilt and remodelled in the 16th. It was one of the most important in Krakow and was a community as well as religious centre. Ransacked by the Nazis and used as an armament store, it was restored and renovated in the late 1950s and now houses part of the Historical Museum of Krakow, focusing on Krakow’s Jewish history.
Remuh Synagogue, on Szeroka Street, is the only fully active synagogue in Krakow. One of the smallest, it is nevertheless exquisitely proportioned, built in 1553 adjacent to Remuh cemetery. Both the cemetery and synagogue were desecrated by the Nazis but have now been extensively restored. The synagogue still contains its original 16th century ark.
The High Synagogue – so called because it was established on the upper floor of an existing secular building – is Krakow’s third oldest and dates back to 1563. Today Krakow’s pre-war Jewish community is remembered in a permanent photographic exhibition.
Possibly the grandest, the Tempel Synagogue on Miodowa Street features lavish Moorish-style interiors, and its excellent acoustics make it a popular venue for classical and traditional Jewish music. Dating from 1862, the building underwent extensive and expensive restoration at the end of the 20th century and now looks magnificent. Services are still occasionally held there.
Isaac’s Synagogue on the corner of Kupa and Izaaka Streets was founded in 1644 by super-rich local banker Isaac reb Yekele. Extensively damaged during the war it has now been almost completely refurbished and houses an exhibition entitled “In memory of Polish Jews”.
Known as the “Synagogue of the Poor”, Kupa Synagogue catered for the less well off in Kazimierz. Painstaking post-war restoration has revealed superb interior decorations and paintings. Much used for exhibitions and concerts, it is one of the focal points of the annual Jewish Festival of Culture.
Wolf Popper, who had the nickname “The Stork” due to his habit of standing on one leg while deep in thought, founded the synagogue that bears his name in 1620. A banker who ended up one of the richest men in Europe, Popper endowed the synagogue lavishly. Sadly the interior was utterly destroyed by the Nazis, and today it serves as a youth community centre, albeit with strong Jewish ties.
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