The Great Synagogue, Budapest

FROM The man in the front seat / June 14, 2018

The Great Synagogue, or the Dohány utcai zsinagóga, located in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, is the largest synagogue in Europe and one of the largest in the world. More than 3000 faithful can fit inside and it is richly decorated, both inside and out.

The building was begun in 1854 and only took 5 years to complete, being opened in 1859. It is largely based on Islamic models from North Africa, and medieval Spain. The building’s architect was the Austrian, Ludwig Förster, who claimed that no distinctively Jewish architecture could be identified and thus chose;

“architectural forms that have been used by oriental ethnic groups that are related to the Israelite people, and particular the Arabs”


The synagogue was inaugurated on the 6thSeptember 1859, and has the capacity for 2964 seats. This includes 1492 for men and another 1472 in the women’s gallery. On the 3rd Feb. 1939 the building was bombed by the pro-Nazi Hungarian party, Arrow Cross Party and throughout the war it was used as a base for German radio as well as being used for a stable. The allied attempts to recapture Budapest saw the building suffer severe damage from the aerial raids. With the arrival of the communists, the building was given back to the much-diminished Jewish community. Its renovation however, didn’t begin until 1991, after the fall of communism, financed by both state and private donations.

The Building

The building is 75m (246ft) long and 27m (89ft) wide. The two onion domes which sit on the octagonal towers are 43m (141ft) high. Although the building is of North African design, it also includes Byzantine and Gothic elements. The building has three aisles, two balconies and, unusually, an organ. It’s Ark, contains several Torah scrolls which are believed to have been taken from other synagogues destroyed during the Holocaust. The internal frescoes are made of coloured and golden geometric shapes and are the work of the Hungarian architect Frigyes Feszl. The seats on the ground floor are for men, whilst the upper gallery, supported by beautifully ornamented poles, is for women.

The Organ

The synagogue has several features that are not typical for such a building. It has a cemetery with about 2000 graves, as well as an organ. The original 5000-pipe organ was built in 1859 was damaged when the building was ruined in 1939. Today it has been replaced by new mechanical one built in 1996.

The Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park

Adjoining the Jewish Museum, built in 1930, is a memorial garden built to commemorate the estimated 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. The main feature of the park is a monument, designed by Imre Varga, which represents a weeping willow whose leaves bear inscriptions with the names of all of the victims. There are also several monuments to people who aided Jews, known as the “Righteous Among Nations”, in their attempt to survive the Holocaust.

The Great Synagogue, Budapest
The Great Synagogue, Budapest.
The Great Synagogue, Budapest.
The Great Synagogue, Budapest.
The Memory Tree, The Great Synagogue, Budapest.
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