18 March 2023

Budapest's stunning new synagogue renovation - Rumbach Street

Rumbach St Synagogue

The Great Dohány St Synagogue was built in 1854-9 in the Moorish Rev­iv­al style, with decoration based on Islam­ic models from North Africa and medieval Spain. This historical building in Budapest’s 7th district, is the largest synagogue in Eur­ope, seating 3,000 people! The Viennese architect, Ludwig Christian Förster, was known for build­ing both synagogue and churches. He wasn’t familiar with any distinct­ive­ly Jewish architecture so he chose arch­itect­ural forms once used by oriental ethnic groups close to Jews.

Great Dohány St Synagogue

Dohany St Synagogue was damaged by aerial raids during the Nazi Occupation, especially during the Siege of Budapest. Thankfully during the Communist era the damaged structure could be used again as a synagogue for Jewish survivors.

The Rumbach St Synagogue was also special, this one being design­ed by famous ar­ch­itect Otto Wagner. Completed between 1869-72, the to­w­ering Moorish struc­ture with 2 minaret-type towers enclosed a symm­et­rical facade. On­ce housing a vib­rant congregation, the Rumbach St Syn­ag­­ogue is only 300 ms from Dohány St Synagogue. Rumbach Synagogue, named for the street on which it stands in Budapest’s historical old town of Pest, formerly the Jewish-majority 7th district. It predated the trendy cafes and bars that sprung up in recent years.

In 1941 the synagogue became a deportation point for 20,000 Jews, refugees who fled southward after the Nazi in­vasion of Poland, as well as Jews liv­ing in Hungary for decades without proper pap­ers. The de­p­ortees were taken to Southern Poland and massacred in Kameniec-Podolsk by the SS. Later Hit­ler occupied Hungary and the Fascist Arrow Cross seized power in Mar 1944. The new govern­ment resumed the dep­ort­ation of Hung­arian cit­izens on trains to the exter­min­ation camps. Note that the Hun­garian Nazis were feared in the extreme.

Eventually the building’s roof rotted thr­ough and birds moved into the sanctuary. In 1979 the roof totally collapsed and the col­ourfully paint­ed wall panels were al­most com­pletely faded. There was a big fear that it would collapse, or that the government then would raze it to the ground.

Cantor Immanuel Zucker, reopening ceremony, June 2021.
No pews put in yet.

The abandoned synagogue sat decaying in the city’s heart for 60+ years. After changing hands often, the building was re­t­urn­ed to the Jewish community by the Hungarian gov­ernment in 2006. Sin­ce 2014, its renovation has proceeded irregularly as the community dealt with logistics, funding and finally the pandemic. Thankfully the 8-sided Moorish Rev­ival synagogue has since been restored. The oc­tagonal, bal­conied, dom­ed synagogue intricately patterned and coloured a la Islam­ic structures is very beautiful.

In June 2021 dozens of members of the Hungarian Jewish community danc­ed around Bud­a­pest’s busy Karoly boulevard, accompanied by instruments playing joyful music. Their destin­ation, Rumbach Synagogue, was loc­at­ed down a quiet side street not far from Great Dohany St shule. And though the jubilant procession marking the Rum­bach’s rededic­at­ion started in Dohany Synagogue’s gar­den, event organ­is­ers moved around 7th district.

Inside the richly renovated synagogue, congregants admired the ornate, hand-painted red, blue and gold panels adorning the sanctuary walls as boys carried the Torah scroll to the restored Ark. Nearly two storeys tall, it nevertheless reaches under halfway to the magnific­ent domed ceiling. Giant gold columns support Eastern-style arches lit by stain­ed glass windows 10’ in diameter. In the centre of the synagogue hall, a golden cir­cle hid a hydraulic-driven elevating cantor’s dias, mixing the old with the new. The sprawling compound behind the decadent patt­ern­ed brick facade envelops either side of the enormous sanct­uary.

The Rumbach’s grand reopening was the result of years of negotiations, patience, and an $11.2 million grant from the Hungarian state. The ev­ent was attended by Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, Israeli Amb­as­sad­or to Hungary Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, Hungarian Minister of Famil­ies Katalin Novak, and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, who met and thanked Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban afterwards.
Interior of the dome
stained glass windows

Government funding was conditional on the space being used by everyone as a non-denominational cultural centre during weekdays for the next five years. In addition to its relig­ious function, the newly renovated Rum­bach emerged as a multiple cult­ur­al centre welcom­ing all faiths liv­­ing in the city, plus vis­it­ors to Budapest. The old rabbi and rab­b­in­­ic­al assistant’s quarters are now a kosher café, paying respect to the city’s history of coffee culture.

The non-profit hub on the upper floor provide office space to c20 Jewish and non-Jewish organisations, charities, youth groups and the country’s only professional Jewish theatre company. They’ll also host music, theatre and art exhib­itions, and is equipped with lighting, sound, a staging area and dres­sing rooms. A multi-media exhibition space on the third floor shows the history and curr­ent life of Hung­ar­ian Jewry, and uses the notable media family, the Pulitzers, as an example of Jewish inte­g­ration and contribution to Hungarian society. 
colourful mosaics patterns, patterned bricks and gold columns

Photo credits: Times of Israel


Student of History said...

How many Jewish people live in Budapest these days? Are these people the children of pre-war Budapesters or are they immigrants from outside Hungary?

Art of Islamic Pattern said...

The repetitive continuation of beautiful patterns is the perfect use of an Islamic design principle, laid out on different surfaces in the Budapest synagogue. The glazed curve of the synagogue dome follows Richard Henry totally.

