Culture

In Pictures: Historic Synagogue Reopens In Egypt After $4m Restoration

North Africa

Newly restored Alexandria synagogue dating back to the 14th century opens its doors to the dwindled Jewish community of Egypt.

Egypt unveiled the newly restored Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue on 10 January in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria. One of the largest synagogues in the Middle East, it is also one of Egypt’s oldest Jewish temples. It was rebuilt in the 1850s after the original building, which dated back to 1354, sustained extensive damage during the 1798 French invasion of Egypt.

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Guests visit the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 10, 2020, on the day of its inauguration. – The synagogue, boasting green and violet stained glass windows and towering marble columns, was built in its current form in 1850 by an Italian architect on top of the original edifice dating back to 1354. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

 

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A general view shows the Prophet Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue also known as the Temple of the Eliyahu Hanabi of Alexandria in Nabi Daniel Street in the northern Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria on November 14, 2016. – Once a flourishing community, only a handful of Egyptian Jews, mostly elderly women, is all that remains in the Arab world’s most populous country, aiming at least to preserve their heritage. Egypt still has about a dozen synagogues, but like many of the country’s monuments they need restoration. (Photo by MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)

In 2016, the roof of the synagogue and its staircase collapsed. A restoration project was then launched the following year to save the building. The $4m project took more than two years to complete.

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Magda Haroun (R), one of the leaders of the Egyptian Jewish community in the capital Cairo visits the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 10, 2020, on the day of its inauguration. – The synagogue, boasting green and violet stained glass windows and towering marble columns, was built in its current form in 1850 by an Italian architect on top of the original edifice dating back to 1354. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

The larger of the two remaining synagogues in Alexandria – Egypt’s second biggest city – it can seat up to 700 people. But there are only a handful of Jewish citizens left in Alexandria, once home to around 40,000 Jews. The country’s 80,000-strong Jewish community dwindled following the creation of Israel in 1948. More Jews left Egypt during the 1956 Suez War and the 1967-1970 War of Attrition under then President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

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A photograph taken on January 10, 2020 shows a partial interior view of the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria, on the day of its inauguration. – The synagogue, boasting green and violet stained glass windows and towering marble columns, was built in its current form in 1850 by an Italian architect on top of the original edifice dating back to 1354. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Tall, rose-coloured columns line the interior of the synagogue, along with decorative walls and arches. The synagogue also houses a central library containing ancient copies of the Torah and other religious texts. One of the new features is openings in the floor that allow visitors and worshippers to view the remains of the original structure.

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Guests visit the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 10, 2020, on the day of its inauguration. – The synagogue, boasting green and violet stained glass windows and towering marble columns, was built in its current form in 1850 by an Italian architect on top of the original edifice dating back to 1354. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

In 2012, the synagogue was closed as a security precaution following nationwide protests to oust longtime Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak. Restoration work has been done on the building’s structure, as well as the lighting, safety and alarm systems.

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Guests visit the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 10, 2020, on the day of its inauguration. – The synagogue, boasting green and violet stained glass windows and towering marble columns, was built in its current form in 1850 by an Italian architect on top of the original edifice dating back to 1354. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

The synagogue was included in the 2018 World Monuments Fund’s annual list, describing it as at risk, and requiring preservation to “keep alive the memory of a once-flourishing Jewish community”. Located in the heart of downtown Alexandria, it is one of 11 registered Jewish houses of worship in Egypt, with nine others in Cairo.

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Coptic priests leave after visiting the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 10, 2020, on the day of its inauguration. – The synagogue, boasting green and violet stained glass windows and towering marble columns, was built in its current form in 1850 by an Italian architect on top of the original edifice dating back to 1354. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

This restoration project was part of the Egyptian government’s efforts to market the country’s rich historical and cultural heritage. Egypt’s vital tourism sector has suffered a number of blows since the 2011 uprisings, with political turmoil and a string of terrorist attacks.

Image: Khaled Desouki/AFP; Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP

Article: Middle East Eye