Language of Symmetry in Islamic Art

Hels said...

Art of Islamic Pattern

Thank you for the reference. Completed in the 1869-72 era, Rumbach St has a clear Moorish struc­ture with 2 minaret-type towers enclosing a symm­et­rical facade. So the use of repetitive patterns in the Islamic tradition makes perfect sense.

"Oriental-Style Synagogues in Austria-Hungary: Philosophy and Historical Significance"
examines Oriental-style synagogues built in Austria-Hungary in the later C19th re the architectural and cultural history of Habsburg lands: Oriental styles fit in well with an iconic, anti-material concepts in Judaism. Also Oriental modes also neatly match certain ideas about Hungarian national identity.


jabblog said...

To restore such an iconic building after such a long period gives some hope for the future. It is good that it is available to be used by all.

Hels said...


I was surprised and very pleased to see that the renovated building will be used by Jewish and non-Jewish organisations, charities, youth groups, theatre companies and art exhib­itions.

The Pava Synagogue (1920s) in Budapest was also superbly renovated and opened as the memorial and museum in 2004. Upstairs, visitors can see exhibitions put on by different communities. Great idea!

My name is Erika. said...

When I read that this building was left to decay for so long it made me sad. I am glad it could be brought back to life again. It's an interesting structure for a synagogue. I wonder how the original conjugation felt about it?hugs-Erika

DUTA said...

The renovation and reopening of Rumbach synagogue is an important religious, historical, and architectural event for world jewry and especially for the Hungarian jews. I'm not sure, however, that turning the building into a place open to all kinds of non-jewish activities is the right thing to do.

Hels said...


I think that Hungary had such a huge, educated and cultured Jewish community until 1941 that executing the citizens and destroying the beautiful buildings was utterly unthinkable. The original congregation very largely didn't survive the war and so the views about renovation and restoration were being pursued by newer generations of Jewish citizens and by heritage organisations who wanted Budapest returned to its former glory.
But it took a while, didn't it?

Hels said...


the renovated synagogues in Budapest are all so lovely that it made sense to maximise their uses amongst a number of community groups and religious groups.

But I suspect there was another reason. Reuters reported that Viktor Orban, a nationalist whose policies have raised concerns among Jews in Hungary, said on a visit to Israel they should feel safe under his government. It is possible that Budapesters were delighted with $11.2 million grant from the government and wanted to show their appreciation appropriately.

Joe said...

My late mother was not Hungarian but went into hiding in Budapest for the last two years of the war. And miraculously survived.

In 1992 I took her back to the city, just as democracy was returning to Hungary, but even Dohany Synagogue was just starting renovations. She would have loved the beautiful city much more, these days.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - it does look to be beautifully restored .. and I'm so pleased to see our historical buildings restored ... and not destroyed by war-mongers. It is a stunning building and good for us to know about. - cheers Hilary

Hels said...


After Poland (90%), Slovakia (75%) and Hungary (70%) deported and killed a bigger proportion of their own Jewish residents than any other nation during the Holocaust. So survival was indeed a miracle. Furthermore, what had once been a beautiful city was bombed across 75% of its houses and buildings.

Today, if your mum visited District 7, she would be delighted to see a revitalised Hungarian culture today, hopping and jumping with shops, kosher restaurants, three lovely synagogues and intellectual bookshops.

Hels said...


important historic buildings are not renovated because 1] it would be too expensive and 2] there is no political unanimity. Thank goodness Dohany Synagogue was fully renovated in the 1990s and the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park was built behind this synagogue. And thank goodness Rumbach St Synagogue was saved from 2014 on!

Every time we lose a building of great heritage value in Melbourne, it breaks my heart.

Viagens pelo Rio de Janeiro e Brasil. said...

Boa tarde de domingo e bom início de semana.
Minha querida amiga, obrigada pela excelente matéria e aula de história. Sempre aprendo com seu trabalho magnífico.
Luiz Gomes.

Hels said...


Budapest was a beautiful city... it is important that when old community facilities can be restored, they should be. I much prefer the art and architecture of The Great Dohány St Synagogue, but I honestly believed Rumbach St Synagogue would be lost forever.

bazza said...

We visited The Great Dohány St Synagogue four years ago and were absolutely amazed at the architecture. There were coachloads of Korean, Japanese, German, American & British tourists being guided in their own languages! It reminded me of the crowds that are always present at St Pauls & Westminster Abbey in London. We also saw the location of the Great Dohány St Synagogue and told about the work being carried out. I think it might have been covered in scaffold - can't quite remember. I was really impressed by Budapest; the architecture, the people and the food were all superb. My daughter Ruth had researched it and was a wonderful guide! (One of her best friends in London is Hungarian and she has been there several times.)
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s always alliterative Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...


Of course you were impressed with one of the most lovely cities anywhere!!

I knew far more about Hungarian composers (Béla Bartók, Franz Liszt, Ferenc Farkas etc) plus Otto Preminger, Georg Solti, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Robert Capa etc. than I did about architects. This was presumably because heaps of students came to my school after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, but they were more interested in film and music. Then when I went back to uni decades later, the first Hungarian architects I met were Marcel Breuer, Emmerich Steindl, Oskar Kaufmann etc and fell in love. I wish your daughter Ruth had been there when we discovered those very special renovated buildings.

Piotr.Zolna said...

I have been thinking for a long time about improving the elevation of my house. That's why I decided to use the offer of the Rended company, which made for me the finishing of external walls in my house with the use of Silicone Render . What do you think about this solution?

Hels said...


Thank you for reading the post. Is there a connection with Rumbach St Synagogue in Budapest?